CFA CFA Level 3 My Level 3 Tips

My Level 3 Tips

  • This topic has 15 replies, 8 voices, and was last updated Jun-17 by Zee Tan.
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    • MattyJ
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      Having just got through Level 3, I thought it might be useful to share my tips/experience before I erase everything from memory.

      The AM section is crucial. Do not underestimate it.
      In the lead up to the exam, I had seen this posted multiple times. I knew it was different to the multiple choice questions that came in levels 1 and 2, however it was only once those 3 hours began that I truly appreciated how I should have been preparing during my revision. I had done roughly 9 practice exams, and therefore assumed I was ready for it, however these are the errors I made:

      1) Because of the time it takes to write essay-style questions, when I took practice papers I was concentrating on making sure I got the key concepts down without any regard for presentation/coherency. I was very strict in my marking process, so if I knew that I understood the concept I gave myself the marks accordingly. The problem is that once I was in the exam I had to change my style to ensure that answers where complete, included all relevant workings and assumptions, and were coherent. This obviously takes longer, and as such I had a huge issue with getting all the questions completed in time.

      2) It is a much different feeling when you are trying to complete the essay questions under time pressure in exam conditions (especially when you are running behind – see point 1 above!). I found it very difficult to concentrate, and when I needed to be picking up pace I felt like I was floundering as I couldn’t take in anything I was reading.

      Tip: Make sure you complete at least one mock exam under strict exam conditions.

      Use mock exams to your advantage.
      It’s amazing how many people say “I studied 900 hours, did all the EOC’s, and came out with Band 5. I just don’t know what went wrong. I didn’t do any practice papers, but I’m sure I knew the material inside out. I don’t know what else I could do”.

      I’m sorry, you did no practice papers? Well there’s your answer then.

      Practice exams are vital for several reasons:
      1) you will know what to expect come exam day.
      2) you will gain an understanding of what the examiners are looking for in the answers.
      3) you see how some concepts are tested year after year, and get an appreciation about what to expect; and
      4) you will get experience of how to answer the questions (see the next section for more on this).

      The great thing about level 3 is there is an abundance of mock papers for you to get hold of. This is the only level whe the CFAI post the actual AM papers for you to see for the last three years (http://www.cfainstitute.org/programs/cfaprogram/exams/Pages/sample_questions.aspx). If you’re smart, you might go in and save these now, so that when they replace the 2009 paper with the 2013 paper, you will actually have 4 mock papers. As I have mentioned previously, even L1 and L2 candidates should start saving the mock papers now. The item set practice paper changes every year, so it is possible to build up a great supply of papers before you reach L3 yourselves.
      Schweser also issue 6 mock exams in book format, and there are other sources too (and I think the guys at 300hours.com even negotiate discounts for you on some of these!).

      Make sure you know how to answer the essay questions.
      Sounds easy, but it’s surprising ow many people get this wrong. Some of the questions tell you to write on the lined space provided, however there are some that require you to write in a specific box. If you don’t answer where you need to, then you will get ‘nil pois’. Yes it’s annoying, but if you can’t follow a simple instruction do you really think you deserve to pass. People also dissect the exam and wonder if they wrote in the wrong place, butfrommy experience it is obvious to see when there are boxes. Yes you might the answer in the wrong place to begin with, but as soon as you turn the page and see the boxes then the penny should drop.

      Be honest when marking your essay questions.
      The answers are subjective, and whilst it is a good ego booster to get high marks in the mock exams, you have to remember the end game. When I was going through practice papers I was very harsh on myself. If I didn’t think I deserved a mark then I would not give it to myself. Do enough mock papers and you will gain an appreciation for what you need to write.

      Anyway, I hope some of you find the above useful!

    • Zee Tan
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      Amazing post. Thanks @mattyj!

    • Sophie Macon
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      @MattyJ, wholeheartedly agree with all your points there. Practice and time management is super important, glad you appreciate all our nagging beforehand and I think you points are spot on 🙂

    • clwcain
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      Very helpful post. Thanks, @MattyJ.

    • adossa3
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      Thanks – need to learn from my mistakes – PMgt IPSs essay killed me as other qs,. and 2nd half was all over 70% – so must have done really badly – dont know what to do.

