Umpteen years ago, after checking that I meet the eligibility requirements, I signed up for my CFA Level 1 exams as a sprightly, wide-eyed innocent.
Now that I’m a CFA charterholder, I wished I had someone who’d gone through everything to point out the potholes of the journey I’m on. For example, warning me about the difficulty of Level 2 would have saved me a lot of trouble!
Here are 20 things I wish I knew before going through the CFA exams. May they help you on your own journey!
#1. CFA exams are not easy, and Level 1 is just the start
Commonly cited as one of the world’s hardest exams, CFA Level 1’s difficulty is comparable to a diploma level and gets harder from then on. But I didn’t know that it’s never-seen-before-and-by-the-way-you-could-definitely-fail tough.
Although Level 1 and 2 are multiple-choice questions, Level 3 introduces half the paper in constructed response (‘essay’) format too.
Or if you’re a half glass full kind of person, it could also mean that you’re more likely to pass Level 2 and Level 3 once you passed Level 1.
According to CFA Institute, about 50% of successful candidates passing the CFA Level 3 exam passed each exam on the first attempt (i.e. sat a total of 3 exams,) while about 25% sat a total of 4 exams.
#2. I’d have no weekends for the 6 months before each exam
That’s at least 18 months of no weekends, or 153 holidays’ worth of time. Hopefully sticking to your study plan.
#3. That it is crazy difficult to juggle work, life & studying
Between a hectic full time job and having a young family, it took some real discipline and ruthless time management to balance so many different priorities.
Got pretty burnt out in the end.
#4. That I will have nightmares of malfunctioning calculators
#5. That the low CFA pass rates EXCLUDES no-shows
Oh yeah, no wonder we all have a cold sweat when CFA difficulty is discussed – it’s one of the world’s hardest exams (see #1).
#6. That I will not have the willpower to study on weekdays
The combination of the long day at work plus the CFA exams is just a bit too much for me personally.
But fret not, lots of CFA candidates manage to grab 1-3 hours of studying on weekdays to minimize the weekend load. Do what works for you.
#7. That the CFA Institute study material is dry as hell
Disclaimer: Candidates find it much better now, but I found it very challenging to digest due to the sheer amount of text when I was a candidate.
Third party study materials are hell of a time saver!
#8. ‘Mock till you drop’ is the name of the game
#9. CFA Institute provides a free mock exam For candidates
Yeah, I didn’t know this until Level 2.
Use it wisely, as it’s the best practice you can have.
It certainly helps, but it’s definitely not the answer to everything as many candidates think/hope it would be.
#11. That CFA proctors are extremely strict
A little more than wiggling around and fidgeting could get me accused of cheating and my exam disqualified by the CFA Institute’s Professional Conduct Program (PCP).
There is some regional variation (London usually is more reasonable), but the proctors don’t screw around.
Be good during the exam.
#12. The security during exam is impressive and tight
Be at least 30 minutes early to give yourself time to go through the procedure calmly and unflustered.
#13. The CFA exam experience is special
Someone will probably show up for the exam in a suit. And on the opposite spectrum, someone will probably show up looking only slightly better than a homeless person.
You’ll experience a lot of different ups and downs emotionally on the day itself. There’s nothing quite like this.
#14. That you can’t bring water into the computer-based test room
Nor a second calculator, or chewing gum.
#15. The start and end time for CBT exams seem to be more flexible vs. paper-based exam
Previously for paper-based exams, you’ll be kept outside the exam room if you’re not in there before your exam start time.
However, we have heard some first CBT candidate reports that some started earlier than their official test time (and ended earlier), whilst some were 15 minutes late and it was still OK.
Don’t chance it though, it’s best to arrive at least 40 minutes before your exam for the check in and security procedures.
#16. That I couldn’t tolerate other people using the term ‘CFA’ as a noun
(I probably make this mistake all the time too, but I can’t let it slide when I do realize.)
#17. Figuring out what relevant work experience means isn’t straightforward
What constitutes relevant, qualified work experience? How is it investment-related? Does this particular work experience count? How do I write my work experience properly?
All these are clarified in our CFA work experience guide.
#18. How to correctly display my current CFA exam status is a minefield
I mean, there are digital badges now.
An image. Of some badges. For social media.
#19. That people will start saying silly crap to me
Bless them, but no one will quite understand what a CFA candidate goes through until they are one.
But saying “oh, you’ll be fine” will just bug the hell out of me.
#20. It doesn’t matter how awesome I was in exams before this
I hope you’ve enjoyed my rant -_- ||.
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