Feeling like you’re running out of time?
OK, calm down and take a few deep breaths. For whatever reason, perhaps you’ve now find yourself way behind schedule with a few more weeks to the CFA exams, and you can’t finish your revision in time.
What should you do? What areas to focus on if I don’t have enough time? How do I increase my chances of passing the exam?
We put ourselves in your position and imagined what we would do (with a calmer state of mind) during a CFA last minute preparation to maximize your pass chances.
In this last minute guide, we will go through:
- what core topics you need to focus on for each Level, given your strengths;
- how to quickly wrapping up your studies in less than 1 week;
- so that you can move on to practice questions, with the aim to complete 4-6 sets of mock exams under timed conditions.
CFA Exam Cramming Strategy Overview
Let’s take 15 minutes, right at the start, to assess what you have left to cover.
You can get an assessment of what the big topics are from CFA Institute, summarized in the table below:
|CFA exam topics||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3|
|Ethical and Professional Standards||15-20%||10-15%||10-15%|
|Financial Reporting and Analysis||13-17%||10-15%||–|
|Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning||5-8%||10-15%||35-40%|
The overall last minute strategy, given the lack of time, is to:
1) Identify the heavy-weighted areas that you absolutely need to focus on.
2) But more importantly: choose a few that adds up to ~70%, taking into account your own ability/strength in those topics.
This is quite a personal process as Equity Investment may come naturally to some of you, but not for others, for example. Only you can figure out your best strategic topics to focus on.
That said, in order to be helpful, I’ve provided some general topic area advice below by level:
CFA Level 1 Cram Plan
“Large” topics with high exam weighting you absolutely need to focus on (48-61%):
- Ethics (15-20%), because it makes things easier for you in Level 2 and 3.
- Financial Reporting & Analysis (13-17%): invest in this huge topic as it only gets ‘worse’ in Level 2.
- Equity (10-12%), as you need a strong foundation for this topic for Level 2 and 3.
- Fixed Income (10-12%), as this topic gets more important in Level 2 and 3.
Then you have some choices to make for the remaining topics:
|3 “Medium” Topics||3 “Small” Topics|
|Quantitative Methods (8-12%)||Derivatives (5-8%)|
|Economics (8-12%)||Alternative Investments (5-8%)|
|Corporate Finance (8-12%)||Portfolio Management (5-8%)|
To conservatively make at least 70% topic weight coverage, you have pretty much 3 options to choose from:
- Complete all the 4 Large Topics + 3 Medium Topics only; or
- Complete all the 4 Large Topics + 1 Medium Topic + all the 3 Small Topics; or
- Complete all the 4 Large Topics + 2 Medium Topics + 2 Small Topics.
Choose them based on objective assessment of your strengths in each topic. Once decided, just focus on reviewing those topics and completing practice questions, basically do a condensed version of the 5 step game plan.
Remember you can get free CFA Exam Level 1 practice tests from us here:
CFA Level 2 Cram Plan
“Large” topics with high exam weighting you absolutely need to focus on (50-75%):
- Ethics (10-15%), because it’s a must, and you just need to learn one or two new concepts and the rest is similar to Level 1. Easy way to cover some ground.
- Financial Reporting & Analysis (10-15%): too big to ignore!
- Equity (10-15%): another big, highly testable topic.
- Fixed Income (15-20%): This is a key topic in Level 3 – make sure you get enough focus here.
- Portfolio Management (10-15%): CFA Institute has recently increased the weighting of Portfolio Management, in preparation for Level 3’s emphasis.
Other smaller topics: You’ll need to pick 2-3 more topics from the rest (all 5-10%) each. Choose your strong suit.
Also remember that we have a free CFA Level 2 mock exam from us that you can use for practice!
CFA Level 3 Cram Plan
For this level, the topic concentration works in your favor, but knowing that nearly all of Level 3 candidates perform worse in essay questions may discourage you at first.
But hey, our mission here (given the lack of time), is to maximize your chances of passing, and become a CFA charterholder – so my strategy would be to focus on acing the item set paper.
Here are the 4 key topics you need to focus on (70-90%):
- Ethics (10-15%), because it’s a must, and they largely build on what you’ve learned in Level 1-2. Easy way to cover some ground.
- Equity (10-15%): another highly testable topic.
- Fixed Income (15-20%): I’m afraid you can’t escape from this asset class here.
- Portfolio Management (35-40%): If there’s one topic you need to cover (and only have time for) in Level 3, focus on the varieties of Portfolio Management.
The rest: Review them only if you have time or are sure you can’t do more on the 4 larger topics above.
To ace the item-set paper, you’d need to do tons of practice questions. Check what’s available on our Offers section, make sure you complete your CFA Institute mocks, so do supplement these with end-of-chapter questions from the curriculum as well.
Also remember that you have a free CFA Level 3 mock exam from us that you can use for a much needed practice.
CFA Last Minute Preparation: Time Management Strategies
Now that you know what key topic areas to focus on given your strengths and remaining time, it’s time for action!
In the last 4 weeks, you should frankly be focusing on doing practice questions and aiming to complete 4-6 sets of mock exams under timed conditions now.
After checking your answers, review sections you are weaker in by doing practice questions on that topic specifically, and move on to the next mock exam. You’ll learn the most in the last month, but you must use your time wisely.
Practicing is one of the most effective ways to study in the last month before the exam as reading notes only gets you so far.
If you MUST complete your review despite our advice, here are some quick time management tips to finish up your revision in 1 week before starting your practicing:
1) Properly block off time
You need all the time you can get.
Plan in advance to take 1 week (or up to 10 days) off work prior to exam day.
We found that this is one of the most effective ways to remove distractions, as it allows you to completely focus on your CFA last minute preparations, i.e. practice exams and revisions.
Chat to your family and/or significant others (again) and tell them you really need to concentrate this period, and will not be able to focus on much else. Your other commitments can wait a week if needed.
2) Assess what you have to cover, and set checkpoints
Aim to hit big topics that you need help with (which will vary by candidate).
Depending on how much material you have to cover, you may decide that you have to drop some of the smaller topics. I absolutely do not encourage this, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Set up daily check points. Aim to cover about 15% of what you have left every day, and set a definite point where you should be at the end of each day. This will be important as your week progresses.
3) Speed read, and move on when you get stuck
Speed-studying for the CFA exam is like spinning a web to cover a large hole. You can’t focus on covering one area really perfectly – the importance is making sure you have a basic coverage across everything before spending time in perfecting up.
A range of tips for this stage:
- Make sure you address each LOS directly
- Don’t get bogged down in detailed examples
- Don’t get too frustrated if you don’t get a particular concept
- If you’re stuck and not making much progress, don’t worry and just move on
4) Hit your checkpoints no matter what
You have to hit your checkpoints at the end of every day.
No. Matter. What.
Your checkpoints ensure that you’re keeping to your pace that will get you to the end of your material at the end of the week. If you’re not meeting your checkpoints, that means on average you’re either not going fast enough (speed up!), or you have way too much material to cover (in which case, do the best you can).
5) At the end of the week, move on to practice exams
The end result is to pass the exam, so you need to allocate a good amount of time to practicing. At the end of your defined week, congratulate yourself on what you’ve covered, and move on to practice exams.
Once you’ve covered a few practice exams, you may decide to go back and study areas you’ve not addressed yet. But make sure you start on practice exams as early as you can if you want a shot at passing.
How are your preparations going? I hope it’s all going well and you’ve picked up some good tips to focus on here regardless. Update us in the comments below!
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