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10 Keys to CFA Success

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In 2008, I signed up for the CFA examinations, thinking that I could self-study while working in the government sector. However, my ex-colleague advised me against doing so because most people who did not take up CFA classes usually would not have the discipline to pass the rigorous examinations. He was proven right. After 5 years, the text books are still lying on my study table and I had not even bothered to take the examinations! I hope readers would not go through the same path as me, henceforth, SG Wealth Builder joins force with Fitch Learning which conducts the CFA courses. Readers of my blog can enjoy special discount of 10% on their packages if they entered “SG Wealth” at time of checkout. Below is an article from Fitch Learning which provides tips on CFA Success. Contact me at if you have further queries.

Be realistic on the time it will take to study the curriculum
CFA Institute recommend a minimum study time of 300 hours at each Level, so starting a month before the exam just isn’t going to work. Everyone’s work and social commitments are different, but as general rule of thumb, try and start roughly 4 months before the exam. This works out to be around 15-20 hours of study required a week. If you don’t think that is feasible, you will need to start earlier. Importantly, whichever amount of time you can devote to study, make sure it is a balance of reading and question practice from start to finish.

Know ALL the relevant functions on the official CFA calculator
You should be familiar with the following functions on the T1 BAII Plus onthe official calculator:
1) AOS versus chn mode
2) ICONV function
3) DEPR function
4) TVM button
5) NPV and IRR function
6) DATA and STA functions
7) AMORT functions

Do not overlook the CFA curriculum books
CFA Institute curriculum books often get a bad rep. They are very comprehensive and the quantity can be off putting to many candidates, but not using them at all is a mistake. You should at least attempt all the questions in the curriculum books, because as they are written by CFA Institute they will likely be the closest you’ll get to the questions in the real exam. Make sure you also complete the blue box examples, as these could be future exam questions in the making.

Do not study the curriculum in Study Session Order
The order of the Study Sessions in the curriculum have no rhyme or reason. Quantitative Methods should be studied first, because the techniques covered are used in several other areas of the curriculum. Financial Reporting and Analysis should come next. Accounting is a key topic, so you need to hit it hard and you need to hit it early. Asset classes should be studied next, and the more wordy topics – such as economics and ethics – towards the end. 

Make sure you know how a topic will be tested
CFA Institute outline the syllabus in the form of Learning Outcome Statements (LOSs). Make sure you know the command word for each LOS. If the LOS doesn’t say “calculate” or “compute” it’s unlikely to come up as a calculation question in the exam.

Do not focus too much on the tricky areas
It is human nature to spend lots of time getting to grips with all the tricky, challenging areas of the curriculum. The reality is that the exam will cover all areas, whether they are easy, moderate or tricky. A simple mistake candidates make is to spend all their time getting to grips with the tricky areas, at the expense of not knowing the easy stuff. Make sure you don’t fall into that trap.

Do not waste time on learning facts and formulae that won’t come up
Many candidates worry and research additional books or content outside of the CFA curriculum books. Golden rule: if it’s not in the CFA Institute curriculum books, it ain’t coming up in the exam!

Question practice is the key to reduce pressure in the exam
On average, you need to complete a question every 90 seconds. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it is more than feasible to finish the exam way ahead of time. The key is to make question practice a significant proportion of your study time. It is not surprising that if you take thousands of practice questions, you will be quick and efficient in the actual exam. It’s also crucial to make sure you practice all questions to the correct time allocation from day one, for example, give yourself 15 minutes to complete 10 questions.

Do not leave question practice until the end of your studies
An approach many make when studying is to read all the material first and practice exam standard questions towards the latter end of their studies. This is a BIG mistake. After each reading, make sure you practice exam standard questions. This way, you need to ensure you are at the right level and can apply your knowledge to questions at every stage of your studies.

On the actual day of the exam, don’t panic!
The actual exam is relatively marked. If you are finding it hard, everyone else is. Expect some challenging questions, but don’t get thrown by them. Remember, the key to passing is not getting the tough questions right – it’s getting the easy to moderate questions right, managing your time allocation and above all, staying calm!

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Updated: December 27, 2014 — 4:24 pm

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