The CFA exams are famously taxing, not in the least because most people taking them also work full time jobs. This makes squeezing out those infamous 300 hours particularly hard. But intimidating as it might seem, it’s very possible to juggle both the exam and your career – and if you’re good, even your social life.
1. Get a test prep provider
The Official CFA curriculum is humungous. It’s over 2000 pages of text spread across 6 volumes. While the material is beautifully presented and written by some very eminent people, it’s not ideal for your preparations if you’re already strapped for time.
A test provider breaks down the material into digestible chunks and focuses on what’s important for the exam. I used Schweser, and I felt that it significantly helped me cut down on prep time, without getting too dry or boring.
2. Use your commute
If you’re spending a lot of time stuck in traffic every day, it’s now time to utilize it towards your CFA studies. The morning commute is a great time to catch up on video material on your iPad or laptop. This works great if you go through the videos of what you’d studied the previous night – I found that it really helped to reinforce concepts when I went over them after a night’s sleep.
3. Use audio guides
A lot of prep providers have audio guides. Use them mercilessly. If you’re in the gym, or on a walk, make sure you have something CFA strapped into your earphones. It may sound like overkill, but this will help free up the rest of your day towards socializing or just kicking back with a beer.
4. Optimize, optimize, optimize
Lets face it, you don’t need a perfect score on the CFA exam. Experts agree that anything over 70% is enough to get you past the line. This means that you don’t need to know every little sub-topic on the exam to pass. If you’re having a lot of trouble with something, it’s often okay to give up on it and instead spend time on stuff that will get you lots of points on the exam. You’ll need to let go of your ego here – you don’t need know everything, you just need to know enough.
5. ..but make sure you nail Ethics
The ethics section is a make or break section on the exam. The CFA institute acknowledges that it uses the ethics score to pass a decision on candidates who are close to the Minimum Passing Score. That means that a great ethics score can help push you over the line if you’re tantalizingly close to a pass. Ethics is important. Ignore it at your own peril.
6. Use flash cards
You don’t have to buy these from a provider – just jot down important points and keep them in your desk drawer. You can go through them whenever you’re free at work. This makes sure you’re never too disconnected from the curriculum during the day. A few minutes looking at important concepts goes a long way.
7. Do as many mocks as possible
Nothing prepares you for the exam like doing a mock while simulating exam conditions. Dedicate your last 6 weekends before the exam for mock tests. Make sure you start them at the time of the actual exam, and take a 2 hour break, and then do the second part. The more accurately you can mimic exam conditions, the better prepared you will be for the real thing.
8. Remember to go over your mocks
What’s possibly even more important than taking the mock tests is analyzing your results. Nothing tells you how well prepared you are as your scores in the mock exams. Figure out which topics you’re doing badly in, and work harder on those.
8. Enjoy yourself
The CFA is a prestigious designation, but it’s just another exam at the end of the day. Make sure you aren’t cut off from the rest of the world when you’re preparing. Take time to unwind and relax. It’ll help.
And who knows, you might just receive that email.