Non-Finance Peeps: How I passed Level 1

This is for the people who have basically no finance experience. With no finance background (only micro and macro econ from high school 4 years ago), I passed with very high marks after becoming addicted to coffee and sleeping pills in the same week (I had to study hard during the days before the test, but also had to make sure I fell asleep at nights). The night before the test i was so nervous I was only able to sleep for 3 hours, with 5 hours each of the 2 nights before that, with sleeping pills every night that week. I had 4 cups of coffee before noon during D-day, almost forgot my calculator in the morning at the train station (I waited for 25 minutes, and when the train almost arrived I realized I felt light… I called my uncle when he was still in bed, and his running skills combined with crazy Asian driving antics delivered the calculator to me right on time… I got the hand-off as he ran out of the car, sprinted towards the train, and hopped in as the doors closed behind me, barely missing my butt). Anyway, in the 3 months before the test i studied probably over 400 hours, which is about 30-40 hours a week on average, and my scores rocked despite the fatiguing circumstances (over 70% in every category except for alt. investments and derivatives, which were in the 50-70% and because I spent the least time on them). My Method: I used Schweser notes, color-coded the highlighting scheme so that I could discern formulas vs. definitions vs. LOS’s more quickly as I flipped, and to mark my progress in a festive sorta way. I didn’t even take a practice test until 2 days before the real test, on which I scored an 82%. Because my weak areas seemed to be Fixed Income, Quantitative Analysis and Ethics (those were just hardest for me to grasp along the way), I got the full books for those on… The Fixed Income and Quantitative Analysis books also have Workbooks you can buy, which are full of useful problems that really drill the stuff into your head. I’d read a chapter in the full books, and immediately do that chapter in the corresponding Workbook. For Ethics, I read the CFA Institute stuff twice during the two weeks before the test, though I did take the Ethics portion of the schweser test previously and realized that the Schweser notes were lacking in the Ethics portion. For reading the Schweser materials, I’d skim and highlight the first time, then do an in-depth reading the second time, and finally reviewed hardcore on the stuff that confused me for the third time (which was like 70% of the material). Also, the week before my practice test, I’d read the formula sheets in the back of the book before I went to sleep, at least one time through all of them every two nights. I made deadlines for the LOS’s… I’d try to do 2 per week, one on the weekdays and another during the weekend, and kept track of my scores in the end-of-chapter questions so that I knew where to review in the future. Anyway this was my method but I’m sure there’s other successful ones out there, but this was by far a sure thing so give it a try. The MOST important piece of advice I can give to make sure you pass… this is not for those shooting for borderline or if you think your finance degree is a big advantage (it probably is). If you’re a baby when it comes to most or all of the topics on the CFA, you have to realize that you’re basically cramming what should be 3-4 years worth of information into a few months… EVERYTHING you see in the schweser notes is fair game for a test question… same with the CFA Institute texts (although Schweser did a good job of summarizing the important stuff to make it faster but denser to read). Some of the things were really obscure, but I went with my gut instinct and it worked apparently because I made sure to read every inch of the Schweser notes 3x. So you have to be prepared to make sacrifices. As in ditch all your friends and neglect your family and make zero dates with neighborhood hotties. Because I’m a full time student, I tried to cram about 20 hours of studying into each weekend, and did 2-5 on weeknights (at the expense of a lot of sleep). I was also liberal about taking naps and missing classes that weren’t mandatory… Of course, if you’re taking it in December 08, it’s a different story at this point, but for most of you guys, now is crunch time, so start crunching and don’t look back or around or feel left out of anything that you’re missing, because I guarantee when you get your score and it says “Pass” it will be the greatest feeling in the world. After hearing how hard the test was, I didn’t want to leave it to chance… I have too much at stake personally. So some people would say it was overkill, but I’m finding that my hard effort is making studying for Level 2 much easier, because it sets the foundation for the next level :smiley: The time management habits you develop at the beginning matter more than how efficiently you study or how smart you are, so the first two weeks will be the hardest but once your friends realize you’re MIA, they’ll eventually replace you (just kidding! Sort of)… Wish you guys luck, I think 300+ hours is enough to pass, but you never know what will happen in the near future before the test, or how busy your school/work will become later on down the road, so always cram as much as you can into every day, that’s the only way to not have regrets when it’s all over. PS I understand this message is very long and rambles a lot, but I also read this website consistently for a month before the test, and I felt very outclassed by some of the brilliant folks posting on this… so I didn’t post very much, but I hope this compensates as a contribution to the AF community.

