I did it just before 50 - my experience

Hi

After occasionally using the analyst forum during my CFA journey but not being active, I would like to share my experience in return for what I could profit from the forum.

Just a few words about myself. I was 50 when I received the results of my CFA 3 (but under 50 when I wrote the final test ;-). I was mainly working as external and internal auditor in my early years and then as corporate controller, so no problem with FRA and corporate finance, but very basic knowledge on financial instruments, asset allocation etc. In addition, I am not a native English-speaking person. Thus, I had not the most favorite starting conditions and and I might be one of these guys, who can truly say: if I can do it, you can do it. Did Level 1 in 2016, Level 2 in 2017 and then decided to pause in 2018 to keep family life alive and passed Level 3 in 2019. I didn’t count my hours, but had at least 300 for each level, most on Level 3. Passed all levels with big reserve.

Level 1
Used Schweser and was very pleased with it. It covered about 95% of the curriculum, which I did not touch (and then suddenly got shocked when I came across mock questions on formulas I had never heard of). Still, the curriculum itself is overloaded and I would not have had the time to read it. If you master Schweser you will be fine even with a few out of 180 questions that you may not be able to answer. I stayed on the essential package and did not buy any classes.
Here is what I think was the key to my success:

  • I stuck to the Schweser learning schedule. I was through the books at beginning of March and then did a second round to repeat and start memorizing.
  • After reading each chapter, I answered all the questions of the chapters and did at least 20 Q-Banks.
  • From the beginning, I simulated time pressure when doing Q-Bank, learning rather to answer a question wrong and go ahead than to think for more than the 1’30 min limit. This can be very hard but it trains for the exam.
  • I think the best of Schweser was the 101 Must Knows. When I solved those questions, I had a very low score, which was frustrating. However watching the solution videos provided for every question filled many gaps and imo this was the key success for my good result (only two topics in the 50%-70% range, the rest >70%).
  • Learn to answer ethics fast (for all the levels). By doing that you will be 10 minutes ahead of schedule after the ethics questions on exam day, which gives some relieve and reserves for the remaining topics. Even in 2017 when some of the ethics questions were so ambiguous that I nearly cursed out loudly I did not lose time thinking too much and went on.
    Thus even if you do not use Schweser it could be worth buying the 101.

Level 2

Used Schweser again and looking back have mixed feelings about it. Many mistakes in the books and some of the topics were written poorly. Still very convenient for the topics I was familiar with, but I struggled with the less familiar ones. I partially had to dive into the curriculum for topics. Overall, Schweser was still time saving. Again only bought the essential package. Listened to some classes on Youtube.
Here is what I think was the key to my success:

  • When I had finished a Schweser chapter I skimmed over the curriculum to see whether something important was missing and if so I read it and added it to my own notes. That “Schweser+” approach lowered the gaps between Schweser and the curriculum significantly.
  • Additionally solved the EOC questions and the questions on the CFA website.
  • When you have finished a topic, start working with the topic slices from the mock exams. Train speed and stick to the 18 minutes. This will help at the exam day. Keep only 1-2 full mocks untouched and use these for the 2x3hrs simulation in the two weeks before the exam.
  • I spent a lot of time on topics I had difficulties to understand, even if they had a low weight. I did not especially focus on my strengths. In the end, it paid off to have a robust level of understanding on all topics even with a few weaknesses. This keeps you independent of the weight shifts or of exotic topic questions on the exam day. I remember in 2017 economics dug out of a very edgy subject and I am sure many candidates were not able to answer the questions.

Level 3
All of my strong topics gone! Increasingly upset with declining quality of Schweser. Would not recommend Schweser for L3. The frequency I had to use the curriculum was so high that the pros of Schweser nearly disappeared. Would probably work with the curriculum alone or use IFT or LeFebvre Videos instead. There were many older IFT videos I watched (and enjoyed Arifs’ accent) at the beginning of my learning period on Youtube, but they suddendly were removed. I followed the advice of MM to use a different order of reading, but in the end, I wished I had followed the ordinary way. Didn’t see the big Advantage of it.
Also the Schweser videos on the essay questions were not the best. The old ones were at least well explained but awfully inefficiently long combined with a steady threatening about all the possible mistakes one could make. And the latest ones with an new instructor were not helpful at all imO.
In addition, the quality of the online case studies of the CFA institute was also very poor. The comment section mentally helped to see many other candidates suffering and feeling annoyed as well by the poor wording of the questions and the answers.
Here is what I think was the key to my success:

  • Speed training for the morning question. Get used to keep time schedule, even if you have to leave a partial question unanswered. When you get used to it it will stress you fare less at the exam.
  • Slice the tests and start answering the questions for the topics that you have studied
  • Keep 1-2 full essay questions to do a 3hrs full training.
  • Only positive thing about Schweser L3. The Q-Bank always help to check the proper understanding with view to afternoon questions. Used it a lot.

What I feel I still did not manage well for all the levels:
I didn’t find a way for efficient note taking. I would have preferred to find or buy summaries and tables (available at the beginning of the learning period!), where I could have added the things I felt to be important. Writing down everything on your own is soooo time consuming. In the end I copied the Schweser end of chapter summaries and added my notes on them, but the quality of the chapter-summaries was so varying that it was not always a good base and it still needed much complement from my side.
I was not very well at keeping the chapters that I had learned alive. Schweser provides you with a tool to schedule your learnings. However, it does not take into account the growing amount of time needed to keep the old stuff heated. Thus, in order to stick to the schedule I skipped the review. When doing the second round I had forgotten so much that it took me long hours to go through the difficult areas again.
Hoping these lines help you guys. Keep your heads up. If I did it, you can do it :-).

3 Likes

I passed L2 in 2019, at the age of 37, so glad to hear it’s doable as you get older! Aiming for L3 this year.

Congratulations on your achievement, and thank you for sharing your path to success. Have you found it has boosted your career prospects further, given you already have a lot of experience?

To be honest I did not really have the focus on my career by doing this. I did the CFA out of (i) interest, (ii) my aim to enlarge my knowledge in finance/financial markets and (iii) to prove myself and my employer who paid for the books and the fees that I am still in shape . Of course the title may result in some further opportunities, but at the moment I am not actively persuing one.

Thanks Franz, makes sense and congratulations once again. It can only be good in the long run!