My CFA Journey and Advice

Two years ago my boss asked me to enroll in the CFA program. Today I am a charterholder.

I am not brilliant academically. Please read the rest of the post with this in mind, my results shocked me (and those who know me) and demonstrate the power of work ethic. I barely scraped through a commerce degree in which I only took 1 finance course and I now consider to be a joke compared to even level I of the CFA program. I withdrew from 8 courses and failed another.

Intelligence was never the issue, I struggled with motivation and work ethic. I did the CFA program with a full time job, wife, two kids under 3 and one on the way. I am in my late 20s.

I have been reading these forums since I enrolled in the program, not to learn anything about the program but to see how other people are feeling. This is my first post, and I hope it can help you at any level in the program.

My Journey:

Wrote CFA Level I Dec 2012, passed with 70+ in 9/10 categories (450 hours studied) Wrote CFA Level II June 2013, passed with 70+ in all categories (450 hours studied) Wrote CFA level III June 2014, passed with 70+ in all categories PM and 9/11 in AM (450 hours studied)

My Approach:

I never read the learning outcome statements, not one. I didn’t spend any extra time on heavily weighted areas. I figured the amount of time I would spend reading the LOSes and figuring out what to study could be put into reading the material and doing practice questions. I also did very few practice questions compared to the average person on here (1 day level I (I didn’t know any better), 1 week level II, 1 week level III). There were times when I wasted time trying to learn something I wouldn’t be tested on because of my approach.

I read the CFA curriculum start to finish and in the order presented, doing all practice questions along the way. Next I read the Shweser books start to finish, doing all practice questions. I did this again, but with everything highlighted it took a fraction of the time. I didn’t move on from a section until I understood it. A week before the exams I began doing practice questions. I recommend doing way more practice questions, but focusing on the material isn’t bad either. I found I knew the material so well I raced through the actual exam. I finished both sides of level I in less than 2 hours. Level II I also finished early. Level III AM was the most difficult part of the CFA program for me, and I ran out of time on it.

My Advice: - Don’t underestimate the program: I believe this is the number one reason people fail. When I enrolled I looked at the pass rates and asked myself, if more than half fail level I, and more than half of those who passed it fail level II, and only half of those people pass level III, this must be difficult… and I studied accordingly. - Studying should be a routine/habit: Studying is a lot like working out, when you skip a day it’s very difficult to motivate yourself to come back. - Over Prepare: People seem to try to determine how little to study, even though they ask how much or how soon they need to study. A good example is those who recommend not reading the CFA curriculum. Yes you can pass without reading it, but why risk a year of your life and months of study? Don’t be afraid to spend too much time studying, all that matters is whether you pass, no one will resent you for spending even 1000 hours on a level! - When doing practice tests, don’t fill in answers you don’t know! If you fill it in and get it right by chance (a big possibility) or because you sort of knew it, you will neglect to study your weak areas. To get my exam scores I would add 33% to the score I got with all the blanks, my scores on level I and II practice exams were low 60s. - Spoil Yourself : When I didn’t feel like studying, I went out and got whatever I needed to make it easier. Usually this was a good hamburger, an Oreo Blizzard, or Chicken strips. Your mind will begin associating study time with happy time. - Move Around: When my ability to study faded, I would drive to a different location and by the time I got there I could usually study for another hour. I would go to up to 4 different places in a given study day. - Just Say No: People not in the program don’t understand the program. Your friends, family and relationship partner will ask you to do things when you need to study. Just say no, they will be there after you write the test. - Take vacation BEFORE the test not after: I can’t tell you the number of candidates I’ve met that take a vacation to celebrate writing the test. Why not use your vacation to ensure you pass? 1 week of holidays could be the difference between needing to retake and study for another 300+ hours! - Practice writing: I type everything, in preperation for the level III AM I tried to use pen and paper as much as possible in the months leading up to the exam.

If someone could post the CFA dragons picture, I would appreciate it. I can’t believe how accurate that picture is.

If you have any questions, I will try to respond!


Its really motivating

Way to tell everybody how amazing you are…

moving on…

This is good advice, especially establishing a routine and spoiling yourself. You have to make the studying time somehow enjoyable, so you can get into it and focus without feeling miserable about missing out on social events.

I would add for the Levels II and III, to make sure you understand the exam formats and have a strategy on how to tackle them. And also that you figure out your weak spots at the end of April and or early May so you have plenty of time to work on them before the exam.

way to go hoe!

