Background. I promised myself that I’d write a guide detailing how I studied for the CFA exam if I passed it. Now that I have received my results, I’m fulfilling that promise and I’m typing up in a short, succinct and to-the-point manner what I did in order to have felt confident while taking the exam. When I studied for this exam, I was in my last semester of Engineering undergraduate studies and was taking only one course that required on average 5 hours of studying per week. Most of the material was new to me, with the exception of quantitative methods, which I knew very well because I’d seen similar material in my engineering courses. In this guide, I will not be revealing anything that came on the exam. However, I will be describing how I studied, what I focused on, which problems I solved and how I used the Stalla course pack to my benefit. There are some things that I realized I could have done differently and better now that I look back at it. I will also be sharing that with you. For the purpose of structure, this guide will be divided into three parts. The first part will be about managing expectations and the reason I’m actually writing this. The second part will cover exactly how I studied and how I managed time. In the third part I reflect on what I could have done better. I purchased the Enhanced Study System from Stalla and so this study guide is geared towards those of you who have similar resources. If you bought the Kaplan (Schweser) system, you will find this guide useful because the two programs are very similar and offer exactly the same resources. Managing expectations. The CFA Level I exam is not easy. It’s as demanding and challenging as you’ve read and been told, but it’s not impossible. There’s a lot of information to be taken in, and there are many details that you need to know. All questions carry the same weight and so trivial pursuit questions are as important as the questions you have to work on. However, succeeding in the exam is not just about knowing all the material; there are tricks that would be difficult and too time-consuming to be figured out while taking the official exam. Just like the SAT or any standardized exam you’ve written before, there are tricks that, once you’ve mastered, will make taking the exam much easier. I was exposed to these tidbits through Stalla’s and Schweiser’s practice exams. I was smiling throughout the exam because I felt comfortable answering the questions. I’d gone through all the material rigorously 3 times before quickly reviewing it all. In total, I covered all the material 4 times. However, there still were questions that I had no idea how to answer: either because I’d never seen them before/didn’t remember them or because I’d forgotten where and when I read them. In short, expect to put in a lot more work than you’re told in the guides in order to feel comfortable with the questions you will see on the exam; this time should be divided between taking in and reviewing information and taking practice exams in order to harness the necessary exam-writing skills that you wouldn’t be exposed to just by reading the study guides. How I studied. I started studying for the exam on the 5th of August. Throughout the month of August, I must have studied on average 1.5 to 2 hours, 5 times per week. I only kept pace with the Stalla lectures. Therefore, in August, I covered Ethics and Standards, Quantitative Methods and half of Economics. During that period of time, I didn’t try to solve any problems. In September, as the material got tougher, I started studying between 2-3 hours, 5 days a week. In the first half of September, only kept pace with the Stalla lectures but in the second half I upped the pace and started reading two chapters extra per week. By the 30th of September, I’d finished my first run through the material. In September, the Stalla lectures had covered the other Half of Economics and the entirety of FSA (Chapters 5 to 10). I had read an additional 8 chapters. In October, my average study time increased to 4 to 6 hours, 6 days a week. During that time, I started viewing the Stalla lecture videos. In my opinion, this was the most important part of my studying. Peter Olinto teaches most of them, and he is the best (not one of the best, the best) I’ve had. The other teachers were not so bad either. While watching the videos, I kept a journal in which I wrote down all concepts I found difficult, challenging, or tough to understand. Sometimes, your mind is not as willing to take in information as others and it’s easy to watch a lecture and find everything difficult. I watched on average around one lecture per day and so by the 20th of October I’d finished watching the videos and solving the examples in the lecture slides. I took off the next 5 days, as a celebration and to solve school-related assignments. I found it difficult to return to studying after that. I was lost, I didn’t know what to cover anymore, so I decided to start solving all the examples in the lecture slides once more. It’s a difficult and annoying truth to realize that what you studied 20 days ago can be easily forgotten. I encountered a lot of difficulty with FSA questions and concepts; the same goes for Economics. The map is not the territory, and by that I mean that the theory was not enough for me to get the practice questions right on the first go. I realized that a lot of concepts needed to be drilled in my head and that even the slightest loophole can prove too large when answering the pin-point precise questions. And so I went back to the journal in which I chronicled all the difficulties I encountered, and covered all those concepts. This took about 10 days. By November 7th,I had reviewed all the concepts I pointed out in the journal and answered all the questions in the study guides. I felt that I was now ready to tackle the practice exams. I had a school related assignment due on November 10th and so I took the 8th and the 9th to solve it, as well as the 10th off. On November 11th, I upped my study time from 4-6 hours to 6-8 hours in order to be ready for the Stalla Mock Exam, which was on November 21st. During the first 3-4 hours, I sat down and took one section of the exam. During the next 3-4 hours, I corrected the exams, noted which questions I got wrong and which ones I’d guessed and got right, and wrote down in a notebook the correct answers, why the answer I put down was wrong, etc… I pretty much just copied the