CFA exam : the last 30 days

Preparation for any exam is somewhat of an art and people use different techniques. Nevertheless, there are some methods which work better than others. In this post I want to mention the method I applied for having a rock solid preparation in the CFA Exam.

General Tips for last 1 month
Mock Exams
• I usually used the final month to give 3-4 mock exams in the first 15-20 days or so. After every exam, I put in my scores in an excel sheet to see topic wise scores.
• While giving the exam I usually marked the questions which I found difficult and the questions which I just answered on guess work.
• Next, I identified my mistakes by looking at the correct answers for not only the mistakes but those I got correct through guesswork. When I was unable to understand the answer, I went back to the text book.
• When I scored poorly on a topic I revised that topic and then went for the next mock exam. I repeated the same thing for the next exams but also observed whether my scores are improving or not overall and my weaker segments. Usually I put a lot of emphasis on my ethics score.

Revision
• In the last 10-15 days I usually went for a revision of the whole syllabus. Usually I went LOS by LOS. The objective was to see whether I could understand the concept crystal clearly for all the LOS. Once a LOS was mastered I crossed it out.
• I constantly revised the formulas. I usually made my own formula sheet and used to carry it wherever I went.

Things not to be missed 
• Make sure you have done ALL the end of chapter (EOC) questions from the original book. I would suggest that people do not waste time on questions from Schweser as real exam is very different from Schweser questions. If you have completed everything else and still have time then do Schweser exams.
• Some of the EOCs are quite complicated. I usually marked them to review them over and over again until I mastered them.
• Go through all the blue box examples from original book.

Planning for the 30 days
• I used to make a 30 day plan specifying what I will revise or read in the last 30 days. Sometimes I fell behind my plan due to family obligations or work pressure but by studying more on other days I used to cover it up.
• Normally I suggest that people try to beat their own plan and stay ahead.

Notes
• Some people make their own notes. I usually only made notes for the most critical chapters. However, notes are supposed to be made 3-4 months before exam. Trying to make notes at the last moment is not advisable as it will eat away time.
• If however you already have own notes then instead of reading the book you can just read your notes (depends on the depth of the notes).

Day before the exam
• This day is very important. Confidence level is as important as the preparation itself. To cool the nerves remember that you have studied hard and given your best shot. After this it does not matter whether you pass or fail.
• Try to go to sleep early. I had insomnia problems on this day on almost all three levels and as a result on the exam day I felt weak. If you see any such problems take a sleeping pill on the night before the exam.
• Check your admit card, pencils, eraser, pen, passport, calculator. Check your calculator settings and go through the important functions in your calculator. If you can borrow an extra calculator then borrow one for emergency purpose. Also carry batteries and screwdriver.
• Go through the formula sheet quickly. See if you correctly remember the notations and symbols used in the formula.

Exam day  
• Wake up early in the morning and take a shower. Go to the venue as early as possible. Do not try to study just before the exam. You can off course take a look at the formulas.
• When the exam starts, go to your favorite topic and start answering. THERE IS ONE GOLDEN RULE I FOLLOWED. IF I COULD NOT ANSWER A QUESTION ON THE FIRST ATTEMPT I SKIPPED IT. I GOT BACK TO THEM LATER ON. Please do not waste time on any questions. All questions carry the same marks. However some of them can make you lose a lot of valuable time. TIME MANAGEMENT IS ESSENTIAL IN ALL 3 levels.
• Read all the questions carefully and understand what is being asked. The worst thing that can happen is failing due to silly mistakes.
• If the AM session feels exceedingly hard do not lose hope. In that case PM will be easier. I remember coming out of the Level 2 AM session with the feeling that I will surely fail. However the PM was much easier and I actually scored >70% in 9 segments and between 50-70 in 1 segment.
• While filling out answer boxes please make sure you are answering the correct question. A mistake in answering sequence could change your grade absolutely.
• Even if you have finished the exam with 1 hour extra please recheck all the answers.
• Fill out answers for each and every question as there is no negative marking.

CFA Exam Level 1
• In level 1 you just need to go through the entire syllabus. The actual exam is usually quite easy and has more focus on theoretical questions. The quantitative questions are also quite simple.
• Normally, you would not even have to think for many of the questions. Also, some of the quantitative questions can be answered without even calculating anything.
• Focus on the ethics segment which is very crucial.
• Overall you can expect to finish both AM and PM within 2.5 hrs. But like I mentioned earlier, please use the whole time and recheck.

CFA Exam Level 2
• Level 2 has the largest syllabus, highest number of formulas and much tougher study material compared to level 1.
• Even though the focus is on asset valuation and FSA, I found derivatives to be quite complicated. In fact, I probably had to read the derivatives chapter 3-4 times to get the basic essence of it. In spite of that, I found the actual derivative questions to be exceedingly difficult.
• Unlike level 1, the portion of quantitative questions is larger. Also the questions are not that straight forward. CFAI throws some curveballs from time to time. After reading a particular vignette the questions might look absolutely alien to you. Use your common sense in answering in those times.
• Put strong emphasis on formulas. Also notice whether questions states annual, quarterly or monthly compounding etc. These can be tricky while doing Swaps, Forward Rate Arrangements etc.

CFA Exam Level 3
• Level 3 syllabus is slightly smaller than level 2. It is not as difficult as level 2 to understand but the trick is to apply the knowledge in the actual exam.
• To pass level 3 the candidate must know the concepts like the back of his/her hand. Even the simplest topic can be made very difficult by structuring the question in an obscure manner.
• The key to succeeding in level 3 largely depends on managing time for the AM (written) section. I would recommend that candidates practice as many AM sessions as possible. CFAI website has a lot of such practice exams.
• Just because AM was difficult do not expect PM to be much easier. Some questions had a lot of curve-balls which many candidates did not even realize existed. However it is easier to score more in the PM compared to the AM section.

Final Words
Give your best shot and study as hard as possible. However, success or failure also has a bit of luck in it. Know that you can pretty much pass if you get 70% on average. So even if you get 50% of the questions right, eliminate one wrong answer on 25% of the questions and blindly guess the rest 25% you can score about 70.75% statistically. Also the pass marks for level 3 is definitely set at a lower level. The CFA Charter is a wonderful accomplishment and visualizing about the certificate helps keep motivation up.

Asif Khan, CFA

Asif Khan is presently a Research Analyst (Financial Sector) for Exotix which is a frontier market focused investment bank. He has more than 6 years of work experience as equity analyst in both buy and sell side roles across Asian frontier markets. Asif is a CFA Charterholder and has a dual major in Finance & Economics from North South University.

6 thoughts on “CFA exam : the last 30 days

  1. Thanx for the valuable information and I would like to known is ethics given more weightage in the exam than other topics and if we score more in ethics chances that we may clearly easily.

    1. The marks for each segment is clearly outlined. However I personally gave equal effort in almost all segments. Ethics is rumored to only matter when someone barely crossing Marginal passing score.

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