The Three Things I Wish I Had Done Differently in my CFA Exam Preparation

Prepare for the CFA ExamWhen I took the CFA exams between 2009 and 2011 I was overwhelmed with each and every one of them like most candidates. The sheer amount of reading and practice questions, next to a demanding work schedule seemed almost too much at times, to the point where the well-meaning postcards that I had received from CFA institute along with the study material that stated “Coffee is a food group” seemed not so funny anymore.

I was lucky enough to pass each level at the first attempt, but the price for it was quite high. In those three years, all of my free time was spent reading and learning, with little left for my family and friends (other than my CFA study pals). At times I just wanted to give up and postpone the exam to the next year, but I somehow pulled myself together, stayed motivated and pushed through. I am happy I did, but there are a few lessons from my experience that I learned during this time that could help future CFA candidates in their exam preparation. Even though I think I approached the CFA exams quite well, there are a few things that I would change to increase my learning effectiveness. Here they are:

  1. Allocate more time. I reserved about six months practice time to each level of the CFA. As it turned out this is really the minimum, and I should have allocated at least eight (or even ten) months, including solving practice questions. So if you get started for the CFA, you can do it in six months (perhaps even less if you have a lot of free time), but for working professionals, eight months would be somewhat comfortable.

  3. Read faster. When I set out for CFA level 1, I took much too long to read the original material. In later levels I figured out speed reading and SQ3R, so this helped me tremendously to get through the reading material faster. While I read the CFA books, I simultaneously took notes in question-answer format (my CFA study notes), so this slowed down my process even more but was extremely useful in the review phase. Faster reading techniques helped me to have more time available for solving practice problems and to review in the later levels, so I think familiarizing yourself with cursory reading techniques can help you quite a bit in your CFA exam preparation, but also in other reading tasks.

  5. Solve all original practice questions in the CFA books before solving any practice exams. I figured this out in level three only. Before that, I was busy solving almost the entire Schweser Q Bank next to reading through the material. I should have spent much more time on those practice questions and my question-answer notes, as the exam questions will be written in that style. So for level three I copied all the questions out of the books and reviewed them periodically. This was excellent practice and repetition at the same time. I should have done this for all levels.


These are the main things I would do differently if I took the CFA all over again. I am actually studying for another finance certification now, and I am using these techniques to speed up the process. You can do the same to get through your CFA exam preparation faster and more effectively!