Just after 2pm CET (9am ET) on the 28th of July, I checked my email with bated breath, bracing myself for the worst. Sure enough there was an email from the CFA institute: Congratulations! We are very pleased to…”
Woohooo! I passed the CFA level I.
I was relieved. I registered for the exam in February 2015, after months of contemplation and self doubt. I had just rounded up a one year mandatory national service program and was unemployed. I was going through a period of restlessness, the whole what am I doing with my life? shebang. At the last minute I decided to register for the CFA exam, at least I would be achieving something. The exam was on June 6th so I had three months to study and was a little worried that wouldn’t be enough time. SO what did I do? Watch television and live on the internet of course. I did try to study sometime in March but convinced myself that I could only study if I had physical books to read. Towards the end of April, I ordered some books on ebay and continued watching television. I was so laissez faire about it; It was as if I didn’t expect the exam to actually happen.
Then May arrived and I couldn’t put if off any longer. I had finally recovered my senses. I started to study the CFA material on my laptop. ‘Twas a miracle, it turned out I did not need the books. The books did arrive in the middle of May but I barely glanced at them.
I was in full on panic mode at this time, pretty much studying all day. I swung between “oh I can do it, I have enough time.” to “Omigosh omigosh omigosh I’m never going to make it, I should have started studying earlier!” I slept for an average of 5 hours a day and survived on power naps. I am easily distracted so I found myself on youtube and twitter every now and then, but then panic would kick in and I would run back to the study material.
The exam is not offered in my country so I had to travel to a neighbouring country to take it. I told only a few people about the exam because I did not want to have to explain to people if I did fail. It’s not that I was nervous, I was actually more worried about wasting all that money.
On the day of the exam, we were to report to the venue by 8am for registration. I took my passport and ticket, as well as my calculators and stationery. The exam is for 6 hours and is divided into the morning session and the afternoon session. The morning session started at 9am. I went in, had my calculator inspected, an invigilator checked for my name on a list, and assigned me to a seat. Unfortunately for me, I was right in front of the air conditioning and I spent most of the exam shivering.
The exam itself was not hard and was pretty straightforward. Everything that was tested was in the study material provided. My centre was running a little behind time so we only had a 30 minute break between the sessions. I tried to study more during the break but my brain wasn’t having it so I put away my study notes and watched people eat, wishing I had brought some snacks.
I found the afternoon session easier, and that could be due to a variety of reasons. I don’t think the CFA institute makes one session easier than the other. The day ended by around 5:30pm. I remember thinking it was not hard as I expected it to be. Even during the exam I was quite relaxed. People made it out to be this beast of an exam that I would definitely fail on first try, but it was okay.
The results typically take 6-8 weeks to come out. Before then, candidates will receive an email from the institute confirming the day and time the results will be released. Candidates will also be asked to confirm their email addresses.
Some six weeks later, I received the beautiful email informing me of my success.
- Allocate enough time to study! I was able to get away with waiting until May to study because I had no responsibilities. I live at home, was unemployed at the time and did not have any children or dependents. People with full time jobs may not be able to achieve this.
- Power naps! As I was studying all day, I tended to get tired and burned out. I realised the importance of power naps. A power nap is a short nap, not more than 30 minutes. I limited myself to 15 minutes at the most. It is also important to move around, change positions, change rooms if possible and take little breaks.
- I only used the CFA material that the institute provided upon registration. I did not use any third party. The CFA material is sufficient but may be too bulky and wordy. A third party is therefore preferred by many as they are easier for some to understand. From my research, Schewster is a favourite.
- Some people advice CFA candidates to focus more on taking practice exams rather than just studying. I did not do that. It was only when I finished the material that I started on the mock exams. I did however solve the end of chapter questions after each section. If you can, allocate more time to the mock exams as they can indicate your weak points and spots in which you need to work harder. I only did the mock exams provided on the CFA website.
- You can make use of the CFA study notes on Investopedia.
- For some reason, people tend to treat Ethics lightly. Do not. I left Ethics for last, but I still made sure I covered it and understood the material.
- Be sure to get the right calculator. Familiarise yourself with your calculator. Candidates are advised to bring a backup calculator but one financial calculator is expensive enough.
If you have been putting off the exam, go ahead and register for it. There really is nothing to fear, so far as you study the entire material. So make sure you have enough time to properly read the material and take the mock exams.