CFA Exam Strategy: Go For Speed

Go for Speed during the CFA Exam

I hope everything is going well in your preparations to take the CFA exam either this summer or winter! Both your preparation at home as well as the timing during the exam is essential to score well, and it’s unfortunately too easy to waste precious time reading through exam questions again and again. You can easily spend 10 minutes per question this way, which will ruin your exam performance and add a lot of unnecessary stress. This happened to me when I prepared, and I will share with you a strategy to increase your speed when you write the examination.

This timing strategy relates to level 1 of the CFA exam, but it’s still useful to read if you’re already on a higher level. Just just have to adjust the times, as there are less questions to answer in level 2 and 3.

For level 1, in order to keep track of time, make sure you don’t spend more than 60-90 seconds for each question. The morning and afternoon session are 180 minutes each, which will give you a scarce 180 minutes / 120 questions = 90 seconds / question. However, you will want at least 30-60 minutes for review, so try to solve each question in 60 seconds. A handy trick to make sure you don’t spend too much time is to allocate about 30 seconds to reading the question, and 30 seconds to solving it. Just time it a few times at home, and you will get the hang of it soon. I usually put my watch in front of me next to the exambook, so I always see where I am in terms of timing. For example: If you’re at question ten, you should not be more than 15 minutes into the session, otherwise you have to hurry up.

The exam questions are sometimes worded in a lengthy way. In such a case, make sure you quickly get the point of the question. A shortcut may be to quickly glance at the multiple choice answers, so you see whether you have to calculate something or if the question is qualitative. If you have to calculate VAR, make sure you quickly skim through the question and isolate the core components needed for the calculation and perform it as fast as possible. The mark off the answer you found to be correct and move on.

A few questions will be very easy and short, so make sure you blaze through them and thank CFA Institute for the present. Quickly browse the answers before you start reading the question, and mark off the right answer, then move on quickly.

In the exam, there will be the case where you simply cannot find an answer. Either the calculation does not match any of the answers, or you simply have no clue. Just select the most likely answer, or guess if you must, then move on.

Your speed will increase if you go into the exam well rested. I therefore suggest you take off at least one day prior to the exam and relax a bit. Maybe repeat some of the key concepts in the morning before the exam, then rest in the afternoon. Luckily, there is water provided during the exam courtesy of CFA Institute. If you’re dehydrated, you will lose speed, so drink enough. All athletes know this, so think of yourself as a high performance athlete when you go into the CFA exam!

IMPORTANT: Do not leave any questions unanswered when you go through the test. Even if you don’t know the answer, just mark the most likely correct answer, then move on. Mark the questions you’re not sure about to visit later if you have time. In the afternoon session I barely finished in time, and had I left answers unchecked, I could have ended up giving away valuable points.

You will need every single point you can get in the CFA exam to pass, it’s really not an easy exam. Prepare well with the Financial Analyst Study notes, other third part learning material, and the available practice exams. Keep your calm and a positive attitude during the exam, and you will be sure to perform at your best.