10 No-Nonsense Starter Tips for the CFA Level I Candidate

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Editor’s note: André is CFA charterholder, and recently he passed on valuable advice to friends who were starting their CFA journey. He kindly compiled his advice into this post of top 10 tips that we’re sharing here. If you’ve got any questions for André, post them in the comments!

By André L. Moscoso, CFA

So… you signed up for CFA Level I?

Congratulations! You are probably feeling excited and somewhat scared, but you are definitely asking yourself: so what now?

​I’ve always said that one of the greatest difficulties of Level I is actually knowing what to do, and it helps lot if you know right from the start. I gathered 10 tips for first time candidates that hopefully can get you an idea of what to do next. 

1.  Create a good study plan and stick to it

This can be very difficult, especially the ‘sticking to the plan’ part, but it is one of the more important steps in your exam preparation. Be realistic: don’t make your planning too tight as you will definitely fall behind schedule at some point. There are time-management apps that you can find for your phone, but you can also keep it simple and effective by using a study planner. 300 Hours has a free personalized study planner that you can use.

2. Manage your time wisely

Time is your worst enemy, so always have in mind how much time you have left until the exam. Maybe you see the exam date very far away, but time flies. Remember you have more than 3,000 pages to read plus the practice and review period. 

3. Get to know your calculator

Do it early. This will save a lot of time and headaches. There are a lot of tutorials in YouTube and the web – check them out. Some (like me) prefer the TI, others prefer the HP 12C. I would say it doesn’t matter as long as you put effort into mastering it.

4. Don’t underestimate the exam

Chances are that you have already covered most of the subjects on the curriculum but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy.  One big and very common mistake is going through the readings and thinking “this is easy” or “I already know this”. Even if it actually is easy, you probably covered the subject a few years ago, and believe it or not your brain gets rusty and you have forgotten some important details. But if you really think you don’t have to read something, go to the end of chapter questions, answer them and move on only if you get more than 70% correct answers. 

This is also implied in 300 Hours research – candidates with financial educational backgrounds have shown to actually underperform candidates without.

5. Prep providers

I would recommend using one (Schweser Notes worked for me). I am a slow reader that gets distracted very easily, so I found it almost impossible to read the CFAI Curriculum, because the readings are tedious and thick. Schweser goes straight to the point and saves you a lot of time.

But wait… don’t throw away the Curriculum! If you are having a hard time understanding a subject go back to the curriculum, this will help you a lot. Also, end of chapter questions are very good practice material because the type of questions you will get the day of the exam will be very similar. 

6. Ethics

You might want to make this section the last to read on your schedule. 

Although it is very important, I found this section kind of boring (actually very boring) to read, so if you start with it you might get bored and likely fall behind schedule very early in the study process. Cover this section when you are already feeling the pressure and can’t afford to fall behind schedule. 

7.  Don’t try to become an expert on every subject

Focus on the most important topics. You are not expected to dominate 100% of every Learning Outcome Statement (LOS), so don’t waste your time trying to. If you try, you will get frustrated and you will lose focus.

8. Find study partners

But don’t study with them all the time as this can become counterproductive. I would say once a week is more than enough. A study group (with no more than 4 people) can be very helpful to discuss subjects any doubts you may have. Sometimes it is easier to understand a subject when someone is explaining it to you. Explaining something to someone else also helps you to retain it more easily.

Note: Avoid those WhatsApp “study groups” with dozens of people, these groups are a waste of time. 

9.  Final Review

You should complete all the readings and start the final review at least one month before the exam. The review phase should include reading summaries (Schweser’s Secret Sauce is very useful), mock exams, reinforcing your weaknesses as identified in the mock exams, etc…

10. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE & MORE PRACTICE

This is the most important tip. Practice between readings, at the end of each section and on the review period. Did I say practice? 

Maybe not enough! Seriously: Practice! You should at least make 5 full mock exams before the real one, ideally all of them under real exam conditions. This will help you to know what to expect in the real thing, and how to manage your time adequately.

Over to you…

If you have any other suggestions please share them in the comments!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

300Hours founder

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