solution in the book of the book. I repeated this process twice for 120-question exam sections until November 15th. (In total, I covered 3 exam sections). I wasn’t as well off as I would have liked to be, scoring on average around 65%. On November 16th, Stalla released a comprehensive Mock Exam review online. This was an 8-hour video session covering a full 120 question mock exam. I treated it exactly the same way as I’d treated the previous practice exam sections. However, as you can imagine, watching 8 hours of problem solving and concept reviewing can fry any person’s brain. I would stop the video and replay it in order to make sure I had nailed the concept being covered. I also wrote down, in the same notebook that I mentioned before, all the concepts I was learning, the little tricks, etc… This 8-hour video session took me 3 days to finish the first time, and 1.5 days the second time. I took the night of the 20th off and went to the Mock Exam on the 21st of November. I scored an 87% on it, however the exam was almost identical to the questions that I’d seen already twice on the online Mock Review. Therefore, it was not representative of my actual position. When I wrote the other section on my own, I scored an 82%. That lead me to believe I was in a good enough position. The 22nd and 23rd I did not study because I had to fly out for an interview. On the 24th of November, I started a firm and clear study diet: 10-12 hours a day, solving as many practice exams as possible, from as many different sources as possible. I had 10 days only and knew that, although I’d scored well on the previous practice exams, still was not ready for many of the concepts I felt weak in (because I’d forgotten them, never seen them, etc…). I formed a 2-person study group with a friend. He was able to provide us with 6 full practice exams from his Schweser program, adding to the 3 full practice exams we had at our disposal from Stalla. During the first 5 days, we covered 2 full practice exams from Stalla and 2 full ones from Schweser. We didn’t solve them in order, though. Before tackling a specific section, we read its theory and made summaries along the way. We then sat down and solved each respective section in the practice exams. We graded ourselves on them, noted what we got wrong or guessed wrong, looked at and copied the solutions (both the right answer and why the incorrect answer was actually wrong) in the same notebook as the previous one. By now, we had a 40-50 pages of handwritten notes. During the next 3 days, we sat down and wrote one practice exam section a day, 120 questions. We timed ourselves, 3 hours on the dot. We then graded ourselves on each topic, noted what we got wrong, and repeated the process mentioned above for all these questions. At the end of the day, we reviewed the concepts once more and wrote down in a journal what concepts that we still found difficult. By the end of the day, my brain was fried. However, and this was essential, we were waking up at 8 and starting the studying at 9 AM. Therefore, by 9PM (we took 2 hours off for lunch and messing around, music/Facebook stalking/talking/etc…) I was ready to relax and blow off the steam I’d accumulated in my system over the course of the day. This was also done so I can adjust my sleeping for the exam. Remember the exam is 9AM and so you have to wake up at 7:00-7:30 AM so you can be at the exam center at 8:00-8:30 AM. There were 2 days left until the exam. These were the most important 2 days in my opinion. The previous 3 months and 3 weeks were spent building the foundation for these two days. There was no failing. I hadn’t felt the pressure of the exam until those exams. I mean sure, throughout the study period, I kept telling myself that “Failure Is Not An Option”, “I must pass”, “I must not and cannot fail this exam”. But before these two days, I did not contemplate that I could actually fail, that these last 4 months I spent studying could prove to have been useless: I’d have to do everything all over again. This was a heavy burden on my mind and it only pushes me to study harder, to study better, to cover every single detail, to attack every weakness. Those were the two days where I would guarantee for myself that I would not fail. By this time, I couldn’t learn anything new. My brain was overloaded and I just wanted to finish. So I just reviewed all the concepts that I was still weak in: I watched the Stalla Lecture videos on them, I answered the practice questions, I read the Learning Outcome Statements that I had in my notebook: I simply used every single resource I had at my disposal in order to ensure that failure will not be a possibility. I went to sleep with the videos playing. My mind was on overdrive. I didn’t just want to pass; I wanted to be as far from failure as possible; I wanted to pass with fly high colors. Now most people will tell you to take the last day off. I contemplated that idea, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. What if I failed, what if that day made a difference? I couldn’t stop studying. I studied harder than I ever had before. I covered every single inch of knowledge I acquired, read every single thing I’d written on that notebook –twice. I memorized and re-wrote all the equations, even the ones that I was told to ignore by most people who’d taken the exam before. I had to make sure I knew more than the average person who was writing the CFA would know. I went to sleep watching the videos. I still slept on time, though, and managed to get the much-needed 6 hours of sleep. Finally, on exam day, I woke up at 6 AM, read some economics because it was my weak point. I drank a lot of water, smoked a cigarette to make sure I take a shit before going to the exam (the last thing I wanted on my mind while taking the exam was how annoying holding in that shit was), I bought a Red Bull, drank it 15 minutes before the exam. When it came down to writing the exam, I attacked every question I knew how to answer. The first time I went through the exam, I solved all the questions I knew how to answer and ignored all the questions I didn’t instinctively and intuitively get the answer to. I marked those questions down on the exam booklet. The second pass involved answering those questions, but never getting stuck on them for longer than 3 minutes each. I made sure every question I fill the right circle for the respective question on the Scantron Sheet. I didn’t want to have to