One of the Biggest Factors in Passing the CFA Exams: Personality

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By Rachel Bryant, author of Direct Path to the CFA Charter

When asked about watching me go through the CFA Program, my husband Darby typically says, “I never would have made it through.  I just can’t sit down and study like that day after day, week after week, month after month, with no class, no teacher, no syllabus.  I don’t have that kind of personality.”

Darby is a very smart guy.  He has a great job and an MBA from a top graduate program.  But he and the CFA Program would not mesh.

We seldom consider whether we’re a good fit for the CFA exam.

When deciding to join the CFA Program, we often focus on the externalities: Do I have enough free time to study for the CFA exams?  Is my family on board?  Can I afford it?  Do I have enough work experience?  But the most important factor may be an internal one: Do I have a personality that will succeed in the CFA Program?  Remember that the goal is not only to take the CFA exams, but to pass the CFA exams.  It is an uncomfortable truth that personality is a major factor in who passes and who fails.  Before signing up, consider if the CFA Program is a good match for your personality.  

Be prepared for a lot of alone time.

You must be comfortable with being alone; you are about to spend hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours by yourself.  Even if you sign up for a class that meets once per week, this is a self-study program that will be predominately spent alone with your calculator and study books.  Some folks, like myself, enjoy “me” time.  Others hate the idea of sitting alone for more than a few minutes.  Consider into which camp you fall.

You will need a personality that can maintain focus for hours each day on the same topic.  My laser-beam focus is a hindrance when I need to juggle many things at once, but it certainly helped in the CFA Program as I could hone in on one topic for days.  Meanwhile, Darby can juggle a million demands simultaneously and enjoys it as a project manager, and I am often jealous of that ability.  Everyone is different.

Discipline (and a little paranoia) works well too.

You need a personality that refuses—no matter what—to let studying planned for today to be pushed into tomorrow.  Procrastination and the CFA Charter do not mix.  You must be able to resist inevitable peer pressure as your friends start asking why you can’t watch the game with them this weekend.  Your social life will take a severe hit in the last couple months before each exam; make sure you are okay with that.

Truthfully, you should also be afraid of failure.  Perhaps irrationally afraid, but still, the fear makes you do one more practice test and run through your flashcards one more time.  

Let your personality set yourself up for success.

CFA charterholders tend to be an interesting bunch because they share similar personality quirks, which is not a coincidence.  Having a good study approach is important, of course.  I had a solid study plan (for example, check out my recent blog post “Taking the CFA December Exam? Here’s a 5-Step Plan to Getting Organized, Registered, and Studying”), but my personality helped to make that plan successful.  Consider how your personality will harmonize with the CFA Program before spending the time and money pursuing it.  

If you see the CFA Program as a good fit for your internal personality, go for it!  The 300 Hours crew will be here to guide you to to the finish line and cheer you on every step of the way.

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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