7 Key Insights from Our Upcoming 2013 CFA Results Analysis Report

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By Zee

As far as we know, the 300 Hours Results Analysis report is the most comprehensive study among CFA candidates ever done. And based on the feedback and result we get, we keep improving on it every time we do it.

We at 300 Hours have all gone through the exams before, so we put our candidate lenses on and really look for clues that might be able to help candidates prepare better for the exam.

For the 2013 exam, we’ve improved on our analysis and here are 7 key areas that we hope to cover thoroughly to help our readers understand the CFA exam better.

#1 – What are the traditional weak and strong areas of each CFA exam level?

When you get down to studying, how do you know which are most likely to be your problem areas? That’s what we’ve answered before in our past analyses, and we plan to again analyse this for the 2013 exams. Comparing the differences between 2012 and 2013 will also give an indication of how consistent these problem areas are.

Why is it important? Knowing which areas that are most likely to trouble you will allow you to plan your study schedule better. Scheduling based on the amount of material is a good method, but not all long chapters are troublesome, and not all short chapters are easy. Knowing where the challenges will be beforehand will give you the extra edge.

#2 – How large are the differences between failing bands?

Failing the CFA exam is never desirable, and we know the frustration can be very intense. While we’ve written about how to mentally handle failure, another source of frustration is that there is very little light shed on how close a candidate was to passing. The only clue given is the failing band.

Why is it important? We all know that Band 10 is the closest to passing, but how close is close? Knowing where you stand on your previous attempt will be good information to have when planning your next assault on the exams.

#3 – What is the estimated Minimum Passing Score?

The Minimum Passing Score (MPS) is not to be confused with the pass rate. The pass rate is the percentage of candidates that passed in any given year, whereas the MPS is the actual exam score you’d have to beat in order to pass. The MPS is never released by the CFA Institute, but with enough data we believe we can arrive at a reasonable estimate. We’ve covered this extensively in previous posts and analyses – check them out to learn more about the MPS.

Why is it important? The CFA Institute doesn’t release the MPS, reasoning that it unfairly starts comparisons across years. While this may be true, knowing what ballpark you have to aim for will be very helpful. This is key especially when you’re going through practice exams. When you grade yourself and go through the model answers, knowing a rough indication of where you stand versus what’s actually required to pass in the real thing will help you estimate how much more work you have to achieve a passing score.

#4 – When is the best time to start studying?

This is one of the most popular questions on our forum – when is the right time to start studying, or how much time should I devote to studying? This question is a new one in our analysis. Traditionally CFA Institute surveys have asked for a rough estimate of how much time is devoted to study, which consistently has been around – you guessed it – 300 hours.

Why is it important? Instead of repeating this question, we decided to approach it in another way, and ask when did each candidate begin his or her studying effort. Comparing this with pass rates will give a good idea of when is a good time to start, and when does it become too late.

#5 – How many practice exams is needed to optimize passing chances?

We’ve covered this time and again – we believe that every candidate MUST do some practice exams to stand a good chance of passing. It’s not impossible to pass without doing any, but practice exams offer so many benefits – an understanding of the format, rough topic weighting, time-check, exam simulation. You’ll also learn from your mistakes and improvement will come at a much faster rate.

Why is it important? Taking a practice exam, grading and examining the model answers takes a heck of a lot of time and effort. It used to take me two days to complete a full AM and PM practice exam, including revising the model answers. Knowing what is the sweet spot for the number you should aim for will help you optimise the most precious of CFA commodities – your time.

#6 – How important is your education and/or work background?

When we first started this analysis, we were expecting to estimate how difficult it was for candidates with non-financial backgrounds to pass the CFA exams, compared to their more favourably experienced counterparts. The analysis result we got for December 2012 was surprising – we found out that candidates with a financial educational background actually did worse on average compared to candidates that had no financial background at all.

Why is it important? For a lot of non-financial candidates looking to break into finance, a common question is ‘how much more work do I have to do to catch up, given that I don’t know anything about finance?’. This analysis answers and quantifies that query, and will be able to definitively answer that question using hard data. Depending on the findings, candidates with financial backgrounds can also be pre-warned that experience may not be a guarantee of success in the CFA exams.

#7 – How can candidates better address the Level III essay section?

As candidates, our team knew that one of the most challenging areas of the Level III exam is the essay section. We therefore paid this section extra attention in our analysis. We discovered that 96% of candidates did better in the multiple-choice exam compared to the essay section. 96% is an insane proportion of candidates.

Why is it important? The next step for us to help our Level III readers is to understand why such a huge proportion of candidates do worse in their essay paper, and what can be done to improve performance. The essay section is the least familiar format of the CFA exam, and we believe we can make significant steps towards improving our readers’ readiness for this section with this analysis.

We are working hard to bring the results of this year’s analysis to you. Stay tuned to the blog in the coming weeks, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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