tips for success on the cfa exams

Whether you’ve taken every finance class or you’re new to the subject, the key to passing a CFA exam is to, well, be good at taking the CFA exam.

Proper planning and help from a top prep provider can help you study more efficiently and effectively. Here are 8 tips to enhance your likelihood of passing the Level I exam:

#1. Focus on the most-tested material.

You don’t need to know every inch of every topic in order to pass the CFA exams. The latest topic weights for each level are freely available on the CFA’s website, as are their Learning Outcome Statements (LOS). For example, “Technical Analysis,” “Derivatives,” and “Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning” have the fewest questions on the Level I exam, so your time might be better spent focusing on a topic like “Ethical and Professional Standards,” which appears more frequently.

#2. Don’t waste time.

The CFA Institute recommends about 285 hours of study. But depending on your background, time management skills, and prep course, you can make the most of each hour, thereby significantly cutting down on wasted study time. For example, with The Princeton Review, you should be able to set aside your distractions and complete your preparations for the Level I CFA exam within 120 hours.

#3. Develop a study plan six months before you take the exam. 

Whether you plan to study for 300 hours, 150 hours, or some other duration, it's crucial that you set aside that time and commit to staying on track. By spreading the necessary work over six months, you not only create a solid routine that gives you time to digest all the material, but you also create some breathing room to reschedule your studying sessions if you fall behind.

#4. Take a prep course. 

Are you able to set your phone down and tune out distractions for hours at a time? Even if you’re a Zen master, the amount of studying required for the CFA exams can be difficult to tackle by yourself, the result of which can be missed deadlines, misspent time, overlooked details, and underlearned material. A good prep course makes sure that you don’t have to go at it alone, keeps you up-to-date with topics that are important for the exams, and helps you more efficiently manage your time. Learn more about how The Princeton Review’s well-designed self-paced program can help. 

#5. Focus on concepts more than math.

The CFA exams, and especially the Level I exam, are becoming increasingly conceptual. That’s why we at The Princeton Review focus on the most relevant formulas for the exam and provide a formula sheet that highlights common-sense applications and how to derive anything extra that you’ll possibly need. Ultimately, you’ll also want to identify the formulas you might want to skip if they’re proving too time-consuming for you.

#6. Practice...a lot!

CFA exams are lengthy (6 hours for each level), so time management is crucial. Absorbing information is one thing, but you’re also going to want to put that knowledge into practice so that you can work on quick recall and to ensure that you’re understanding the questions. The CFA Institute will provide you with a lot of mock exams and practice questions in their books, so start there. Then, find the topics you are weakest in and focus on reviewing those. From there, start doing the mock exams at least two months before the exam. Prep courses can provide even more practice questions. For example, our self-paced program offers more than 1,500 high-quality practice questions and two full mock Level I exams. 

#7. If you feel overwhelmed, study with breaks.

Never give up, but do give yourself permission to take a breather. When absorbing vast amounts of information, as with the very overwhelming CFA exam materials, sometimes the brain just needs a momentary reset. When you’re feeling overloaded, put 30-minute or 1-hour breaks into your study sessions. Remember, the individual topics on the CFA tend not to be extremely difficult—what many find challenging is how much there is. That is why it’s important to start six months before the exam. Ultimately, if you have the right prep course, a reasonable knowledge of basic algebra, and an analytical mind, you should be great.

#8. Know your financial calculator really well.

On the tests, you’ll be able to bring one of two specific calculator models. Practice in advance with your chosen device so you know exactly how to use it. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you should be able to snag some pretty easy points right off the bat (we’re looking at you, Time Value of Money questions!).

As you prep for the CFA Level I exam, know that we are rooting for you every step of the way!

Read More