worry about making that mistake after leaving the exam. I wanted to know that if I failed, it wasn’t for a stupid mistake like that. Don’t eat any junk it between the two sessions, that’ll just slow you down. Many test-takers will be able to attest to that. Stay as sharp as possible. That burger and those fries will come to haunt you in your dreams if you fail, to hell with them. Hunger won’t even be on your mind if you eat lightly. I ate chocolate for its sugar and its decadent taste, ate almonds because they fill the stomach up and provide slowly released energy and drank a diet coke for its caffeine. Both sessions took me less than the allotted 3 hours to finish. The first one took me about 2h30, the second one took about 1h45. I left both sessions at the 3 hour mark. This is because I wanted to make sure that no matter what the result was, I’d given and dedicated every single ounce of energy and thought to this exam. I found energy where I previously wouldn’t have been able to find it before. I simply pushed ‘til the end and if I failed, it’s because I deserved to, and if I passed, it’s because I deserved to. The exam is nothing extra-terrestrial. The CFAI it’s not written to trick you, it’s written to test how well you know the curriculum you were assigned to study, I can attest that my experience was exactly that. I hope that this study review won’t make you underestimate the exam, or give it more credit than it deserves. If you’ve decided to take the CFA exam, it’s because you have the desire to succeed. Know, however, that only drive will make that desire a reality. Do the amount of work you deem necessary, have fun when you finish it. Structure your work daily. Write it down somewhere (calendar, notebook, etc…) and stick to it. If you fall a little behind, it’s OK. Just make a few extra minutes over the span of a few days in order to make up for it. What I could have done better. Looking back at it now, I could have been in a better position over the last few days of the exam if I put in 30 extra minutes of studying a day in August. Watching the lecture videos immediately after reading the study guides would have made the collection of information more efficient. In September, an extra hour of studying a day allocated to solving practice problems while the material was still fresh in my mind would have solidified the information even more and reduced the amount of work I would have had to do thereafter. I got my shit together in October and November but I had to make the time to make up for my laziness during the first two months of studying. Also, solving Practice Exams around the beginning of October would have given me more time to familiarize myself with the style of questions to expect on the actual exam. I realize that this is a lot of time spent studying and that those of you who are working cannot allocate this much time to it. However, keep in mind that I am an Engineering student with little to no background in economics, accounting and finance and that everything that I saw was brand new to me. At the same time, I had so much time on my hand and very little direction or guidance other than the occasional phone call from a friend who’d already passed it. Of course, this post would have little credibility if I didn’t share my grades with you. Q# Topic Max Pts <=50% 51%-70% >70% - Alternative Investments 8 * - - - Corporate Finance 20 - - * - Derivatives 12 - - * - Economics 24 - * - - Equity Investments 24 - - * - Ethical & Professional Standards 36 - - * - Financial Reporting & Analysis 48 - - * - Fixed Income Investments 28 - - * - Portfolio Management 12 - - * - Quantitative Methods 28 - - *
Congratulations!!! And thanks for sharing your experience! I am using Stalla as well and so far I noticed their homework problems are structured a bit differently than the CFAI questions at the end of the readings. I actually find them more difficult than the CFA practice problems. Were you able to cover all the homeworks with a score above 90%? Thanks
What is this I don’t even
@ Roya I didn’t do all the PassMaster home-works. I did most of them between chapter 1 to 6, but then the questions became redundant and annoying. There were too many questions for each section. However, in retrospect, these questions cover every single detail in the chapter. If you do them, and understand them, you will be able to answer the vast majority of the trivial pursuit questions. Another detail I didn’t mention was that I covered Ethics in the actual CFAI books. The day before the exam, I read all the examples in the book. I skipped the theory in the CFAI book because I’d already covered it three times (study guide, video lecture and class lecture). I never did the CFAI practice problems from the book. I did however find the Stalla and Schweser practice exams were harder than the actual CFA exam. However, the gap in difficulty wasn’t that large. One thing that I will stress again is: Watch the videos after you finish reading the lectures. They are so key and make life so much easier.
Halawiz, Thanks again! Yes, I am definately covering the Ethics from the CFAI book, I realized Stalla material is not enough as soon as I started working on the homework problems. And I could not agree more with you, Peter Olinto rocks
Just bumping this thread, anyone else using the Stalla Passmaster? I won it from the local CFA society and I find it’s pretty solid. As someone else said here, the questions can seem redundant because there’s so many of them, but I like how it really drills everything into your head with repetition. I’m hoping to finish the rest of them this month, do my first mock, then spend all of next month doing Elan practice questions and mocks.
Doing the same but using schweser qbank instead…4000 questions, i think i have done 1800 already but once i am done with that then its mocks and elan pract questions…
bapswarrior Wrote: ------------------------------------------------------- > Doing the same but using schweser qbank > instead…4000 questions, i think i have done 1800 > already but once i am done with that then its > mocks and elan pract questions… Let me know how you find Elan’s questions to Schweser after you’ve done a bunch…
Using passmaster here, but not very pleased thus far. Having used qbank before I am not very happy with the program, the amount of questions available and even the quality of the questions. Anyone who is on the cusp go with QBANK…it is far superior.