All CFA exam candidates know it. Others may not understand, but we do – the CFA exams are hardcore. The burnout is real.
Burnout happens when you simply do not have a drive to continue doing this crap any longer. Nothing goes in, and you may feel panicked, overwhelmed and unable to meet the study demands needed to pass the CFA exams. You’ll also lose the interest and drive that led you to start the CFA Program in the first place.
Study burnout reduces productivity and leaves you drained, hopeless, powerless, cynical and resentful. Sounds like a bag of fun! Luckily, you can read on to know how to recognise the early signs of study burnout, how to address them, and prevent them from happening again.
So when are you actually hitting a brick wall, and when are you simply being a little bit draggy in your feet?
- Physical exhaustion – you feel tired and sleepy
- Mental exhaustion – you constantly catch yourself ‘zoning out’, and you feel like your brain is unwilling to absorb any more information
- No drive to push on
- Performance actually starts to decline (mock exam scores, or getting increasingly confused and frustrated about certain concepts
The earlier you are able to identify that you’re experiencing burnout, the better, as you would be able to remedy the situation sooner and return to a more productive state.
The cure to study burnout is simple, but difficult to undertake – simply take a break. It’s difficult for me to muster up the courage to properly take a sizeable chunk of time off, so do trust yourself that you need some time off when you recognise burnout.
Everyone has their own favourite break activities, but here are some that work very well for me:
- Taking a power nap. Aim to nap for about 20 minutes, and sleep on a couch rather than a bed, otherwise it’ll be too tempting to carry on!
- Take a shower. This is incredibly effective for me. I constantly underestimate it, but taking a shower does wonders to rejuvenate myself both physically and mentally. It’s like being reborn
- Hit the gym, or take a walk, or jog. This is a good one especially if you are a regular gym rat, but have been cutting back on this to study. Remember that exercise always helps your study initiative, and in this case it will function as a natural study break as well. And a shower (hopefully)!
- Run a quick errand. Get the groceries. Make that call to the phone company that you’ve been putting off. Walk the dog. Prepare dinner. Not only will you get something else productive done, but you’ll have inserted a properly-sized break into your studies.
There are other solutions that work less well for me, but may very well perform for you:
- Call or visit a friend (this sometimes gets too distracting for me)
- Eat a snack (extremely ineffective for me – I just feel like eating more and I don’t feel any more driven to study)
- Surf the web (this requires extremely high levels of discipline to not get sucked into the vortex that is internet surfing)
- Check your email (checking personal email is probably fine, but if I start checking work email I get even more stressed!)
Even more importantly, it’s key to understand what causes burnout and prevent it from happening too often. Here are the top tricks that worked the best for my own CFA exam prep:
- Break your study notes into bite-sized chunks and focus on learning them modularly. Not only do you focus better because you’re telling your brain to digest discrete bits of information (instead of one huge book), but you get a better sense of achievement as you can clearly chart your progress.
- Scribble freely on your notes. Writing down notes helps focus the mind and prevents ‘rewinding’, i.e. zoning out and rereading the same pages over and over again. Use language and examples that are clear to YOU. Even if your way of understanding it is quirky or if others don’t make sense of it, use it. Your notes are for you, and the clearer it is for you, the better you’ll remember.
- Be disciplined in your schedule. Make sure you start with a planned schedule and stick to it the best you can. The more you push back to the last minute, the more overwhelming it will be at the end.
- Get adequate rest. This is tough especially if you’re panicking about low scores, or frustrated about a particular concept, but it’s important to get rest. Mental alertness comes with rest, and lack of sleep can lead to illness, making things worse.
- Cycle your study environments. While we’ve listed our favourite places to study for the CFA exam, it’s also important to know that your mind and body will instinctively tire of a particular environment. The way to counter this is to rotate between locations. Shift from your home to a cafe, and back, or swap your local library with your office. I try and do this once a week, but work out what frequency is best for your situation.
- Pace yourself. Trying to do it all at once is too much. Your mind and body will inform you of this. So, take breaks. For example, if you study for 2 hours, take a 15-minute or so break. Get out of the room. Go for a walk. Eat something healthy. If you prefer to study for 4 hours take an hour off and eat something healthy. In either case, if you find that your break time is not enough, take an extra 5 or 10 minutes per break.
- Eat well. Ensure that you’re not cramming rubbish up your system – get proper nutrients that will help your mental focus. Here is a list of our favourite brain-boosting foods.