How I Passed CFA Level II on My First Attempt

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By Patrick ScholtesLinkedIn

CFA Level II is widely regarded to be the toughest CFA level to pass. So that possibly makes it the toughest part of one of the toughest exams in the world.

Passing CFA Level II on your first attempt is not necessary, nor does it accrue you bonus points in your CFA qualification. But it certainly helps speed up the process of obtaining your CFA charter!

So how do you pass CFA Level II on your first attempt? I managed it June 2014, and I hope my methods, schedule and materials shared here will help a future Level II candidate navigate the gauntlet successfully.

Study Materials

I used Kaplan Schweser’s Essential Self Study Package, which is included in the Premium Instruction Package with Weekly Class.

Compared to the basic SchweserNotes package, it contains three additional practice exams and access to a question bank. As regular 300 Hours users know, passing candidates complete an average of 4.9 practice exams, so the more practice exams, the better. (And if you’re new to 300 Hours, you can read my newbie guide to 300 Hours!)

If you’re on a budget, you can get just the SchweserNotes and purchase Volume II of the practice exams separately. If your budget allows it, e.g. if your employer pays for it, I’d recommend signing up for a live class with Schweser or your local CFA society. The weekly class creates structure around your studies and helps you stay on track. It’s also a good opportunity to network, compare notes, or simply commiserate with people who “get it”, as your friends and family will have a hard time relating, unless they’ve taken the CFA exam themselves.

​Personally, I don’t think it makes sense to invest in additional resources such as pre-written flashcards or Schweser’s Secret Sauce. There is a point of diminishing returns where more study materials become a distraction. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for processing and retaining the material, nobody can do it on your behalf. Creating your own index cards after each chapter helps you retain the material faster than just reading the notes, which you won’t have time for anyway.

My Game Plan and Study Schedule

One of my main takeaways from Level I was that quality is more important than quantity. For Level I, I pretty much started as soon as I received the materials, which meant that by the end of March I was already burning out on studying. As a result, I spent a lot of time procrastinating and feeling guilty about it. Armed with that wisdom, I decided to try a more balanced approach for Level II.

Here’s what my schedule looked like:
4 hours
2 hours
2 hours
3 hours
4 hours

I liked having the class earlier in the week (Tuesday or Wednesday). This gave me enough time to review the materials on the weekend, read up for the next class, do some concept checker questions, while still having energy to focus in class. I kept Thursday and Friday free to socialize and relax after a long week, without feeling guilty.

Also, it’s best to split studying up. You’d be surprised how much you get done by studying for an hour before work and another 1.5-2 hours after work, rather than trying to put in 3.5 hours after a long day at work.

When I created my study plan, I pretty much followed the pace of my class, which started in late January and ended in early May. After that, I focused exclusively on practice exams and improving my weak areas.

Another way to look at it is to start at the exam day and plan backwards, spreading 300 hours over the allocated period. Assuming you average 15 hours a week, including weekends and rest days, you will need 20 weeks. It’s worth mentioning that a plan is a living document that evolves over time. If you can’t stick to your plan because it doesn’t make sense anymore, you need to change it. Using a time-tracking app like Toggl helps you track your progress and come up with a realistic estimate.

Chances are that you will fall behind schedule, so you might want to consider taking the week before the exam off.

Staying Happy and Healthy

You’ve heard it many times but it’s worth repeating that your brain needs a healthy body to function. It’s important to eat well, exercise, and get adequate sleep.

When you take a break, go for a walk/run or workout instead of surfing the web or watching TV. Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your brain, reduces stress, and boosts endorphin levels.

It’s easy to rationalize getting fast food or ordering in rather than cooking but preparing a home-cooked meal, at least a couple of times a week, is both relaxing and good for you.

Last but not least, make sure to stay hydrated and avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine. You’ll sleep better after a cup of herbal tea than after a glass of wine.

Share Your Plan

The important thing to remember is to have a plan, and that it’s manageable with your other family or work commitments. Whether you’re a current Level II candidate or successfully passed, do share your study plan below, or any questions you have!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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