How To Master The CFA Exam In 10 Steps

How to Succeed at the CFA Exam in 10 Steps:

  1. Start preparing early, and finish early. I recommend you start reading the original reading materials at least 6 months before the exam. You should utilize the original CFA study books, as they are very well structured. Most third party learning providers will omit certain parts of the curriculum or treat some areas very superficially.
  2. If anything, focus on Ethics and Quantitative Methods early. Even if you do not understand everything at the first read, you should at least use the CFA books for Ethics and Quantitative Methods (Quant). There is no shortcut in those areas. You can to some degree shimmy your way through on the other topics by reading summaries or using third party products (like Schweser, Stalla, or the Financial Analyst Study Notes).
  3. Regularly review what you have learnt. Instead of simply reading the textbooks  you should take notes from the beginning. This will expedite your review process greatly. Memory consolidation only works if the information is repeatedly recalled, and reading alone will not make you remember the relevant concepts. Review your notes, diagrams, earmarked pages etc. every few days or at least every weekend. This will help you keep perspective and reinforce the most salient concepts.
  4. Explain to others what you have learnt. If you can, study together with other CFA candidates. This will make sense once you have read and summarized the core readings. Explain certain concepts to each other, or solve practice questions together. Who would not want to know how exactly the central bank works? Explain it to your parents or a neighbor. Discussing the concepts will greatly enhance your understanding and performance on the exam day.
  5. Solve as many practice questions as possible. In order to drill the concepts, you must stimulate your brain. If it feels hard, then it works and you are learning something. Try to find as many practice questions for the CFA exam, or if possible, enroll in a class to take a practice exam. Make sure you use “active recall” to trigger your brain to remember what you have learnt.
  6. Take a day off work before the exam. You should not go into overdrive right before the exam day. Take a day off, sleep in, take a walk, go swimming. Go to bed early and rise early. This will greatly enhance your performance during the exam.
  7. Research your exam center. Go there once before the exam, find out where the parking structure is. If the exam is taking place on a university campus, find out in which building. I took the exam in Los Angeles, where the exam took place in a huge convention center. As the exam was on a Saturday early in the morning, there were almost no people around to ask for directions. Make sure you know where you have to be on exam day, and if you have questions, ask CFA institute early. And again: Definitely find out where you can park the car beforehand.
  8. Bring your own lunch. On the exam site, there may be a cafeteria, but you should bring your own lunch. You never know what they are serving, it may be crowded and you have to wait in line, etc. Instead, prepare a healthy sandwich, find a quiet place and relax during the lunch break. Make sure you bring a beverage and snacks during the exam, as there is probably no drinking water provided.
  9. Do not engage in discussions about the curriculum before the exam. Save this for afterwards. The exam will be hard. You need all mental power you can muster, and should not waste any energy discussing last minute questions right before the exam. This is why you should have some sort of study group where all questions are cleared beforehand.
  10. Take it step by step during the exam. Time is usually not an issue. Solve question for question, and if you see something you did not anticipate, do not despair. Make a mark in your exam book on questions you are not certain about, and re-attempt them later. Do not leave any questions blank, always fill in an answer. You can always correct your answer later.

I recommend you use the Financial Analyst Study Notes as your resource to review and drill the most salient concepts for the CFA Exam. I think this will greatly help you in your preparations.