Great post – I actually followed the same pattern of (1) reading CFAI and doing practice questions, (2) reading Schweser and doing practice questions, (3) re-reading Schweser repeatedly with my highlights as cues for where to focus, (4) reading practice exams

I don’t typically participate in the bulls**t advice threads on this forum but just wanted to say your post echoed with my approach much more than others. I don’t recall ever caring about a single LOS, I read more for understanding than efficiency, I spoiled the s**t out of myself and spent $8 on cafe coffee every day, and I too erred on the side of overpreparing (2/2 thus far). That said, reading the entirety of the CFAI AND Schweser was maybe a little overkill. I know where you’re coming from though – this program is as much about proving to myself that I have a work ethic and overcoming the mistakes of my youth (also late 20s) than it is about the finance bit.

I did not score as high as the OP in my CFA exams, but I got through all the CFA and ASA exams. Here are the lessons I learned from this very long journey (which is not over yet as I am studying for the FSA exams):

  1. You should never assume that a topic will not be tested, even the most insignificant portion of a topic. Your brain will try very hard to tell you: “this subject has never been tested so you should skip this small portion of the topic”, but you must resist.

  2. This is related to the OP advice about doing practice test: When you do practice exams, you goal is probably to score very high so you can assume you will pass the exam. However, do not focus on the result, a practice exam is not a reproduction of an official exam, it is a tool to improve. Read carefully the answers of both, the good and wrong anwers and take note of the subjects you do not master well on a sheet. Reread these topics and cross them one by one.

  3. Do not compare yourself to the people posting their scores on a forum. Most people posting their scores did well and there is probably an upward bias here as the people not scoring well will not post their results.

  4. My advice for exam 3 particularly: I did the BSAS practice exam and it was full of errors and poorly written. While it did not help me in spotting my weakest topics, it did help for one thing. I realized that while I understand well a concept, I must be able to write about it which is very different. You must understand the key points, but it is not enough. You have to be able to talk about it very fast and under pressure. Even the most easy question can become very hard during the exam if you did not do your homeworks and learned the key points by heart. My advice is then: Do not understudy for a simple topic. Learn the advantages, disadvantages, characteristics by heart.

To the OP…you need to give more credit to your wife. You’re married, have a full-time job, and have raised two kids…and yet you managed to study 450 hours for all three tests? Raising kids is a lot of work and often eats into your sleep habits. A lot of wives want a good deal of attention. A lot of guys are hitched to women that wouldn’t allow you to log that many study hours while raising two kids – some wouldn’t even consider letting you spend 3 hours a day (nearly every day) studying.

Either you hardly slept, or your wife is an All-Star.


Thanks for pointing this out. My wife was an All-Star throughout the process, and it was hard on her and the kids at times. I tried to study when the kids were in bed. Sleep was an issue for me, thankfully I function pretty well without sleep due to years of staying out way to late. A good wife will understand the short term sacrifice for the long term gain. Not that the CFA is some garantee, but it can’t hurt.

TL:DR version: hey world, I’m awesome. compliment me now

Don’t understand these posts. First post is coming on to pat yourself on the back? Nobody here knows you or really cares how fast you did it or what you scored. You really didn’t contribute anything the entire journey or help anyone else along the way. Best of luck but nobody is really impressed or blown away because it’s nothing special

itera nailed it on the head

Good for you. and Congratulation for the achievement

Just it seems to me you underestimated your no. of hours studied. Reading the whole CFA curriculum and doing all practice questions + Schweser books & all practice questions twice + a week of practice questions , is more than 450 hrs

Still, with your background and life responsibilities, you did well.

Not only that the best advice is do what I did! For the whole duration of CFA studies forget your family and be a sort of self-centred hard-working nut, only studying 450 hours besides your paid work. Forget your family (they are not in the CFA framework – if they are under 3 years of age, so what? Don’t worry the poor wife is there to take care of them, but give her some credit when others force you to do so!), indulge yourself. When bored just go out and have as much of junk food as you can… forget others. Just go out when needed and drive around to different locations – you have to pass the exam after all so why bother about anyone else? When stressed out you have your wife - don’t bother about the consequences - it is her ordeal, not yours.

When you pass give the full credit to yourself and none else – many of those who supported you, sacrificed because they love you (or can not protest at you stealing their share of time with you as they are too young to even say it!) and above all you could study because they let you do so (even getting her bear another child, with another two under three years to take care of almost alone- to diminish your own stress) – just beat your own drum. Everyone is supposed to say, “Congrats! You are great, you have cleared CFA 3/3.”

CFA_Dragon_Slayer… well deserved name i daresay…

dragon slayer, you a real bum you bum

I couldn’t have said it any better.

Itera, you post on here 8 times a day. Most of the time you are trying to bring other people down. Grow up and move on, I’m guessing you’re getting a little too old to be a forum troll?

bit mad are we? why don’t you complain about the 8 other people who said the same thing I did, half were before me