My Piece of Advice on Killing L3 AM Essay

3/3er here and passed 2017 L3 with AM 0/2/8 and PM 0/1/8 on first attempt, here’s my personal method to crush AM essay. When you have tried several past AM papers under real exam situation and still don’t feel good, you may try to follow this.

Take a notebook, and practice AM problems by topic. For example one day you may want to practice intensely with only problems on Individual Portfolio Management from past exams, and then summarize how this type of problems may be asked in the exam and the standard answer patterns. Say you are asked to judge the risk tolerance of a foundation and give three reasons, you should immediately come up with several standard patterns in your mind (longer/shorter horizon, low/high spending rate, etc) and fit them with the information given. Whenever you feel you are “creating” something rather than “following” a pattern to answer a question, you are probably going wrong and may want to review that part again.

As for the previous AM exams, I don’t think you need to go back too far. I used AM papers from the past 9 years (2008-2016), and IMO papers earlier than that have too many obsolete questions.

Golden rule:

1 . In L3 essay part there’s always a template to follow almost for every type of problems, and guideline answers to past AM papers and EOC teach you exactly those templates.

  1. Patterns should not be complicated , I know some people like to write a lot on what they know, but it’s not wise. The time allocated to each question is deliberately designed by CFA Institute, e.g. for a 6 min question asking for 3 reasons you should feel comfortable to write 3 bullet points with 3 sentences within 5 minutes.


Some tips: (I’ll keep updating whenever I have something in mind)

  1. When answering the questions during the exam, I always underlined or circled the key number/word/phrase in my answer, it doesn’t even take a second but I think it makes a huge difference for those who are not confident with their handwriting because the grader will see what you want to express at the first skim and grab your idea.

For example: (A question from 2017 L3, I can’t remember exactly though)

Q: Please choose the most suitable bond portfolio and give the reason why.

My Answer: Portfolio X, because it has the widest Duration range.

  1. About time management: personally I would put a digital watch on the desk (easier to read the time) and write down the time by which I was expected to finish before starting to answer each question. Say at 9:00 you begin to take a mock and the first question is allocated with 20 minutes, then write down 9:20, it only takes less than 2 seconds. Then after finishing each sub-part , take a glance at the watch (really only takes half a second) to see if you are ahead or behind. Say the first sub-part is given 4 minutes, then you should finish it before 9:04. The bottom line is: never, never, never let yourself fall behind the time, not even a single minute. If for any sub-part you feel you can’t conquor it within the allocated time, move to the next one without any hesitation. Believe me, for a sub-part if you don’t have any clue about what to put down in 1 minute, you’ll still be lost after 5 minutes; if you do have something in mind but feel it takes much longer than the allocated time to write down, you are probably not in the right direction either. The strategy here is that if you strictly stick to the rule that you never exceed the time given, you will probably end up with some minutes left when you finish all the AM questions , because 1) it doesn’t take a long time to give up on a sub-part once you know you can’t come up with an answer now and 2) you are likely to finish the questions you know well half to one minute prior to the expected time, and this “saved time” will accumulate as you go on. Then you can go back to work on those sub-parts you didn’t manage to solve - with no further burden - and you may be able to figure them out now with less pressure. The key idea is : Don’t let the questions you don’t know waste your time and ruin your performance on those you know, make sure you have enough time to answer the questions you can master and get as many points as possible from them. For me I always cleared AM part on mocks with about 10 to 15 minutes left and 2-4 sub-parts unanswered, and then I could try to figure out those sub-parts or, if eventually I didn’t have a clue, write some nonsense, which still wouldn’t matter that much.


My thought on prep materials:

Regarding the materials: this is only my personal opinion, NOT the bible. Everybody has his or her own preference, if you feel totally good with Wiley or Kaplan, then go for it and ignore this part. Choose the way that works best for you, it is YOU not anyone else who will sit in the test center and write the exam.

I would strongly recommend to stick to CFAI curriculum.

I only studied from CFAI official materials and never touched third-party notes/mocks for L3, though I passed L1(0/4/6, no background in finance then) and L2(0/1/9, Ethics 51%-70%) with only Schweser notes and not a glance at CFAI books. From what I’ve read and heard, the notes don’t cover every angle, this is crucial in L3. In L1 and L2 it doesn’t really matter that much because the exam is all about multiple choice questions and calculations with formulas play a huge part, as long as the notes cover the logic and formulas you are safe. But for L3 you really need to understand every concept and are likely to be asked surprising questions on them during AM session, in this case if you’ve never seen them in the notes then you are bombed.



