9 Helpful Exam Tips From a Newly-Minted CFA® Charterholder

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By Mélanie Da Costa Garcia

I earned the CFA designation in June 2018. I passed the 3 CFA Program exams in 3 consecutive years. Through this article I’d like to share my experience as it worked well for me. I would like to take the opportunity to give you some advice, and help you earn your own CFA charter.

Take it seriously. The CFA Program is not about showing up at the exam thinking “why not give it a shot?”. The CFA Program requires a long and intensive preparation. Each level has to be well prepared in advance. Try to understand the different concepts given by the CFA Program instead of learning them by heart. 

Don’t disregard any chapters. You may find some chapters more challenging, less interesting, or downright incomprehensible. It is completely normal. Work through it, and don’t stress too much about it.

To learn the optimal sequence of readings to approach the CFA exams, read these articles:

​Do not leave any question blank. You don’t lose points if your answer is wrong. Choose the one which seems to be the less incorrect. Every point matters. 

For more tips on how to answer the CFA exams’ multiple choice questions if you don’t know the answer, read this article: 

Don’t give up until the end of the exam. ​You could feel frustrated and have the impression you didn’t do as well as you expected after the morning session. But until the full exam is actually over, nothing is decided yet, the second part could reverse the situation. Forget about the morning session and do your best.

Use a study planner. This is key. There is a lot of material to learn, 10 different topics to study. Make your own planner according to your own pace. Give yourself time for breaks and rest. My advice is to leave some ‘time-blanks’ in your planning in case you fall behind – you don’t want to be stressing out because you are not able to follow your study plan. There will be some days where you will be super productive and other days where unfortunately nothing will get into your head. When this happens, give yourself a break and start again the following day. At the end of the day, it is not how many hours you spend to revise but how efficient your study is. 

Need a planner? Get a free personalised CFA exam study planner here:

​​Make sure you are supported by your family and friends. The CFA Program will involve a lot of compromises. Ensure you free up some time to study. You will also experience ups and downs and periods of doubts. So it is crucial to surround yourself with people who support you in the adventure and cheer you up when needed. More importantly, they have to be aware that you will need some time and calm to study.

Don’t study all night long the night before the exam. This is how you fail. It is a 6 hour exam and there is a lot of stress to handle on exam day. You have to be fresh and well rested. My advice is to review chapters that don’t require a huge mental effort the day before the exam.

​Use the right material, once you have selected it, stick to it. There are different “CFA Program Exam prep providers” approved by the CFA Institute. Choose one and stick to it. No need to study in different materials, it will only be time-consuming and misleading. However, if you choose another provider than the CFA Institute itself, I’d advise you to do the tests/exercise proposed by the CFA Institute in its website.

Comparing providers? Have a look at our reviews of providers here: 

Remember that you’ll need relevant work experience. Last but not least, once you have passed the 3 exams, there is one more step before earning the CFA Designation. It is the validation of your work experience by the CFA Institute. You need 4 years of relevant experience. CFA Institute asks you to describe your role in the investment decision-making process. Don’t worry when you reach this stage, it means that the most difficult part is behind you. The description does not need to be long but precise enough as the CFA Institute must clearly understand what your added value is in the investment decision-making process. 

Unsure whether your work experience is relevant? We can help:

The CFA Program is not easy and requires a lot of dedication and hard work but it is an amazing personal challenge and a huge leg up for your carrier. For me, it is totally worth it. It is an incredible feeling when you receive the email from the CFA Institute to announce you passed the CFA Program exam. Hard work always pays off.

Have a question for me? Let me know in the comments below!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

300Hours founder


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