8 Results-Boosting Tips for the CFA Exams

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By Mike

With less than 60 days for the CFA exams, a lot of you must be feeling the pressure to change gears and started rushing through the topics to get as much as possible done. 

However, unlike other exams, CFA is both about intellect and practice. It’s difficult to learn new topics and master them in less than 60 days, especially when there is just so much to read. Here are some tips that will help you perform better:


#1. Revise Smart
These 60 days are precious as this is where you absorb the most information instead of passively reading. If you have not yet covered some essential material, then divide your time. In the first 15 days, skim through topics such as Economics and Corporate Finance or the material you’ve not covered, making some notes. Try to spend more time on these as previous results show these topics are relatively difficult. Follow simple reading techniques that will help you cover more in these 15 days. Once you are done with reading all topics, start revising and scanning each topic. To remember formulae and concepts, make cheat sheets that would help your final week revisions.

#2. Prioritize
With less than 60 days, prioritization becomes essential. Remember, if you cannot get everything covered, read the ones that matter the most. Out of the study sessions, prioritize the chapters based on your comfort level, exam weightings and nature of the chapter. 

For example, the first topic – Ethics, requires a lot of cramming and mugging up. It doesn’t require you to analyze or solve anything. If such chapters could be kept for the last few days, you will find it easier to remember them for the exam. But make sure you spend ample time on Ethics if you’re a Level 1 candidate as it is very useful for future Levels as well. 

Furthermore, Economics, Derivatives and Quantitative Methods account for 27% of the Level 1 exam and previous results show that these are the weak points for many passed candidates. Therefore, concentrate more on these topics so that you don’t lose on essential marks. For Level 1, topics like Financial Reporting and Analysis and Quantitative Methods have the highest weightings are highly mathematical and require actual practice. Although by looking their solutions, such problems seem easily understandable, solving them by yourself is highly advisable – this is crucial for making sure you grasp the concepts correct and train yourself to perform fast and accurately under timed exam conditions.

For those looking for help in terms of prioritization, the CFA Results Analysis report is a great resource that summarizes previous years’ performance by topic and level, providing you the essential insights and learnings to increase your chances of passing.

#3. Review
Something a lot of us tend to miss, I certainly glazed through them, but it’s important to know where you’re going before you start your revision. Each topic in the CFA curriculum is provided with Learning Outcome Statements (LOS). Make sure you read them both before and after you read the topic. This would help you assess your knowledge of the topic and know your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t miss this.

#4. Take Practice Tests
Practice tests will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses. This would help you concentrate more on the topics that need attention. Try taking these practice tests under test conditions (simulating the morning and afternoon paper times) so that you get used to them and are trained to perform better during the actual test. After each practice test, identify the chapters from which most of the questions were asked and decide your plan of study accordingly.

#5. Form a Revision Study Group
You may not have studied in a group for the CFA materials, that’s all right. But I tend to find doing revisions together in a group extremely helpful, it’s like an offline community where you can discuss, test and help each other to cement concepts quickly. Such interactive sessions also takes out the monotony of passively reading by yourself. You can also build your confidence by knowing where you stand and how much more effort you need to put in. Selecting an appropriate place and time to study would also contribute to the effectiveness of your study.

#6. Watch the Time
Time management can contribute heavily to how well you write the exam. Keep track of the time you have left and plan accordingly. Skim through all chapters and make a rough 80/20 plan, whereby 20% of study produces 80% of marks (see Prioritization above). Also, time yourself while doing the practice tests and the End of Chapter questions. Pacing yourself in accordance to the number of questions and the available time in the exam, would help you pace yourself during the actual exam.  

#7. Use Mnemonics 
This exam requires you to remember (too) many formulae, concepts and terms. Using personalized mnemonics can help you recall concepts better, although a fair point made here about it’s limited use case for CFA material. I personally wouldn’t discount it entirely though: for example, to remember the relation between the three means (Arithmetic Mean, Geometric Mean and Harmonic Mean), you can use the alphabetical order. Since, A, G and H come in alphabetical order, AM > GM > HM. Using others’ mnemonics can be counterproductive sometimes as that would mean memorizing new stuff. Instead, make your own mnemonics with words and logic that you think you’ll remember tend to stick better.

#8. Use Flash Cards
Flash cards play a vital role in preparing for the CFA exam, which requires you to remember a lot of formulae and concepts. Since making these flashcards itself would consume a lot of time, it is advisable to use online flashcard websites such as QuizletCram or 5 A Day CFA which provide you with lists of topic-specific flashcards (P.S. 5 A Day CFA has iOS and Android app flash cards too. They are giving a 10% discount on their CFA Flash Card products with the code 300HRS10, check out the Offers section for more info). You can also test your memory by using their tests, quizzes and fun games. These are perfect for studying when commuting to work, especially.

In the end, you gotta have faith in your preparations, trust yourself and your ability for the exams – one can only prepare that much, all the best for the last mile! Do you have other tips to share? Share it with the community in the comments below. 

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

 

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