First of all i would like to thank AnalystForum for being a huge support in my CFA studies. I took Dec 2013 level 1 exam (all >70% except for AI) and luckily managed to pass level 2 this June (all >70% except for Ethics). Since there were many posts which literally helped me to make the studying process very efficient, i thought i could give some input for those who will be attempting Level 2 exam next year.
My background is as follows: i’m 22, a bachelor degree in finance from one of the top Moscow universities and one year work experience in corporate finance (big 4). I took both exams working full-time (and frequently overtime); i took a one day off before Level 1 and one week before Level 2 (and i began studying in the mid September for Level 1 and in the mid February for Level 2). Both exams were finished by me in approximately 4 hours, that is i had 1 hour in each session (AM/PM) to review my answers and fill the answer sheet.
The first question to ask yourself is when to start to study. As you can see, i had about 3,5 month for Level 2 working full-time. Was it enough for me in my situation? I would say no. I really had to dedicate a huge amount of my non-work time to studies, though i can’t say i didn’t have time for anything else. I could go out with friends or go to the gym 1-2 times a week, but anything more time-consuming than that was something i couldn’t afford. So here is my advice: you should have a fair amount of time for your studies, but i would NEVER suggest starting your studies more than 6 months before the exam. First of all, you will be def burnt out closer to the exam, no matter how intensive your studying process will be (easy mode / hardcore mode) - it is just too much time to concentrate on one thing. Secondly, you will be done with the books and start doing mocks/questions earlier - in general it is good, but i guarantee you will be starting to forget all those small concepts, which can be heavily tested on the exam and which may not be tested in the mocks. Either you will have to constantly review the material, or you will be put at risk of forgetting some stuff you will need on the exam day.
Then, that old age question - CFAI vs prep providers. Here i will be pretty clear - i would NEVER SUGGEST ANYONE, regardless of the background / time till exam to read these enormous folios, except for the ethics stuff. Moreover, i’m 99% sure i would have got a borderline pass or even some 8-10 band fail if i had used them during my studies. I give kudos to those guys who are able to read them all and clear the exam, but if your aim is rather to pass the exam than to get like 150% of knowledge for a very limited amount of time instead of 100% of knowledge, than you should avoid using them as you primary study material, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. CFA is not for learning finance, it’s for setting a big picture in your head, and if you want to study finance in such detail, i can give you 1000+ ways you can do it more efficiently. Use third-party prep provider, they are MORE THAN ENOUGH to pass Level 2 comfortably. I can also guarantee you that the difference between 1. you read CFAI books once and 2. you read and re-read schweser/elan/whatever 2-3 times is your pass, because in the first case, unless you’re a genius, you will fail the exam, and in the second case you will get just enough to clear it comfortably. I can’t possibly imagine that someone can be equally prepared for all sections using CFAI books, it is just too damn big for a person who is not locked up in a flat with CFA books as the only entertainment.
In my studies, i used Schweser, which proved to be OK during my level 1 journey. Also, i had their videos, which i watched on my way to work and back from work (about two hours a day) multiple times - they’re not perfect, but they were a huge help anyway. I had both the books and videos on my iPad, and i actually didn’t use the paper books at all - read it all from the screen (btw, there some topics in Schweser which are awfully explained in the book but are perfectly clear in the videos - so i encourage you to use them in your preparation). I didn’t use QBank, just like i didn’t use it before Level 1; for Level 2, it is useless waste of precious time. So, to sum up, the materials i used: Schweser books; schweser videos; old mock exams from CFAI. And internet - if you don’t understand some idea, you should google it to death, until you get the very idea behind the thing. I also made a folder of screenshots from AnalystForum and other web-sites on my iPad where i found beautiful explanations of ugly things (like pension accounting) - the folder got huge closer to the exam, and boy, it was the greatest thing i did in my life during these hectic 3,5 month. Mos def i encourage you to do the same, it just worked perfectly for me.
As for the timeline: i finished reading books the first time by May. Of course the first time you finish the books you forget or don’t understand about 50% of the material, even though i read it really thoroughly. When i re-read the books (untill late May) i was almost shocked that things which appeared to be difficult to me, were logical and easy to understand. Also these times i retained material much better. So i re-read the books twice, second time quickly and the third time really quickly. Note here: i didn’t solve end of chapter questions neither in Schweser nor in CFAI. I felt this would harm my studies, because i would end up knowing some sections perfectly and not having time to even re-read other. Still even if you have time i wouldn’t advice you doing EOCs, mocks are just more efficient provided you do them after you’re done with the books and all sections. Doing EOCs will add little value for much time - but it may just be me. So i finished books by end May (and i was feeling i’m more than ready then), and the whole week in June i did mocks. Note: the training mocks provided by CFAI are to my taste 200% harder than the real exam. The questions are just harder and far more tricky. I ended up having about 69-70% in these mocks (almost no deviation in results), but i knew form Level 1 that exam must be easier than CFAI mocks. And it was: i finished both sessions one hour in advance with very little amount of questions i didn’t know.
So, here are the things i WOULD advice doing in your preparation process:
- Using any third party provider and not CFAI books for the reason stated above - for me this one is crucial. Remember, you need to pass the exam, not reading ton of things you won’t see in the exam for sure. You may say CFAI books are better, but there is one thing which can’t be argued: third party providers give you MORE than enough knowledge to pass the exam
- Read slowly and try understand every small detail. Don’t move on until you completely got the topic, at least if you are re-reading the material. If you don’t get the idea first time or forget things quickly - it is perfectly OK, provided you read thoroughly
- Start in advance, but not too early: i think 4-5 month is the most optimal range to pass this thing successfully
- Use videos. Just go and buy them from any prep provider - they’re really effective for Level 2
- PRACTICE! As i have said, i didn’t solve any EOCs, so my practice consisted of 5-6 mocks during 2 weeks, including 1 live schweser exam. Mocks are a must, for sure
I wouldn’t do the following:
- Taking written notes. I think this is bad thing viewed in the «cost-benefit» framework. You’d better spend this time reading the material, which is itself some kind of the curicullum’s notes
- Starting more than 6 months before the exam
- Doing EOCs WHEN you’re reading the material. But this is just me, maybe, i can’t focus on what i read if i’m forced to take a pen every 20-30 pages to solve some stuff. It is effective to split the whole process into reading / then practicing, and not mix things up
- Skipping any topic because you don’t understand it or because you want to study other topic more thoroughly. I can tell you i wanted to do this with PM this year, thank God i didn’t do it. The worst thing you can do is to know some topics very well and not having a clue about the others. This is a straight road to the fail. You must know all topics, and better if you know them well, but never sacrifice some material to drill other topics
- Never read the vignette before reading the questions. This is plain stupid, you’ll waste precious time for nothing. On the exam, first read the question, then look it up in the vignette
I think that’s all. I hope my study experience will be a valuable help for Level 2 takers. I’m thinking right now whether to go on with the Level 3 exam in 2015, but for now i’ll enjoy my well-deserved vacation in the Carribean sea If there are any questions - will be glad to answer them