How I Passed Level 1

How I Passed Level 1 I do not have a finance background, and I found every subject to be extremely difficult. I’m not going to say “know this section” “know that section” because you have to know every section. Don’t try and predict what will and what won’t be on the exam. This is a concept exam. As you go through the questions from each section, CLEARLY UNDERSTAND EXACTLY WHAT THE LEARNING OUTCOME STATEMENT SAYS TO KNOW. Don’t rely on Schweser; half of their questions are five years old. Schweser’s questions are helpful, but know why you are answering each question - meaning keep a LOS outline close to the computer. At the end of the day, it’s a LOS concept test. FSA is the biggest section on the exam, and I found Schweser NOT HELPFUL on this subject. Yes, Schweswer offers hundreds of questions on FSA, but CFAI books are teaching you what the LOS is asking, and that’s what you need to know. Schweser keeps asking diluted EPS formula questions and detailed lease questions - questions that honestly take 3-4 minutes with a calculator at a minimum, while the exam itself will ask the CONCEPT about diluted EPS or off balance sheet leasing, with little or no computing. Study Materials: I utilized everything I could get my hands on. I mostly relied on Schweser’s Question Bank, going through about 4,000 questions. I answered about half of the questions at the end of each chapter in the CFAI books. The CFAI text questions are difficult, but very helpful. I watched Stalla’s free lectures on their website. Sample tests: I practically memorized Schweser Book 6 practice exams. I took nearly every CFA sample test and Mock exam. It’s CRITICAL you get used to finishing 120 questions in three hours. It may sound easy, but come game day, keeping your concentration going strong for 6 hours is difficult. The Boston Security Analysts Society (BSAS) test was very helpful, too. I also got in the habit of taking tests on Saturdays from (9 - 12) and (2 - 5), simulating game day, to get used to the schedule. Test Taking Skills: SPEED: each session in Level one is basically a three hour sprint. It’s like a super-fast foreign language exam. Either you know the irregular verbs or you don’t, but you definitely do not have time to sit around and think about each question. Each section (Ethics, Quant, Econ, FSA, etc.) has a question or two that is impossible. Those questions are there on purpose! They are there to for you to break your rhythm, to slow you down, to stress you out. When you get to those questions, move on right away; don’t waste more than 15 seconds on that question. The guy next to you may get stubborn and spend 5 minutes on that question, then will fall behind in time for the rest of the exam. What really helped me was going through each section and FINDING THE QUESTIONS I KNOW, AND NOT GETTING STUCK ON THE QUESTIONS I DO NOT KNOW. During the actual exam I circled on my answer sheet all the questions I totally didn’t know. It came to about 15 questions per session. Then after I finished the entire exam I went through those questions, without being stressed out about finishing the exam, eliminated the obvious incorrect answers, and took an honest guess. The most important thing is that I moved past the really hard questions and found the easier questions. At the end of the day, each question is worth the same, so don’t get hung up on a question that takes a lot of time and is super-ridiculously hard. Diet: I love coffee, but a month before the exam I had to completely stop drinking it because I noticed that my concentration levels were strong for an hour, and inconsistent for the next three hours. Also, I got in the habit of eating very little sugar. When the test day came around, I found that I could concentrate very calmly for 6-7 straight hours. I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the test day. Some of what I said may be helpful, some of it may be silly. Good luck. I hope in someway this was useful.

Thanks for sharing

Thank you very much to share your interesting study and test strategies. I’m sure everyone could benefit something from it. Concentration is a big requirement - my focus span is short and I felt very difficult to re-focus whenever I was distracted away. Coffee always helps me but I’m disciplined to drink only one cup in the morning. Sugar is no good - white enemy. By the way, are you allowed to bring a few pieces of scribble paper for calculation?

You can’t bring scribble paper. There is space in the question booklet for that. It’s so funny how everybody’s strategy is different. I never concentrated on the LOS and in fact did not even read them when studying. I pretty just much learned the core concepts from CFAI and Schweser. I probably could not have recited a single LOS on exam date.

might be silly to ask but what exactly is LOS, is it in the CFAI Text?

Great post… Thanks for the insights.

I was the same way. Yancey, I agree with the things you said for the most part but Schweser was more than enough for FSA. You could read 2-3 pages in Schweser about Diluted EPS or 15-20 in the CFAI books. Schweser is heavy on the problems and I think that is great. If you know the formula and how to calculate an answer you inherently know the concept, but if you know the concept you don’t necessarily know the formula.

Great insight Yancey, thanks for sharing.

Yeah I’m with Billy Collins. I never studied thinking I have to be able to answer the LOS. It’s a MC exam so you aren’t expected to be able to answer the LOS extremely thoroughly.

Nice tips… I was wondering what other concentration boosters people were using…

good post, i echo what you said about FSA and CFAI books nailing it

thats great advice yancey. thanks for the insight. :slight_smile:

Dear Yancey Wade, I am sitting my exam in Dec '08 of CFA Level 1. I also have no prior finance background. I have started studying Schweser Notes as i have not received books from CFAI yet. However, I am ready to give 8-10 hours of study daily. My question is …Should i first read CFAI books and then consult Schwser or vice versa? Secondly recommend me some other book which will make my basic concepts clear in finance. Imagine i dont even know what cashflow means :frowning:

Kallis - you have no time for any other reference books at this time. Just refer to CFAI / Schweser books. No order matters if you can take it up fast. When you are near the exam, do not expect that you start reading CFAI books, you can go crazy reading them then. If you really want to read them - Do it now. They are surely good to read but not necessary enough that you cannot pass without them. Schweser has done a god job to compress the material to the most important points, might not cover every question though but I still say they are Good.

dont do FSA from the CFA curriculum if you are starting now. no doubt its good but it’s way too lengthy. learn it from Schweser and then refer the curriculum whenever necessary. do enough questions from schweser or any other source.

great points on the test taking skills

I found it much harder to concentrate in the afternoon session. A friend of mine went jogging during the lunch break and he swears that’s the way to go. I’ll probably do it for 2 and 3.

