How to Stay Motivated for the CFA Exam

Stay motivated for the CFA examMotivation is a very individual subject, but still, there are some tips and tricks to stay motivated when studying for the CFA exam (or any other exam, for that matter). The CFA can be especially tough because most of us study all by ourselves. It’s much easier in university to stay in the groove when you have classmates and fellow students to interact with and solve and discuss problemsets with periodically. As most of us attempt the CFA after our university studies, we’re often not used to cramming anymore, so we have a tough time keeping the motivation going when it comes to the final stretches of exam preparation. When we started late in our preparation, this can become a serious issue. Believe me, we have all been there, but it’s possible to break through the motivation barrier and prepare well and effectively for the exam. Here are some simple tricks that have helped me and other CFA candidates with motivation:

  1. Set a study timer. I have a timer on my desk that I set to 1-2 hours, depending on how much time I have available. I studied for the CFA after work, beginning at about 9 PM, so right when I sat down on my desk, I set this timer. There are also software timers available, just search on google for them (I have one called “mintimer”, for Windows XP). Whenever I feel distracted and wanted to do something else (check email, etc.), I look at the clock and say to myself: “I will do that afterwards, in … minutes.” Before the time was up, I did not allow myself to get up or do anything else. Try it!

  3. Become more efficient with reading. The CFA material is vast, and you can save a lot of time by learning how to read faster. There are many tricks that help you speed up your reading technique and study skills. Speed reading is one, SQ3R another. Find out what works for you. More information in this blog post: How to Read Faster in your CFA Exam Preparation.

  5. Give yourself rewards. Not only Pawlow’s dogs reacted to positive stimuli, you can train yourself just as well. When you studied hard and did a good job at staying focused, reward yourself with something small, like a cookie or other small token. Your brain will become conditioned to seek out these experiences again, and will tell you to study harder. I am doing this all the time, with small study break where I listen to a song or watch a short video on youtube. But make sure you get back to studying in time again (I also set a timer for this…).

  7. Set priorities. You do not have to be a deep expert in all CFA topics. You may have studies some already in school (like accounting or economics), so focus on the ones that you know least about first. If you’re really strapped for time, it’s much better to be a generalist and know a little about every topics, so you can solve the problems in the exam by excluding the answers that are most likely not true. More information in this blog post here: CFA Exam Preparations in a Hurry.

  9. Last resort: Cognitive enhancers. This is a very controversial subject, and I already know I will be criticized for mentioning it here, but consider this: There are many people in finance who (heavily) rely on cognitive enhancers, both legal and illegal. Cognitive enhancers are ADHD drugs like Ritalin, chemical compounds like Racetams, but also natural substances like black tea or coffee. While I definitely advise you to only use legally available substances, there are certainly a huge number of finance professionals making a ton of money by being on the edge with all kinds of substances. Cognitive enhancers are also called “nootropics.” Just google for them, and you will find a plethora of information (but don’t lose too much time, studying is more important!). I use caffeine and a B-vitamin complex to help me concentrate, and these are rather general and available anywhere. If you really have persistent concentration issues, there is a small chance you may suffer from ADHD and should consult with your doctor.


I hope this helped you in staying motivated. I almost did not want to publish this post because it looks in it like I am a total control freak (with the timer and all…) and a proponent of drugs. I am certainly neither, but just wanted to point out some hints if you’re seriously stuck in your preparation. Most CFA candidates will just have to force themselves and push a little harder to finish their reading and practice problems, so it’s more a question of self-discipline. Anything that is worth achieving is hard in one way or another, and the CFA charter is no exception (unfortunately).

I wish you all the best for your CFA preparations!