How to Pass the CFA Exams in 18 Months

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By Sophie

With 2014 coming up, I pondered about new year resolutions, and why we all don’t seem to keep them that well after 3 months or so. Having a target to achieve is great, the problem seems to stem from our ability to maintain progress and continuously take baby steps to achieve our goals throughout a given time.

This brought back memories of when I first embarked on my CFA journey, I knew I made it my mission to pass my CFA exams as soon as possible at that time, and I miraculously did that. Every CFA candidate had the same material, time (if well planned) and educational background didn’t play a huge role – so what is it then that made it work? Are there any secrets to such crazy endeavours, or achieving any goal in general? 

As it turns out, there are 2 simple, but key traits to achieving this. 

#1. Focus on a System, not a Goal

This is certainly a big revelation for me: it’s such a powerful distinction worth noting. For example, losing 5kg is a goal, exercising daily is a system. Similarly, passing the CFA exams in 18 months is a Goal, but studying 20 hours per week according to my study plan is a System.

This factor alone probably explains most of why no one sticks to new year resolutions: many set goals but did not form a structured “path” in place or means to achieve them. It’s so easy to just say something, instead of taking more time and effort to plan and outline the steps needed to achieve them.

A system provides a method and requires regular activity – this is the key to success. By breaking your goals into little baby steps and focusing on the immediate next task to tick off, the seemingly unachievable goal suddenly becomes more doable. If you were to boil down the traits of all the successful people in the world, this would be it! 

So, how does this apply to your CFA preparations? Form these habits in your system:

  1. Give yourself enough time to prepare – use the 300 Hours Study Plan to form your own study system.
  2. Stick to your plan – if you’re not doing that, it means your plan was not a sustainable one to begin with. Review and revise your plan assumptions until you can do it regularly until it’s second nature, just like brushing your teeth.
  3. Schedule in breaks and exercise as part of your system – you need that to prevent burnout.
  4. Eat well – just like an Excel model, our body and mind operates best when you feed it with good stuff. 
  5. Get enough sleep – if possible, sleep and wake up at the same time everyday to train your body and mind to get used to the exam conditions. Yes, that means no all nighters prior to the exams, that’s just short term thinking and messes things up.
#2. Never Complain, Instead Get Sh*t Done (GSD)

You’re nearly there once you religiously follow Step 1. Step 2 is more straightforward – get stuff done!

I know how hard it is when you’re already so strict with yourself with your new system setup above, and it’s just nice to be able to whine about it sometimes. Just don’t. Because it shakes the foundation of your awesome discipline so far and kickstarts a whole negative attitude and more procrastination if you allowed it to continue.

There are a whole load of activities you can do to chill out and take the stress off your studies – anything but complaining is allowed. Do you know any successful people that whines about their difficulties or problems? Why? Because they just faced it head on and never leave it to be an obstacle to them for long.

The next time you face a challenge in your studies? Just face it head-on and get the job done.

I hope that’s some food for thought for the new year – best of luck and happy 2014!

Over to You

Think back to a time where you successfully achieved a goal. How did you do it? Did that process exhibit the same 2 traits we discussed above? Share your story with us in the comments below!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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