My 2 cents of advice from a 2014 Level 3 passer

Hi everyone

Having just finished the CFA process, I wanted to share some advice that got me through it. I took 5 years, with 2 years taken out in the middle to attend business school. I failed level 1 first time as I was entirely unprepared and my processes were poor, then I figured out what was needed to pass and didn’t look back. Everyone has something different that works for them, but if you’re like me and not a genius with a photographic memory, hopefuly this will be of some use.

  1. I have heard a few people say that CFA is ‘pretty easy’. If you hear this, know that they are trying to make themselves seem more intelligent than they are. True, taken individually some of the topics aren’t very hard, but as a whole the exams are tough and you need to be smart and be very dedicated. No way around this.

  2. I didn’t start the material too early. I found 4 months is plenty to pass if you work smart. Material you read more than 5-6 months ago will not be retained in enough detail to make any real difference on exam day. You will also bore and fatigue with overexposure to the material. Think Blitzkrieg!

  3. The CFAI books are packed with too much detail. I passed all 3 levels using Schweser (not plugging Schweser here, I’m sure the others are good too). The CFAI books are useful for practice questions and some of the blue boxes help if you are unsure of a concept. When I tried to study from the CFAI books I felt that Everest had just doubled in size and the time I needed just to cover the material once would be at least 3-4 months which was pretty depressing!

  4. MY MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE- READ CAREFULLY!! Practice questions. A lot of people do not understand how to use practice questions. The mistake a lot of people make is that they do the questions and then walk away. This is easily done because after a 6 hour exam how much do you feel like going through the answers? If you’re anything like me, not at all. I always blocked out two days for practice exams and on the second day I went through the answers. I was honest with myself and made notes on any question I got worng, or got right but was lucky. These notes went into the ‘SH#T I DON’T KNOW’ book- which is my biggest tip for passing. Do every exam and practice question you can get hold of, and note every wrong answer in this notebook. What you end up with is a super-efficient collection of what you ‘know that you don’t know’ and therefore what you need to learn. The stuff you get right goes into the stuff that you ‘know you know’. The more questions and exams you do, the more comprehensive this book becomes. So much time is wasted on reading through the books and chapters which you know a lot of already- this is both time inefficent and VERY BORING! The book of ‘sh#t I don’t know’ went with me everywhere, and was the focus of my studying, along with practice exams. It kept me interested as it’s more interesting learning things you don’t know. If by exam day you know everything in the book, you can be pretty confident that you know enough to pass as if it’s not in the book, you probably know it. This method took me to a pass in levels two and three where I scored 70+ in most sections.

  5. Generally speaking, 1 was probably the easiest in retrospect, 2 was the hardest, 3 was close to 2 but less material and fewer formulas meant I found it easier. It was the sheer volume that made 2 tough.

  6. Having been lucky enought to get into one of the top business schools, I would still choose a CFA charter holder over an MBA to work for me. MBA is great for networking and the best b-schools are tough to get into, but imagine how much easier CFA would be if it was modular- that’s pretty much what MBA is like. CFA requires a huge amount of dedication and time, in my mind it shows that someone has the right work ethic. Having spent my career so far at a top tier IB on the trading floor and AM, I would say that colleagues seem to respect the CFA more as well.

  7. Generally speaking if you’re not passing the mocks, you won’t pass the real thing. They are a very good indication so aim to be around 70-75% on all mocks before you go in to give yourself a really good chance.

  8. The number of hours is a big distraction. It’s irrelevant. Just cover the material and do the EOC questions. I did this is 3.5 months, and spent the last two weeks on mock after mock. I remember times in the library where I saw people who sat all day in the library doing not much work, then come out saying ‘I studied for 10 hours today’. It’s way better to do 3 really good hours, than 10 hours staring blankly at the notebooks. I know this is obvious, but I see it all the time and it frustrates me!

  9. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing on Analyst Forum. Everyone is stronger in different areas and as a general rule the guys on here are pretty committed so you are taking a sample from the top 50% of candidates.

I know everyone is different, but I would consider myself as an ‘average joe CFA’, so hopefully this will be of some use to someone out there!

All the best to everyone who is on the CFA road, it’s tough, but passing it was one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment I have ever felt.

congrats, and welcome

Congrats and thanks a lot for the tips/advices.

Congratulations on passing.

Great post. I agree with just about everything you said. I found Level 3 to be the hardest because of the test format and less quantitative nature.

Good and helpful post.

thanks and congrats

Alexlennon - Couldn’t have said it better myself, all very valid pieces of insight (although I think pt 6 is debatable). Pt 8 is great - there is no magic number of hours needed to pass the exam, you just need to study for as long or as little as it takes for you to know the material in and out.

Nice, thanks for the post.

Great post. Very helpful. However, I doubt that you’re an average joe if you’re working at a top IB. Thanks and congrats

If I’m reading this correctly, get your hands on heaps of practice exams and start from them, only refer to text once something is wrong?

I read through all the material first, doing EOC q’s as I went along, making sure I was passing the question sets. The key to the first pass of the material is to make sure you understand all the concepts, memorisation comes later with the practice exams. My experience was that there wasn’t much that was difficult to understand, it was largely a memorisation exercise, so in that regard I found practice exams the most useful in terms of memorising the syllabus without getting bored.

I see thanks. I’m finding jumping to the EOC questions straight away to be too great a leap, definitely need to read through the material first to jog the memory first.