CFA Dec20 vs 2021: How I Will Be Deciding

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By Zuzanna S

​I don’t know about you, but for me, a message from CFA Institute always triggers an anxiety spike. Anyone who’s had to wait for their CFA results will know what I’m talking about!

But this year, it changed. We were being contacted by the CFAI more frequently, and by no means regarding the test results. Welcome to the CFA Program in the brave new year 2020.

Last week’s information from CFAI was particularly interesting, and to be frank, quite ground-breaking. We all heard the big news that all levels of CFA exams are moving to computer-based testing. If that was not revolutionary enough, all the December candidates were given an opportunity to voluntarily reschedule their exam to 2021.

So will I, a Level 2 candidate scheduled for Dec20, be rescheduling to 2021? 

First, a bit about myself

I’m a current CFA Level 2 candidate based in London. ​I sat for the Level 1 exam in Jun19, and was enrolled to take the Level 2 exam in Jun20.

Normally, I am extremely passionate about learning. The CFA Program and studying for it really is one of my life’s greatest pleasures. I even run an Instagram page (@thelondonanalyst) devoted to education on studying techniques, high performance lifestyle and self-improvement. Having said all of that, I still hesitated a bit when I read the news.

The tough question that every candidate (including myself) had to answer was, do I sit in Dec20, or do I postpone?

Before you decide, carefully assess how the pandemic is affecting you

From a practical perspective, all of us would like to have the exams behind us as quickly as possible. And I am no exception.

But on the other hand I feel like this year was by no means an ordinary year and none of the rules apply anymore.

With the pandemic going on, all of us have found ourselves in “unprecedented times” (Phrase of the Year frontrunner there!). Most of us had to make significant changes to our daily lives. We all took a hit – if not financially, then psychologically or even physically.

With all that 2020 has brought us so far, chronic stress has become our new normal. But it’s not your usual stress, the same you would feel before the exam or a job interview. The stress related to pandemic is influencing our brains in a very specific way.

A part of your brain called the amygdala, your emotion-processing headquarters, sends signals to the body when it detects a potentially stressful situation. It sends the message to your whole system to invoke a stress reaction, causing your adrenal glands to pump adrenaline, your heart to beat faster and you start consuming more energy.

The pandemic has put all of us in this sort of stress consistently, even if you might not feel it instantly. This causes lasting effects. Chronic stress could even decrease the size of your hippocampus – a component of the brain responsible for learning and memory!

So what does this mean? Should we be postponing our CFA exams to 2021?

If you ask me, being stuck at home while being uncertain about the future is not a great environment to study. But on the other hand, time waits for no one and we still are going to have to take the test someday.

It’s great that the CFA Institute gave us an option to postpone, but everyone have to assess for themselves if postponing will work for them.

​Ask yourself this question:

Will studying for the CFA exams in 2020, with everything that’s going on, make things better for me, or worse? 

Some people will find their moments of peace in studying and preparation will help them to take mind off things. Others will gladly accept a few more months of relaxation and focus on reducing stress.

But for most of us, the answer would likely be somewhere in between.

What I’ve decided my approach will be

​I personally enjoy studying for CFA Level II and I think I will continue with it for the time being.

However, if in a few weeks I will change my mind and see that my performance is jeopardised by stress, brain fog or simply lack of routine, I will allow myself to take a break and postpone.

Think about it – we are the first group of candidates expected to prepare for one of the world’s most difficult exams in the middle of a global pandemic, which may or may not be cancelled. I think this circumstances definitely justify postponing it to a later date or even failing! We are not machines and we cannot be expected to behave like one.

Most importantly, look after yourself

Whether you decide to take the exam in December, please be safe. And take care of your brain and body in the best way you can.

As experts say, in times where you experience high levels of chronic stress, physiological needs are more important than ever. That means that you should focus on your sleep, physical health and nutrition in a more rigorous way than you did before. Exercise is important as well as it helps get cortisol and adrenaline out of your system. If you’re anything like me and you cherish your brain as your most valuable asset, you don’t want to overrun it very early on.

That would be my advice – we are all in for the long haul, and earning a CFA Charter is a marathon, not a sprint. The decisions you make during the most “unprecedented” of times have to be about what is best for you. 

What have you decided to do? Let me know in the comments below!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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