I’ll post my notes next month when I’m back at home, though I’m not sure if everyone will be comfortable with my handwriting and the format.


Hope my experience helps, good luck guys!

Thank a lot !

Do you maybe have any notes that you made during your studies of those models/templates answers for AM? I also passed L3 this year but I think that it would be super helpful to L3 candidates that still have to take the exam next year. I was planning on making those kind off notes during my studies but I didn’t have sufficient study time unfortunately.

I ask this because I think you’re totally right about on how to ace the AM part.

I did take a lot of notes but I think they are too personal, everybody has his or her own preference when it comes to taking notes.

Too bad for the L3 candidates of next year… :neutral_face:

You are exaggerating LOL! I’m in Europe at the moment, and I’ll try to post my notes next month when I’m back home in US, though I doubt whether ppl will be comfortable with my handwriting and the format. :wink:

Wow. To those new to the L3 forum, listen to this guy (TakeiFinale). His matrix is AM: 0/2/8 PM: 0/1/8. :bulb:

Thanks a lot TakeiFinale

Best piece of advice I have seen wrt to AM… followed the exact same strategy in the weeks leading up to the exam.

I clipped the questions from past papers and copied them to ppt. using a wacom graphics table to write my answers. You will begin to identify the key testing points and see the same questions are asked consistently with a slightly different spin.

You will be able to create a laundry list of default answers that you can recall during the exam depending on how CFAI decides to test it.

Key to L3 is to box clever.

I’ll vouch for this valuable piece of advice. Doing AM problems by topic makes you become expert in the topic. In my case, I did not have a lot of AM problems to practise with regards to Alternative Investments (because of lack of practice problems in AI in the AM portion), hence I managed only 50-70% in that section. I however practised a lot of IPS (individual & institutional) questions going back to 2008, hence I managed 70+ in all IPS questions.

Note: AM 2/2/6 PM 1/1/7 (Ethics 70+)

Very valuable tip on time-management. I didn’t do it during the exam and it really screwed me. Because of this I scored below 50% in the last 4 topics. For any new L3 candidates, please manage your time and use the guidelines proposed by TakeiFinale.

Thanks for the tips Taken!

Have you used prep providers? I am wondering that because I used CFAI material, have done all previous AM tests and mocks. Felt like I knew the whole material, but my execution was poor.

I failed at Band 5 (AM: 7/2/1 and PM: 1/7/2) when I was confident of a solid Pass.

One thing that stuck in my mind from a previous CFA 3 test taker was the following :


During the test, I got stuck on a few questions and I moved on and was able to knock out the other questions. This was the best advice EVER!!!. Remember, you dont have to be perfect. You just have to accumulate sufficient points.

I only used CFAI books, and never touched third-party notes.

I’ll echo the importance of time management. At the start of each new case, check the time, then add total number of minutes to complete the case and write that time at the top. If you hit that time, stop and move on. If you do this diligently, you WILL make up minutes later on and have time to go back and complete some subsections that you skipped. I personally had about 20 minutes when I hit the end to go back and pick up more points.

Practice this when doing past AM papers under timed conditions and you’ll start to get a good feel for it.

My advice: Forget about the morning; just aim for 45% to 50%. Focus on acing the afternoon.

Please don’t mislead the new candidates. This is too dangerous IMO.

The key to the morning session, in my humble opinion, is this:

Answer the question they ask.

No more, no less.

I slightly defer on this advice. Last year I got > 70% in 9 of the 10 topics in PM but had a horrible AM score and failed Band 7. This year even though my PM score was not stellar (1/3/5), I was able to clear with a better AM performance (4/3/3). I believe the difference between Pass and Fail is the AM performance since most of the L3 candidates are pretty good in PM

As a follow on to this, Takeifinale’s advise is exactly why I have recommended people not use Schweser mocks to practice. I tried to, but the answers were very different in format than what past CFAI answer keys wanted. I only studied CFAI curriculum and dropped Kaplan mocks after trying 2 AM papers. I did 4 CFA AM practice tests but reviewed the questions I missed multiple times to really nail the template for answers they wanted. 0/4/6 AM