Top Tips on How to Ace Your CFA Exams

If you’ve decided to sit for the CFA exams, be ready for a serious commitment, the CFA exams are no walk in the park, they require lots of study hours and a lot of practice.
 

Here are some tips from the man who sets the question papers:

  • Make the CFA Institutes Curriculum your prime focus

Even though other courses and materials may be helpful, your prime focus should be on what the CFA institute provides. It’s important to realize that everything you will see on the exam comes directly from the curriculum that the CFA Institute provides. Look at the exam prep materials and study tips on the institute’s website thoroughly. It sounds basic, but not everyone does it.

A lot of candidates make a number of mistakes, for example, they rely on too many sources of information rather than focusing on the curriculum. You also need to sit for a CFA mock exam every now and then.
 

  • Be aware of any changes

A lot of changes have been made in the CFA mock exam patterns over the past decades. Like in the very beginning you were required to write open ended essay but now you have to answer multiple choice questions. To become aware of such changes practice a CFA mock exam paper on a regular bases, this way you are completely aware of what to expect in the exam.
 

  • Remember the format

The morning session of Level I lasts three hours, with 120 multiple-choice questions, followed by a two-hour break for lunch, then another three hours to complete an additional 120 multiple-choice questions,

Level II consists of “Item Set” questions, one- to two-page cases of data and information about an institutional or individual investor, then attached to each case are six questions based on that case drawing from the curriculum.
 

Level II is similarly structured, but requires a lot more reading, with 60 questions in morning and 60 in the afternoon. It’s a bit more complex, with higher-level questions that require comprehending the case information in order to answer them.

The morning session of the Level III exam has short-answer essay questions that require candidates to make calculations. The afternoon is Item Set questions.

“Level III is more structured than most essay exams; this is exactly why you need to constantly prep yourself through a CFA mock exam every now and then.

  • Practice makes perfect

Some candidates spend way too much time on practice questions and CFA mock exam(s), drilling and drilling, rather than really taking the time to memorize the curriculum and understand the concepts.

Also, don’t focus obsessively on certain parts of the curriculum that you think will make up the bulk of the test while neglecting others.

It’s a dangerous game to try to figure out what’s going to be on the test, to the extent that you’re skipping chapters, that’s reducing the probability that you’re going to be able to handle the questions you’ll actually see on the exam.
 

  • Take care of yourself

Candidates are tempted to cram in as many last few hours of study as they can. But don’t sacrifice time usually spent on exercise, eating well or sleeping a full night for studying – especially in the days just before the exam. If possible, candidates may consider putting in a request now to take some personal time off work for review and rest right before the exam. You want to perform your best, and that means caring for your physical well-being as much as mental preparedness. If your body isn’t ready, then hundreds of hours of prep won’t mean anything.

You want to perform your best, and that means caring for your physical well-being as much as mental [preparedness].If your body isn’t ready, then hundreds of hours of prep won’t mean anything.”
 

7. Plan the logistics of exam day

Scout the exam location ahead of time. Learn the route, look at parking, plan what you will eat for lunch and where, and have a general notion of what you’re going to walk into.

You don’t want to be tripped up by little things like that. The fewer last-minute decisions to make, the better.
 

8. On exam day you’ll want to…

Make sure you have your valid passport, ticket and approved calculator – and leave the personal belongings at home.

Pay close attention to all the instructions provided to make sure you’re following the procedures properly.
 

9. Time management is key

For Level I, you have to complete 40 questions per hour, meaning you can spend an average of 90 seconds on each question. If you’ve practiced a CFA mock exam, you probably already know this.

An important point to remember is that there’s no penalty for a wrong answer. You obviously won’t get credit for a mistake, but it’s important to try to answer every question.

If you’re not managing your time well, you can really mess yourself up. “You want to turn in a fully completed answer sheet to give yourself an opportunity to get credit for every question.

Levels II and III get more complicated. Level III has 12-minute and 23-minute questions, many with multiple parts.

For Level III in particular, it’s really important to focus on time management. “Some people write us a treatise on a topic they know well but take twice the allotted time to do it.”
 

10. Don’t sacrifice attention to detail by rushing

While you have to keep your eye on the clock, some people work too fast. There are a lot of key directions in the pre-exam instructions.

Candidates fly into this without paying attention, they miss questions, misread them, or they don’t follow instructions and write on the wrong page. You have to calm yourself down and work at a steady pace without rushing.

Despite the fact that the test is timed, read all questions thoroughly. The test-question writers intended for you to read the content entirely think carefully and do whatever calculation you need to answer it correctly.

Some candidates read a question too quickly and they think they know the answer, they see one choice that seems logical and they fill in the oval and move on without reading the other options.
 

11. They’re not trying to trick you – really

Some people tend to over think a question, convinced that it’s a clever trap designed to ensnare unsuspecting saps, but they end up outsmarting themselves or taking too much time per question.

“Certain candidates have a view that every question is a trick – that we’re sitting here rubbing our hands thinking ‘How are we going to get them on this one?’” Mackey said. “Candidates can over think or overcomplicate it by making an unnecessary assumption, ‘I’m sure these guys are trying to trick me,’ which can do more harm than good.

Take the material we’ve given you – that information is sufficient to answer the questions. Don’t bring in other sources of info or make something up – keep it simple and you’ll do well.
 

12. Take a deep breath

Stress management is an overlooked element of test-taking. Everyone goes into the day of the exam extremely high strung.

There’s good stress that can help you and bad stress – if you panic, it will hurt you. You’re not going to know all of the answers to all of these questions – nobody gets 100%; if you get 70% you’re doing pretty well.

If you don’t know an answer, move on. The brain is an amazing organ, and research has shown that if you calm down, answers will start to come to you more readily.

And, once you complete the exam, go celebrate and relax! You earned it.

How Many CFA Mock Exams Should You Take?

You probably aren’t doing as many CFA mock exams as you should be.

If you’ve taken up the challenge to do the CFA exams you should know the importance of a CFA mock exam.  If you do no practice you will surely regret it. At least complete 4-5 CFA mock exams before you sit for the real exam.

 

So Why Do You Need to Go Through So Many CFA Mock Exams?

As we’ve covered before, CFA mock exam is important for passing. They:

  • Help you understand what are the main testable topics
  • Get you used to the exam format
  • Gives you a good avenue to retain concepts you’ve learnt

You’ll probably not get the best of scores on your first practice exam, but don’t get discouraged. As long as you go through the detailed answers carefully and review concepts you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll continue to improve your scores and timing. For a good CFA mock exam post-mortem guide is a good option.

So How Many Practice Exams Is Everyone Else Doing?

In CFA Insights, we cover this topic extensively, but we’ll go through some of the learnings here. Passing candidates average slightly more than 4 full sets of practice exams for Level I.
 

On average, most of us was like my Level I self – attempting about 4-5 practice exams.

The minimum we would recommend for any level is about 4 CFA mock exams. Most prep packages have 3 practice exams – add in the free CFA mock exam and you have 4. That should be a minimum number in any candidate’s case if they want a good chance of passing.

Just as a frame of reference, my practice exam tally was:

  • 5 practice exams for Level I
  • 7 practice exams for Level II
  • 7 practice exams for Level III

 

What Do You Think?

If you’re sitting for your CFA exams soon, how many practice exams have you attempted, and how many do you plan to go through?