FYI, I have had insomnia since I was a little kid. Do NOT take sleeping pills unless you absolutely need them. Same goes with coffee (I didn’t drink it regularly so one a day during the month before the test was enough, and that was when I had already burned out).

If you study for 400 hours for this test in just about any sensible way and you are reasonably smart, you should be able to pass it. Without becoming addicted to anything and without causing middle-of-the-night manic episodes like this.

400?Isn’t that a bit much JDV? Don’t reply to that…a question born out of anxiety is all!! :frowning:

Yep. The OP is offering a 400 hour study plan that he believes will work. I’ve got dozens and dozens of 400 hour study plans that will work.

I have a 700 hour study plan that I’m willing to sell to people who are interested… It involves a whip, two horses, and a chain. Guaranteed to work.

Congratulations on passing! But Seriously! I’d guess you are in your mid 20’s and if you are taking sleeping pills to study for exams that’s not real good news. A career in finance is rather stressful that others so you need to learn to relax without the help of pills !!!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bobbylei! Good luck with your next level…

Thanks bobbylei for sharing your experience!! Any suggestions if L2 is doable in June-08 now? I have yet to receive my L2 books. Simply put, I have a Full time job + a relationship to maintain + CFA-L2 in 4 months. Do you think I can make it? - Dinesh S

For those who made snide comments towards bobbylei, we have to adjust for the following points: 1. Seems like he isn’t the most laid back person out there and didn’t want to take the chance of having to take it over again. (I’m sure he could have done it for less work. There’s no point in putting him down and to imply how smart we are if we “don’t” put in such effort.) 2. He wasn’t studying just to pass it, but to kick its ass. (After all, isn’t the point to understand the material, not to show how you passed with the least amount of work?) 3. Enhanced understanding will carry over to Level II and III. (We have to take the entire perspective here, if you barely pass Level I and fail any of the subsequent levels, you might be losing more than the excess t = 400 - t(amount of studying to seem smart) that he put in.) Thanks bobbylei for your honesty, I admire your motivation, and I hope you kick ass on Level II and III.

Thanks for your support guys. I mean I had never taken a finance class before, and all I heard was how damn hard this test is from everyone. I’m young but I have a beautiful girl waiting for me on the other side of the world and I promised I’d go back for her, I came back to America for my final year to finish my uni degree and hopefully get a finance job when I go back. Sure it’s possible to pass with less time, I said that already. But I didn’t want to take any chances… I couldn’t, really. Once I finish school I’m on my own and Hong Kong is a really expensive place to live. Like I said, what I did was not for people who plan on passing borderline, but for those who cannot afford to fail even once and do not have any previous finance background, or for those who already failed a few times and want to try something more hardcore. And the sleeping problem like I said is something I’ve had since I was a kid, and I was trying to get a good night’s sleep before the test and randomly woke up at 1 am and couldn’t fall back asleep… I was only 21 years old during the time of the test (just turned 22), and yes it’s something I need to work on but I figured I’ll do that after the Level 3, or I can always sleep when I’m dead :stuck_out_tongue: My point is, despite the fact that all the circumstances the day of the test were working against me and it felt like a major uphill battle from the fatigue, I still kicked its ass badly. That means the knowledge is totally ingrained in me and I could apply it under similar circumstances at 110-hours-per-week finance jobs. If you’re taking this test just for the sake of passing a test, you should reconsider your reasons for going into finance and also have to work extra hard for levels 2 and 3… I took the test because I knew the stuff would be applicable for the rest of my life, as opposed to the bullshit classes I’m taking in university. Dinesh, I received the books already and I think it should be very doable. I know you’re smart as hell, I’ve been reading your posts. Right now the books look super hard but I remember I felt the same about the level 1 material 5 months ago. I’m working on econ right now and a lot of the material is actually carried over from December 07’s level 1 test, although it was the foreign exchange stuff that no one understood. Anyway whether you pass or not is completely up to you. The test does not set a curve, theoretically everyone can pass with enough studying. By the way from the posts I’ve read, I think compared to the others on the site I’m relatively strong in Econ, so if you guys have any questions about Econ you can email me at

400 h is pretty normal. Don’t listen to them. Most of the people here study even more and some if not many do not go to work. And yet, some of them fail. For a non-finance grad, passing cfa is hard. So you live in HK ? I have some questions to ask you. Will you be happy to receive them on your email ? :slight_smile:

Sure ask away, but I only lived in HK for a year (August 2006 to July 2007) and now I’m finishing up my degree for May 2008 and returning to HK in June after the Level 2 exam. I did explore a lot when I was there, so I may be able to help…

