Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: August 11, 2020
Whether you’re sitting for Level I, Level II, or Level III of the CFA® exam, CFA Institute recommends that you allot, at minimum, 300 hours for study for each level. However, if you try to cram all 300 hours into the last few months before the exam, it’s likely you will have wasted them, and your chances of passing are slim. In this article, we provide seven tips for how to use your 300 hours of study wisely to significantly increase your chances of passing.
Many successful CFA charterholders credit developing their study plan early for their success on the CFA exams. We recommend that you create your plan at least six months before the exam. The reason for this timing is that preparing for the exam encompasses more than simply studying the material—you have to practice applying what you learned to scenarios. This takes time to develop. However, if you can start nine months before the exam, that’s even better.
Benjamin Finley, CFA, is one of hundreds of CFA charterholders we talked to when we were developing our eBook about what it takes to be successful. He has some good advice for your plan. “The final test day is not the only deadline you need to worry about. By assigning several deadlines along the entire span of your studying period by different tasks, such as reading, note taking, flashcards, and testing, as well as topics, such as equity, fixed income, and portfolio management, you will allow yourself less chance of falling behind.” Adds Brady Raanes, CFA, CFP, another charterholder we interviewed, “Begin studying early and be willing to study longer than you anticipated.”
For effective study, we recommend following the Prepare > Practice > Perform® method of studying, starting with the prepare stage.
In the prepare stage, you should dedicate anywhere from 90 to 120 hours, or 30 to 40% of your study time, to reading and listening to lectures. This stage is meant for absorbing information and examples of vocabulary, theory, concepts, and principles, and it will get you ready for the next vital stage. Before you learn how to do a calculation, you need to know what it is and what tools are required. You should also spread a little of your prepare activities throughout the 300 hours. The material you learn in your first weeks of study will stay with you better if you revisit it occasionally.
Next, you should spend 120 to 150 hours, or 40 to 50% of your time, in the practice stage, working through actual problems. Basically, you take concepts you learned in the prepare stage and do practice problems related to them. It’s important that you spend more of your time practicing than preparing because how you apply what you’ve learned is what matters most. You’ll want to allot some review time for the practice stage, too. You should do the same practice questions several times to build confidence and ensure you really understand the concepts.
In the perform stage, you allot 60 hours, or 20%, to simulating exam conditions to assess your level of readiness. This stage also enables you to identify your strengths and weaknesses so you can go back and practice where you think you need it. Generally, spend the last month of studying in this stage and plan to do more than one mock exam. CFA Institute will give you one mock exam, and you can purchase others from exam prep providers. Kaplan Schweser partners with CFA societies around the world to provide the Schweser Mock Exam, which is designed to mimic the actual exam-day conditions you’ll face.
To provide the motivation to stay on task, take a CFA exam review course and treat it like a university class. Read the relevant material beforehand, get rudimentary ideas of the topics to be covered, and compile any questions you want to ask.
Another great way to stick to your plan is to join a study group that meets regularly. You can use this website to find CFA meetups or consult this thread on Analyst Forum. Or if you want to form your own, your local CFA society can help, as can social media. Studying with others who are facing the same challenges as you provides support and encouragement. In addition, being able to ask questions or explain a concept to someone else helps develop your own mastery of the topics.
The Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) and core concepts from CFA Institute are part of the Candidate Body of Knowledge. Along with CFA Institute study sessions, each LOS helps you determine what you can gain from each reading and what you should concentrate on when studying. They also help you focus on the right topics for the exam. A word of warning: you might be tempted to guess which LOS won’t be tested. Don’t do this! Every LOS is fair game for the exam, and thinking you have a crystal ball could negatively affect your performance.
Having a solid understanding of the CFA Program curriculum and how each topic is weighted for the exam will give you a boost on exam day. The curriculum is updated every exam cycle, and all three levels of the exam focus on the same 10 topic areas. However, exam weights vary by level and can change slightly from year to year, so it is good to be clear on what the weights are for the exam you are taking. By paying attention and staying up-to-date on exam weights, you have additional guidelines for focusing your study.
To pass the CFA exam, you must take what you’ve learned and apply it to realistic situations. If you only memorize material, you will struggle to pass the exam. The purpose of the exam is to test your problem-solving skills and apply knowledge to situations you may encounter on the job. And this is why we recommend that you spend more time practicing than preparing.
Successful CFA charterholders agree. Sina Rezaei, CFA, says, “The information learned throughout the process must be executed in a real-life environment. Because of that, it is important to not only focus on the material, but to continue gaining professional experience so the two components—the CFA material and real-life cases—complement each other.”
In the last weeks before the exam, resist the tendency to panic or ramp up your study intensity due to anxiety that you might not pass. Cramming instead of reviewing and trying to do too many practice questions or exams will not improve your chances and can have adverse effects. Be kind to yourself instead.
One way to do this is to space your practice sessions further apart—this has the added benefit of helping your chances on the exam. Studies from psychological science show that when students add an extra day between study sessions, performance on a test improves significantly. Also, try to get into a good sleep routine a few weeks before the exam. Experts recommend avoiding electronics, alcohol, and late-night eating right before bed—they can all keep you from falling or staying asleep. A routine can help you sleep better the night before the exam too, when you’ll be understandably nervous.
Finally, use the day before the exam to reread some of the denser areas of the curriculum, including ethics. In the final few days of preparation, do not take mock exams, which can mentally drain you. The goal is not to exhaust your mind and body at the last minute. Resolve to go into the exam center as refreshed and rested as possible. A positive attitude also helps; tell yourself, “I can do this!”
As you map out your study plan for Level I, Level II, or Level III of the CFA exam, consider making a Kaplan Schweser exam prep package—complete with classes, practice exams, and mock exams—part of your 300 hours. Discover all the ways Kaplan Schweser can help.
Have your voice heard as a published guest writer in our blog.