    • Jwa
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      @MattyJ. I don’t agree that endlessly doing practice papers is a solution to struggling in the AM paper because, as you say yourself, “the answers are subjective”, so one has no idea how you are answering. I don’t know what the answer is to be honest, but bad practice does not make perfect. As I have said on other threads, the feedback process for LIII needs to be drastically improved, i.e. the CFAI changes the whole marking process and brings in the topic geeks to do the marking, so why can’t they do some feedback also. It’s pretty feeble considering how much money candidates/their sponsors are spewing out.

    • Zee Tan
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      @jwa I think there is a point where it does become less useful, but there is a surprising amount of candidates that have not properly understood the format of the essay section, because they haven’t tried it at all. There is a lot to be learnt from the first few mock exams and looking at the model answers, and I think that’s @MattyJ’s point.

    • Jwa
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      @zee that is fair enough. The fact they call it an ‘essay’ section is misleading enough; clearly no one who thought of that had every studied a humanities subject.

    • Zee Tan
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      @jwa it did used to be more essay formatted…

    • veronicacorningstone
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      Hi all.. am new here as you can see and looking for some advice. I received the dreaded ‘we sincerely regret…’ email last week and am really having trouble coping with it and wondering how to approach a rewrite. The trouble is, of MattyJ’s (very well written) L3 tips I thought I had ticked all of those boxes.

      I did at least 8 practice exams (90% of them being actual past CFA exams), which included innumerable essay questions that I marked myself very aggressively on. In addition I took a Schweser review course that started in April to prep and I also took off a week at the beginning of May and the end of May from work to prepare pre-exam. Walking into the exam hall I didn’t think ‘oh I wish I’d spent more time on x and y’.

      The exam material did not phase me, I didn’t have any real trouble spots..but my results sure did. I hit it out of the park in the afternoon with multiple choice but severely bombed the morning session which shocked me since (I thought) I knew what they were looking for and did not walk away from the exam with that ‘uh oh…’ feeling. I really don’t want this to hang over me so I’m definitely going to rewrite.. I just have no idea about what to do differently since I certainly put in the time this year. Sessions I bombed in the morning, I got >70% in in the afternoon, so I know that I understand the material.. therefore it is definitely my hand written essay answers that I need to perfect. Any advice with this? Should I get a private tutor? Or do the same course again? I didn’t want to do the in-class schweser mock exam this year because I didn’t want to add extra stress of a simulated exam day.. but maybe I should consider it?

      tx.

    • christine
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      I don’t know about private tutors, but having a tutor may help, especially if you didn’t the last time around. 7city does quite a comprehensive course, or if you’re in NYC NYSSA also does something similar.

      The essay bit is extremely challenging to understand from our perspective – as far as we know, essay-style questions look for a certain set of key phrase answers, and if you don’t bring them up, that’s it – no points. Hence you can spend 3 minutes scribbling a few bullet points (but the right ones) and get full marks, or spend ages writing and feel like you’ve given a great answer, and get nothing.

      We will try to reach out to candidates that did well in their AM paper this time around and see if they have insights to share – through multiple experiences we hope to be able to shed more light into this matter.

    • Sophie Macon
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      @veronicacorningstone, I’m sorry to hear that, but your experience is similar to mine. I totally bombed my AM paper too, but was lucky enough to just about scrape through a pass years ago. Again, I did similar practices like you.

      What I’d say though, is doing those essay practice exam papers until timed condition, and be STRICT about the timing and marking. I personally didn’t take it that seriously for the AM practice sessions since I thought “meh, I’ll never get it right since it’s subjective anyway” – which I suspect is the cause of my downfall for AM session where I didn’t finish 3 whole questions…

    • veronicacorningstone
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      Thank you @christine and @Sophie. I think I just need to do the AM prep to death this time…! Hopefully having a few months off helps me to return with a clear head (and much less cynicism compared to now, haha). Will check back here for any other tips/inspiration.

    • christine
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      @veronicacorningstone looking forward to it!

    • Jwa
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      @christine “as far as we know, essay-style questions look for a certain set of key phrase answers, and if you don’t bring them up, that’s it – no points” – there must be more leeway than that, otherwise how can anyone who doesn’t have American English as a first language pass without mindless rote-learning of CFA-ised phrases? There has to be more interpretation surely, otherwise what is the point of even having a written part….?

    • Zee Tan
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      @jwa I don’t think it’s linguistically strict, but I think they’re looking for certain concepts.

      For a lot of questions for my own essay paper, I felt that it was either you knew it and it was super straightforward, or you didn’t know it, and no amount of desperate writing on my part was going to help…

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