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How to Successfully Plan for the CFA Exam

The CFA exams are known to be difficult, and it hasn’t gained this reputation based on rumors, they are indeed one of the most difficult and time consuming assessments of our century. So to successfully come through here are a few steps you should follow:

  • Get a head start

The CFA institute recommends at least 300 hours of study time. Now you need to evenly distribute these 300 hours over a course of 6-9 months. Don’t cram everything for the last month or last few weeks, doing that is one of the main reasons for being unsuccessful in the CFA exams. There is a lot to study off the CFA notes and leaving it for later is not an option.

  • Try to maintain the schedule you design and try not to fall behind

Once you commit yourself to a plan you have to stick to it, try going over your CFA notes beforehand just to get a gist of what is to come. This way you will know what requires more or less time and you will know exactly how much time to invest into different chapters.

  • Prepare, practice and perform.

An effective learning method is to sort your given time into periods of preparing, practicing and performing.

a.The prepare stage is when you begin to learn the basic concepts. This can be accomplished through reading and listening to or attending lectures and thoroughly studying the CFA notes. This stage is mostly a passive exercise of absorbing information and examples of vocabulary, theory concepts, and principles related to the LOS. In essence, the prepare stage gets you ready for the next vital stage. Before you learn how to calculate NPV, you need to know what it is and what tools you need to calculate it.

b. The second stage is practice. This is when you actually apply the knowledge from the prepare stage by working practice problems. If you are supposed to calculate NPV, the best way to learn how to do that is by doing 10 practice problems that ask you to do just that. Our experience is that most candidates spend too much time preparing and not enough time practicing.

c. The third stage is perform. This is when you simulate actual exam conditions by taking a mock exam, assessing your performance, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and going back to do more practice where you think you need it.

As you develop your calendar, make sure you plan to spend 30 to 40% of your time preparing, 40 to 50% practicing, and 20% performing.

  • Revise on a regular bases

The CFA notes you will learn in January will not stay with you until June if you don’t go back and revisit it once in a while. Plan to spend a few hours each week going back and reviewing material you think you’ve already mastered. Do some practice questions and, if you make any mistakes, dig into those concepts again until you know them.

  • Study everything

There is not choosing and studying the chapters that are most likely to come, you have to study everything. It’s too much of a risk to skim through topics you think won’t hold that much importance. You need to make your agree that you will just have to study it all.

  • Begin and finish with ethics

In general, we recommend you take all of the topics in the order presented in the CFA curriculum. However, spend just a little time on ethics at the beginning to get a big picture overview, and then really hit the topic hard in the last weeks before the exam.

  • Save the last month for performing

During the last month or so before the exam, begin to take practice and mock exams in realistic settings. Take the exam on your own with no notes, and be sure to block off at least 3 hours to simulate one session. The key is to use the exams to identify how prepared you are by assessing your areas of weakness and addressing them. If you get a question wrong, note whether the issue was application of your knowledge to the question, or a fundamental lack of understanding of the concept. Keep track of your scores and look for an upward trend…by exam day, you should be scoring above 70% consistently.

  • Lastly, indulge yourself in the things you enjoy

Do something you enjoy but have been avoiding due to exam preparation. After your exams plan a fun night out, or an exciting holiday for you to stay focused and also have something to look forward to.

Written by Dwayne Marquis in May 13, 2017
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