Study smarter than average

You have decided that you are (1) committed to obtain the CFA charter, and (2) you are not afraid to put in the hours to make it happen.

Now, in the 3rd and final article of our 3 piece series, it is time to discuss exactly what to do with your time to increase your chances of success.

There are a couple of very simple steps that if implemented will make a massive difference in your performance: (1) consider using a study guide (2) focus on ethics (3) create flashcards (4) revise EOC questions in detail (5) create a weekly study plan and make sure you don’t slip behind.

1. Consider using a study guide

Now this one is probably the most controversial. Let’s set one thing straight: You can definitely pass the test just using the underlying curriculum without buying an abbreviated study guide, if you work hard enough. The exam is only going to test material from the underlying curriculum, so if you can read and recall the entire curriculum you can pass the test. Herin lies the difficulty as well however. The printed curriculum contains more than 3000 pages worth of text. It is a mammoth task to get through the curriculum even once, let alone recalling everything you have read. Most study note providers offer a set of abbreviated study notes that will in most cases cut your reading time in half by cutting out all of the “fluff”.

Now I do have to warn you that the study note providers will inevitably cut out testable details as well, so you are running a risk that you have never come across certain details tested on the exam. That said there is no guarantee you would be able to remember these obscure details even if you had glanced over them once when reading through the entire curriculum. On the contrary the abbreviated study notes will highlight the most testable areas of the curriculum allowing you to get through the curriculum much quicker and crucially to recall most of the relevant information during the test. If you are looking for a study guide we recommend Wiley CFA Exam Review Products. You can find more information about why here. Please note that Wiley offers a 10% discount on CFA products for Financial Exam Academy readers. You can obtain this discount by applying FEA as your coupon code (Please note that this coupon code cannot be combined with any other offers/coupons).

2. Focus on ethics

Ethics is arguably the most important of the 10 topics to master for a couple of reasons:

  • It is retested at every level of the CFA program, so you might as well get it down for level 1.
  • It provides the best exam weight to curriculum size pay-off out of any of the 10 topics. It makes up 15% of the exam, but the ethics readings only represents 9.2% of the total curriculum.
  • If your performance is a borderline pass, the CFA Institute may look at your ethics score as the defining factor to decide whether or not to let you through.

For these reasons I would recommend that you study ethics at source in the underlying curriculum, even if you are studying the rest of the curriculum using a study guide. And I would recommend that you revise the ethics material continuously throughout your study program.

3. Create flashcards

A little trick that can make a massive difference is if you do your own flashcards. I recommend that you create flashcards with every single LOS as well as key concepts and formulas that you come across as you read through the curriculum.

I was using “old-school” cardboard flashcards when sitting the tests, but in this day and age I would recommend using an app on your smartphone. There is a continuous stream of new apps being launched and several great ones available at the time of writing this. Have a look at Quizlet if you want a simple no frills solution without a learning curve. AnkiDroid is a much more flexible solution that provides a lot more options, but it is less straight forward to use. You can read more about why we recommend doing flashcards here, and a bit more about the two options mentioned here.

4. Revise EOC questions in detail

The CFA level 1 test is organized as a grueling 6 hour multiple choice test. Every single candidate is facing the same 240 multiple choice questions on exam day. It therefore makes sense that exam style multiple choice question practice should make up a significant part of your test prep. You might be able to read and understand the entire curriculum, but if you are not able to quickly recall the necessary information at will in a stressful environment you will not pass. The test objective is pure and simply your ability to answer 240 multiple choice questions covering the curriculum material quickly and accurately.

Another side benefit from doing a lot of questions is that it helps pinpoint areas of the curriculum where you are weak. I recommend that you keep a log of every question that you answer incorrectly. You can do this on a basic scrap of paper or preferably in a cloud based text file accessible from your phone/computer (Evernote or similar). You will treasure this log file when we get closer to the exam, as it will help you focus on revising your weakest areas. You can find more input about structuring your question practice here.

5. Create a weekly study plan and make sure you don’t slip behind.

This step seems pretty obvious, yet I receive email upon email from candidates that have either drifted behind a too ambitious study plan or do not have a structured plan in the first place.

We have taken the guess work out of creating a study plan here at the financial exam academy. If you have signed up for our newsletter you will receive a weekly email for the 21 weeks leading up to the test telling you exactly what you need to do. If you do commit to following this weekly study plan I will highly recommend that you join FEA Elite as well. This is an exclusive progress group for highly committed candidates determined to pass the June 2016 level 1 CFA test. The intention is to create an atmosphere of friendly competition within the group to motivate each other to stay the course and improve our chances of passing the test. We are targeting a 100% pass rate for FEA Elite members that stick to the plan throughout, and I will personally reach out to any members lacking behind to provide guidance and encourage them to get back on track. If you join FEA Elite and show the required commitment I will make it a personal mission to help coach you towards your desired result. Also, we have decided to waive any enrollment fees for the June 2016 test.


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