CFA Institute Interview, Part 2: Work Experience, Test Bank, The Future of the CFA Charter & Essay Advice

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By Zee

Following up with our first interview with the CFA Institute, I was lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with John Bowman, Managing Director and Co-Lead for Education in the CFA Institute. You can read Part 1 of the interview here.

John and I spoke for nearly an hour: we covered various aspects including acceptable work experience, what the new test bank will be like, future plans for the CFA charter and Level III essay question advice.

Read on for Part 2 of John’s interview. Our thanks again to the CFA Institute team and John for this interview!

About John Bowman, CFA
Managing Director & Co-Lead, Education, CFA Institute

John Bowman, CFA, is managing director and co-leader of education at CFA Institute. John oversees CFA Program, CIPM, and the Claritas® Investment Certificate, regulator and program recognition, university relations, scholarship programs, regional education initiatives, and special projects. 

He recently led the development and launch of the Claritas Investment Certificate, and previously held the position of head of Innovation and Product Solutions for CFA Institute. While head of product solutions, John crafted and executed the vision for member engagement through multimedia products, social media, mobile delivery, and the My CFA portal. 

Prior to joining CFA Institute, John was a portfolio manager at Mellon Growth Advisors (MGA). He was responsible for portfolio construction and stock selection for the MGA International Growth and MGA Global Growth strategies. John also served as a portfolio manager for the International Growth Opportunities Strategy at State Street Global Advisors (SSgA) in their Global Fundamental Strategies Group. Before moving into portfolio management at SSgA, John was an equity analyst serving the domestic and international strategies.

Let’s talk about the CFA work experience requirement. Why doesn’t the CFA Institute accept part time experience as acceptable work experience?

Let me start by explaining why we require work experience in the first place, which is also asked quite often. 

We define a professional as having 4 conditions: 

  • First, a demonstrated competency through assessment, and that’s the reason why we have the 3 examinations. 
  • Second, any professional is bound by a set of ethics, or rulebook of which they play by. 
  • Third, is the application of that competency that has been demonstrated in the exams in the real world. 
  • Fourth, a commitment to a professional community of practitioners

That’s why we have those 4 prerequisites as part of your journey to earning the charter.

When we get to the specifics of full time versus part time, our rules are set up to ensure that there is enough evidence of being specifically involved in the investment decision making process. 50% of your role needs to show that you’re intimately involved in an investment decision making process. Once you start to lower the number of hours in a week or month, it’s harder and harder to justify that commitment level.

You’ve previously spoken about new CFA Institute candidate resources. Can you tell us more about the test bank?

We’ll transition to the test bank this November by populating it with one full mock exam’s worth of questions and aim to double that by March – when June 2014 candidates should begin thinking about beginning to practice.  Ultimately, we’re hoping to have approximately 1,000 multiple choice questions for LI candidates and multiple mock exam’s worth of item sets for LII and LIII candidates.

The questions in the test bank are written with the same process, style and level of difficulty as the actual exam. They’re really optimised to reflect what you’re going to see in the live exam. We have the benefit of doing this in-house: we’re using the same training process for the test bank writers that we do with the examination writers – they’re not the same people, which is important, but they do go through an identical training process.

Candidates may in fact feel they need more practice exams though, and there are many reputable providers that have very good products, so we’re not completely replacing the need for those.    

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Currently Level III candidates have past year exams available for download on the CFA website. Why doesn’t the CFA Institute make all past papers on every level available to candidates?

There are a few reasons for doing that: one, the curriculum shifts every year, so we’ve been a bit reluctant to present confusing messages by having a large number of past CFA questions that potentially would be misleading for candidates. We want to make sure that we’re publishing a test bank or group of exams that’s consistent with this year’s exams. 

The other reason is that at the earlier levels follow different exam styles. Across each level, we ask candidates to perform a different orders of learning. In Level I, they’re focused on retention of knowledge. In Level II, we ask candidates to take that knowledge and apply it. In Level III, we ask candidates to take those application techniques and synthesise it in a portfolio management context. And so to match those different orders of learnings, we have different styles of questions.

The reason I mention all of this is that at the lower levels of learning, the levels that we can successfully use multiple choice and item set questions, we reserve the right to adapt those prior questions in different forms for future years, which we don’t do with the essays.

The Level III constructed response questions (essay) are slightly different: the portfolio management curriculum does not shift as much as other areas within the curriculum, and we feel that releasing these past exams is highly beneficial for the candidates to get a feel of what the new question format is like.

Is the CFA Institute looking at bringing the CFA charter into specialisation routes, as the industry diversifies and new financial instruments are introduced?

We’ve actually looked at this for a couple of decades already. Our board and leadership team have considered several variations of these for many years – in fact, if you look at some of the advancements in the CFA Candidate Body of Knowledge (CBOK), part of that rapid expansion some particular topic areas stem from discussions on whether we should offer specialisation in those areas—Fixed Income and Private Wealth are good examples of that

Certainly we’re not writing off specialisation – our CIPM program is one example where we felt specialisation made sense, and as you may know, we’ve launched the Claritas Investment Certificate – suited to individuals that work with investment professionals.

We’ve already moved strategically to a portfolio of qualifications, we however want to be careful to continue to uphold the reputation of the CFA program.

As far as modifying the CFA program itself to incorporate specialisation aspects, we’re happy with the CFA program being the default, generalist program for investment professionals. Much of why the CFA program holds its status is because wherever you are in the world, people will know exactly what you’ve gone through, and that qualification reflects a high level of overall understanding of the investment industry. As soon as you start to fragment the CFA program, we’d lose what I think is a big advantage of the CFA program. 

So I’d never say never, but I don’t see specialisation within the CFA program as something we’d be considering in the foreseeable future.


In our CFA Analysis, an entire section is focused on how to best prepare for the Level III essay paper. 
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Do you have any advice for Level III candidates for the essay format section?

We do know they can be challenging for candidates – that’s why we feel it’s beneficial to make past essay papers available for Level III candidates for practice. This gives them a feel of what to expect on the day, and also what answers might be acceptable. 

What I would specifically mention is that the guideline answers that candidates may read there is far from what we’d expect any one candidate to answer on an actual, high-stakes exam situation. What you see on the guideline answers is an exhaustive list of what would be considered full credit answers. We wouldn’t want candidates thinking that they need to replicate what they see on guideline answers to get full credit.

The best advice I can give candidates is to ensure that you’re studying the curriculum, look at past years’ exams and practice!

What did you think about John’s comments? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below! You can also read Part 1 of our interview with John here. 
Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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