Been reading the forums on and off for advice over the past year for the Level 3 exams but never posted before. Since I have finally cleared all the levels I thought it would be good to share a bit of my CFA journey, some study habits and general advice. Please note that these are my personal opinion and experience will differ for everyone.
I have cleared all 3 levels consecutively from June 2011 through June 2013. Technically, I did attempt the December 2010 paper but did not prepare for it at all as I was more focused on a new job position and I wasn’t suprised to fail.
I am a graduate with a degree in Economics and Finance. I previously worked at a local bank as a relationship manager for commercial loans (mortgages, trade finance, bridging loans etc.) and subsequently got ‘promoted’ to be a product manager where I performed quite a lot of tasks not in the actual job description (tracking profitability of various loan products, marketing, training new staff and coming up with new lending programs). My original plan was to find a job in the ‘investment’ side of finance but I graduated in 2009 when the financial markets were in bad shape and basically took the first available job.
Eventually, I left my job in May 2012 due to clashes in ideology between my superiors and myself. I had tried to incorporate concepts from the CFA into my everyday work but it was evidently not really appreciated since my department was in charge of garnering new sales and revenue for the bank. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say my efforts to incorporate what I had picked up from the CFA curriculum (mainly the risk aspects) was written off as a waste of time and not being ‘business minded’.
After leaving my job, I focused on a cafe business that I had started with some partners while working on the Level III curriculum (Having said this, some of you might want to take this discussion with a pinch of salt as I definitely had more flexibility in terms of balancing work and study)
Right now I am currently looking to get back into the finance industry. I recently completed a basic course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (I believe one of the regular contributors to this forum/blog also did something similar) and I am currently searching for the right job.
With all that being said, I would like to get into my experience with the CFA program and hopefully help out some others.
In terms of studying, I usually follow disciplined approach. It might or might not work for others but it definitely worked for me so here goes:
1a. NOTE TAKING
I write my own notes for each and every topic in the CFA program – the only difference would be how much I wrote. The more complex or difficult I found a certain topic, the longer my notes would be (I have had topics as short as 1 page with summarized scribble and some as long as 20 pages with detailed explanations).
For me, I find it easier to remember things when I write them down either as stated in the materials or in my own words if I don’t like how it is presented in the materials. I think this would generally apply to most people so I would definitely advise some form of note taking while studying.
1b. UNDERSTANDING CONTENT
Take the time to understand the content. Read it once, twice or as many times it takes for you to understand. If you hit a brick wall, go on to another topic to clear your head and then come back.
DO NOT at any time just take any given explanation as good. UNDERSTAND it. If you simply memorize something just because you can’t understand it, you’re going face problems in terms of remembering it and more importantly when it comes to answering certain questions (especially in Level III AM section).
A good thing to do is to search the internet, you will most likely find that someone has already broken down the content into smaller and easier to understand pieces. If no one has, ask around in the forums and you will likely get a reply. Once you have the necessary information, work out in your head the logicality of the explanation step by step and see if it makes sense to you. Again, do not just take someone’s explanation as good. UNDERSTAND it!
Lastly. PRACTICE. CFAI EOC questions and the content questions from what ever study material you may be using. This is the best way to reinforce and commit to memory.
I set myself a fixed amount of study time each day and with each passing month I would progressively add on another hour. I felt that such a progressive approach would give me time to ‘adjust’ to increasing amounts of time spent studying and dampen the effects of possible ‘burnouts’.
For levels II and III where I started studying in January each year starting with 2 hours a day, I was averaging 6 hours a day by May and I never felt any study burnout. It also helps to break up the study sessions if you can’t sit for long periods straight. Sometimes, I would split my study quota for the day into 2 sessions while taking care of work in between.
The exception to this progressive addition of an hour each month would be the final 2 weeks where I would pump in anything between 8-12 hours depending on my work schedule.
Also, my allocated study time would take priority all other activities except work. If I wanted to play, I would have to hit my required number of study hours. This usually meant that the only time I had for social activities was a quick dinner in the evening with friends (just dinner, no chatting for hours) or the weekends where I had more time.
Overall, being disciplined does not sound as bad as it seems, I had time for movies, long dinners, dates etc. on the weekends. It just means making the occasional sacrifices when needed.
I will continue this when I have the time as I have to head out now. Apologies for any grammatical, vocab, formatting, phrasing or what ever problems there may be with this discussion. I will touch up when possible
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