Here’s the thing: 1) This is a totally lousy plan. Yes, the OP’s grades were good. The cost was “ditching” his family and friends, getting addicted to drugs, cutting his college classes (big mistake that grows over time), and studying for 400 hrs. 2) Your study plan is supposed to be integrated with how you study. Much of this stuff (skim and highlight, reread, reread a third time, memorize the formulas on the formula sheet) is inefficient and poor studying. In particular, the concept of memorizing formulas on a formula sheet does not correspond at all well with the claim of being very well-prepared for the next levels. Understanding the material means you don’t need to memorize any fomulas and that’s a much better long-term plan. I don’t know any formulas or maybe I know most formulas but I have never memorized any (well, that’s probably not exactly true…) 3) Anecdotal accounts of how someone else studied ignore any general themes that apply to almost everyone. In particular " I didn’t even take a practice test until 2 days before the real test, on which I scored an 82%" is absolutely nuts. Educational research is about as consistent as economics research (which means it only rarely is) but there is nearly consensus that the best learning strategies have regular testing. That’s pretty much why you take tests in your classes once a month. Offering any advice that suggests that people don’t need to take tests is naive and irresponsible. In the case of the CFAI exams, there is even this gross issue of the actual test reusing some of the exact questions from the online practice tests. 4) “The time management habits you develop at the beginning matter more than how efficiently you study or how smart you are” Yeah, right. That is completely inconsistent with everything I have ever seen and I’ve been doing this stuff longer than the OP has been alive. 5) There really is no secret to passing this exam. There is a body of material you need to know. Contrary to what OP says, it is not what is laid out in the CFAI texts or Schweser notes and all of that is not fair game. It’s what is explicitly stated in the LOS. The Schweser notes are, however, pretty good at directly addressing the LOS. CFAI texts are not. You decide how much cushioning you need around the LOS. The secret to doing well on the exam is learning these LOS. It ought not to be difficult to know if you understand the LOS, particularly because there are so many different sources for practice tests and problems. If you still can’t understand an LOS after using all your sources, post it here. Someone will answer the question and the total expertise on this board is enormous. Someone knows the answer to nearly everything.

Thanks JoeyDVivre, very insightful. (Just wanted to give some appreciation to such a well-thought-out post.)

  1. I usually cut my college classes anyway, and I have a 3.6 GPA including during that semester. I learn better from reading than from lectures or classes, so I usually don’t go to lectures that regurgitate the readings. In terms of my friends, well… let’s just say I realized most of my college friends were losers and I’d rather just move on to bigger and better things. 2. We’ll see how I do on level 2. If I pass with the same marks, then I’m going to use the same method for level 3. I appreciate your clarification that my “plan” probably won’t work for everyone, but it worked once for me and I’ll do it again. 3. Even though I didn’t take any practice tests until later on I did always keep track of my strengths and weaknesses by doing worksheets and practice problems. 4. I’ve been efficient with studying in the past, and always pretty smart as well… it was my time management skills that were lacking. I guess I misjudged the majority of people in the world when I made that overarching statement. 5. When I said nearly everything is fair game, I meant in the Schweser notes, because it was all based on the LOS’s. That’s why I figured my score on a practice test wouldn’t mean much, because the number of questions possible would not be able to cover all the LOS’s and their subsets. And finally, I didn’t mean for this to be a guide… I didn’t call it “How to Pass the Level 1.” I called it “How I passed the Level 1.” I’m a storyteller in this case, not a teacher. I even said at the end of my original post that this story was mostly rambling but the only way I could think of contributing to the site, and also I took the sleeping pills because I had problems sleeping during my whole life and I took the prescription amount and it was only for the week before the test because I didn’t want to lose too much sleep over it. I don’t think it’s really worth it to continually dwell on the parts of my story that I’m already not proud of, but like I said, it was just a story and yes it shows my shortcomings as a person, get over it.

ouch, i feel sorry for those people you called friends. Actually to think about it. I would feel sorry for anybody that consider you a friend even if it is the bigger and better “friends” you speak of. Memorizing will be fine for you pass the exams, just pray you’ll never have to put it to use. by the way, nice story, i think you should make a movie, it’ll be on par with Rocky :P.

I’ve repeatedly contacted Uma Thurmann to be in a movie with me in which she plays the wildly supportive girlfriend helping me pass the CFA exams. So far no interest, but I keep trying.

JDV, the downside is that if you fail, she’ll use the “five point palm-exploding heart technique” on you, but what a way to go… edit: and/or pluck out your eyeball edit2: she may forgive you if you buy her a $5 milkshake though

When I get my CFA designation, the sign on my desk will read: bostonkev, PhD, CFA, JDV or probably just, bostonkev, JDV (people will know)