The CFA Quick Turnaround: How to Pass CFA Level I in Dec and CFA Level II Six Months Later

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By Travis Koivula (LinkedIn)

​Anyone who has studied for and written a CFA exam knows the mixed emotions of joy, fatigue, excitement and anxiety that are experienced after the exam is over. After living like a hermit, you can now see your friends, spend quality time with your spouse and live a normal life. I found that even thinking of studying sent shivers through me for the next three months! Just when you think you can settle back into normal life again, you realize that you have to start studying in early February if you plan on writing Level II in June.  

Here is how I did it.

Enjoy the Time Off After Level I

The December Level I CFA exam is usually written in the first week of December and results are released 8 weeks later.  I used this time to relax, read books, spend time with friends and generally not think about studying.  I knew if I did pass, I would only have four months (February, March, April & May) to study and a small margin of room for error. I contemplated purchasing a third party notes provider and start studying early, but in the end I thought that giving my mind a much needed break would lessen the chances for study burnout on the next exam.

Get A Plan to Slay Level II

If you surveyed most candidates, I think you would discover that the majority found CFA Level II to be the most challenging.  It is not uncommon for candidates to fail this exam multiple times and lose valuable momentum in their pursuit of the CFA accreditation. Knowing all of this, I got a plan in place to get ready for battle.  I arranged my work schedule so that I could leave an hour early each day.  This allowed me to study when I was most alert (I am not a night person).  I planned on using three weeks in May and the first week in June to go over as many mock exams as I could.  With just over three months to cover all of the material, I had to set very specific goals of where I needed to be in the curriculum and when I needed to be there.

Use the Right Resources

With a short study window, I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to dig through the CFAI books as well as I would like, so I decided to use a third party provider of notes.   I did my research and found that Wiley Efficient Learning seemed to have the best overall rating for CFA Level II.  The quality and scope of the content was impressive given the reasonable price tag.  Specifically, I found the explanations of the pension accounting was extremely helpful and allowed me to get my head around the complex concepts.  

Start the Studying Machine Up Slowly

When I got my study material the last thing I wanted to do was open the books.  Procrastination was already starting to settle in and I had barely made it past the index!  It didn’t help that the first section I started to read was Quantitative Methods (a great cure for insomnia).  After struggling to get motivated, I started with something I found interesting (Equity and Fixed Income), this got me back in the game and kept me on my study plan.

Don’t Rest on Your Laurels for Ethics

Having scored over 70% in Ethics in CFA Level I, I figured that I could save some time by ignoring studying this section again for Level II.  This was a big mistake, as new content had been added between the two levels.  I ended up finding this out in April and had to reallocate time I wasn’t planning on to learn the new content.  The best quote I heard about the CFA Ethics was “It doesn’t matter if you’re an ethical person, or behave in an ethical way.  What matters is knowing exactly what each of the CFA exam Standards are.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

Each mock exams takes six hours to write and almost as long to check.  With my work schedule, I found it hard to do a full exam in one day and then check the answers the next.  Instead, I would do half an exam at a time during the evenings one night and then grade and check it the next. This allowed me to get through an exam during the week and to check it as well.  On the weekends, I would write a full mock exam in one day and check it the next.  In total, I did 13 mock exams (6 Kaplan Schweser exams, 1 CFAI exam, 1 Wiley exam, 2 Fitch exams, 1 Kaplan Schweser live mock, and 2 Boston Security Analysis Society exams). The variety offered by the different exams really helped sharpen my skills.  If finances are an issue, I would put my study dollars towards buying practice exams exams vs. paying for notes – you can also see the latest offers on CFA materials in 300 Hours’ Offers page

You can also get free practice tests from 300 Hours for all CFA levels in the Guides section.

In Closing…

Writing CFA Level II after writing Level I in December is challenging but not impossible. With commitment, specific goal setting, and the right resources, you can pass this daunting level in a short window. Writing the exams so close together meant I still had Level I material was kicking around in my brain – I found that it came in handy on more than one occasion.  

I hope you found this useful and wish you the best of luck! If you have any questions, please just drop them in the comments below.

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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