Nice write-up, Yancey Wade. I most especially agree with you on the part where you said it’s always best not to take too much time on any one number to optimize the limited time you have. In fact, I first answered those topic areas which I was pretty much sure I would excel in to give me that extra boost of confidence early on during the morning and afternoon sessions.

Very nice tips. Thanks a lot.

Firstly I confess that I have been a lurker for a couple of months on this forum. I accidently stumbled onto this forum while trying to look for reactions to Level 1 exam on June 07th. Believe me, it was a confidence shattering experience to read some of the opinions, especially those where people suggested finishing both sections in 2:30 hours. To say the least, after those initial post exam days, this forum has not only given me valuable insights into the CFA curriculum, but has managed to entertain and amuse me from time to time. Continuing in the vein of the subject of this thread, I am posting my L1 experience and preparation. I cleared L1 this june. I enrolled for L1 in March 2008. Due to personal reasons, I couldn’t have given it in Dec and hence had to decide between waiting one more year or having a crack at it in 85 days. I obviously decided on the latter. I come from a non finance background, masters in industrial engineering, working in the banking sector for the last 4 years. I received the CFA package on 15th of March once I came back from work. The minute I opened the package and went through the books, I realized the deep shit I was in. The only thing I probably understood in those books was Quant. Frantically talked to a friend of mine who has failed L1 twice and asked for his advice….all I really wanted him to say is “its possible”. Well that didn’t happen. I had a pretty long night that night. I had already lost $1450 and my confidence. In the end I decided to give it my best. I decided against using any other resource primarily because of lack of time and also money crunch. Started with Quant to build my confidence and this is the only section where I didn’t solve back of the chapter questions. Kept strict deadlines for myself 3-4 hours everyday after work and 7-8 hours on weekends. On regular weekday I would target to finish 3 readings at least. This was the sequence of books I went through Quant, Economics, Corporate finance and portfolio management, Equity and fixed income, derivative and alternative investments and lastly FSA. The sequence was more psychological than anything else. I wanted to finish as many books as early as I could Carried Ethics printouts everywhere… bus, bed, restroom. I am a huge politics buff and people in the US would know that the primaries were underway around that time. I tried to keep targets like “before the Pennsylvania primary I should finish 4 books”. Primary days were rest days not by choice but I just couldn’t study. Anyways by the end of April, I was done with everything except derivatives and FSA. By this time I knew I didn’t remember anything of economics for sure. FSA in my opinion was the worst of the lot. I regretted my decision to keep this critical section for the last. Moreover I hit a lot of bottlenecks in terms of understanding the material. Sometimes I wondered if they were written in English or some other foreign language. I remember calling up friends late at night on weekends when they were half drunk, trying to understand cash flows, tax adjustments…during these times there were only bad days and then worse days. One good thing that happened is the thought of quitting never came. If I didn’t understand the topic, I googled it, read a different source…discussed topics with people, friends. I never really got hung up on a topic…if it took too much time understanding, I moved to the next one, came back after a few days. Believe it or not except for FSA and economics, I thought my retention and understanding of all other topics was not that bad. In the next month I not only finished the remaining topics but reviewed the material a second time. For the final week, I had only quant and sample/mock exams to give. I gave the first sample exam on 2nd of June…flunked it miserably…scored like a 50%…time was also an issue. For the mock exam, I decided I would concentrate on accuracy and forget abt attempting all questions……attempted only 80 of the 120 questions and got 50 right….ran out of time to give the second mock exam. Even though things were not really going good, I convinced myself that from where I started…it wasn’t too bad. Moreover giving an exam on the PC with no choice but to attempt the questions in order in which they are presented also hampered the performance For the actual exam, I decided on the exact sequence in which to attempt the different sections….had a clear strategy….believe me this really helps. In spite of all this, in the AM section I was struggling not so much on the content, but on the time. In the last 15 minutes call, I had 15 questions unanswered. I circled all of them before I gave a genuine attempt. I couldn’t attempt 4-5 questions on derivatives for sure. Lunch break was the time for smokes and more smokes….didnt know it was because I thought I did well or because I was scared what was in store. The second time around, I knew I was slow by maybe 15-20 minutes and had to cut time on my strong topics which were quant and portfolio management. I did finish the PM section in the nick of time. Throughout the exam I thought to myself that people left the exam hall early cause they didn’t know the subject. That thought cleared once I stumbled on this forum. I actually felt pretty good getting out. I thought I completely cracked quant and maybe even economics and I was hoping for some bit of luck. I know some of you would have put in much more and failed. All I can say is guys don’t give up. I hope you derive some motivation from my tale. For the first timers all the best While I know my scores are not the best, I am pretty happy with the results. My scores are as follows. Multiple Choice 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 Statement Analysis 48 - * - - Fixed Income Investments 28 - * - - Portfolio Management 12 - - * - Quantitative Methods 28 - - *