How to Study and Pass the CFA® Exam on your First Attempt

CFA exams are written twice annually in June and in December. It is, however, disheartening to know that the failure rate recorded in this exam is very high. According to results released, the failure rate at the June 2015 Level 1 exam stood at 58%, while a lower failure rate of 57% was recorded among students that wrote the exam in December 2015. Several reasons have been attributed to this trend but one point that stands out among the mentioned reasons is poor study methods. A few weeks ago, we wrote an article on why you should consider the CFA designation for your career. This one is about how to achieve that goal!

Are you willing to improve your chances of scoring high in your CFA exams? Our interactions with resource persons, teachers, and successful students have suggested the following steps be followed:

1. Engage in Long Study Sessions

The essence of long study sessions has often been stressed by CFA Institute. According to them, students are expected to prepare for six months prior to their exams. They are also expected to conduct 300 to 400 hours of studying for each exam. The period of preparation goes a long way in determining the level of success a CFA Program candidate will attain. For instance, one should start preparations for the June exam in January and also start preparations for the December exam in June. Therefore, the longer the length of your studying, the better your success rate will ultimately become.

2. Create your Plans carefully

Studying early alone cannot guarantee success in your CFA exam. There are special cases when individuals plan carefully for study but are interrupted by circumstances. For instance, one may plan to study 5 hours daily, but during these hours, friends may create some sorts of distraction. This problem can easily be solved by careful planning.

Create a to-do list and try as much as possible to block distractions from mobile phones and the Internet using apps like Freedom. Also, create a reading timetable for 12 hours daily and ensure you cover lost hours whenever emergencies occur during reading periods. Also, create periods of play that will help relax your mind. It is advised that free two or three weeks should be included in your study periods for optimum activities.

3. Select a Suitable Study Pattern for You

Humans are known for studying at different times and at different paces. This creates the need for you to know yourself and to structure a reading pattern that will suit you. Some people prefer reading early in the mornings, while others prefer reading throughout the day. Most people are uncomfortable reading with sunlight, so they prefer reading at night.

The trick here is to know what works best for you. How do you read for previous exams with full concentration? It is advised that you follow the trend and also try to maximize the benefits you get during your peak hours.

4. Utilize Available Materials

The relevance of study materials to exam success cannot be overemphasized. Most of these materials are provided by CFA Institute. With your password and your username, you can easily access resource materials that can guide your study and help you reach your goal. Students are also advised to acquire additional resource materials to complement what CFA Institute offers. This helps to provide an all-round understanding and gain an edge over other candidates. AnalystPrep offers plenty of additional materials and candidates can keep their membership until they pass.

5. Practice Continuously

A popular proverb says practice makes perfect. The only way to fully grasp the assertions in your research materials is through continuous practice. Endeavor to attempt past questions, ask questions, and strive to maintain excellence. Continuous practice will undoubtedly open doors to your success in the CFA exam.

I personally passed the exam with the books provided by CFA Institute and some third party practice materials. My personal strategy was the following:

I. Overview

I had a quick overview of the whole curriculum and I tried a few practice questions to understand the amount of work that had to be done for each reading. This way, there was no surprise.

II. Readings

I read carefully the chapters (CFA Institute books) that were problematic in my first “practice” session. I believe that you don’t necessarily need to read all chapters at this step. It is up to you and your own academic background (I come from an accounting background, so I had a quick look at each FRA LOS and went straight to practice mode).

III. Question Bank

Practice, practice, practice! This is the key, especially for the level 1 exam. I took over 2,000 practice questions and I was going back and forth between the question bank and the books to be sure I understood every concept that could be tested. Here I ended up reading some more chapters that I realized I didn’t fully understand.

IV. Mock Exams

Two weeks before the exam, I had a few mock exam sessions. – Real ones! – Candidates should try to create an experience as close as possible to the actual exam. Print a copy of the mock exam and answer the questions on paper. Time yourself and don’t exceed 180 minutes.

V. Relax

The night before the exam, I didn’t open my books and I slept early. A few hours of study won’t make any difference at this point in contrast to a good night of sleep.

This is my method and I hope it can help you build your strategy to nail the CFA exams. Find your strengths and weaknesses and create your study plan according to what you know about yourself. Nobody can do it better than you!


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