Via 300 Hours: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective CFA Candidates
I read Economics as an undergraduate. Naturally, most of my decision making rely on optimisation considerations. When I took December Level I, there were a lot of “heck, just-do-it” experiments to find out what worked and what didn’t, in order to make the most impact with the least amount of time I had for my CFA studies then.
The good news? You don’t need to repeat that discovery process, as I’ve summarised the best practices you need to pass Level I, Level II and Level III (in one-go, preferably). All you need to do is apply these techniques consistently, track your progress and see the difference for yourself!
So what do highly effective CFA candidates do?
#1. They have a study plan
Sounds obvious, but not many have a good study plan. A good plan doesn’t need to be complicated – it’s simply an objective-based plan you’ve tailor made for yourself based on your work and life commitments, it’s something you can stick to throughout and is achievable.
The keyword is creating a plan that suits you (and only you), based on your personal circumstances. No one can do this for you but yourself. If you can’t be bothered to do this, I think you shouldn’t bother with the CFA exams at all.
It’s not as hard as it sounds: if you need guidance, just use our free, personalised 300 Hours study planner.
#2. They practice active learning
Passive learning is simply just reading your CFA materials. Yeah, just reading and nothing else. You probably know from experience that that’s a recipe for dozing off ASAP.
Here’s what I’d highly recommend to improve engagement and memory retention: write a summary after reading every study session. It’s better than reading the same materials 4 times! You’re not meant to copy the whole book, but more to write about what you remember are the key learnings of what you’ve read. Once you’re done, do a quick check with the materials to see whether you got the information right, or what you may have missed.
It could be handwritten (good practice for the exams) or typed electronically (time-saving), or a combination of both – it doesn’t matter. Going through the process of summarising, recalling and comparing notes itself reinforces your grasp of the material through a change in pace of your study. Even better, you could use your summary notes later!
#3. They space it out
Experts call it “spaced repetition”, a technique to boost learning retention. It’s the opposite of cramming really – reviewing materials more frequently and over a longer periods of time to reinforce memory. One good example of this is the usage of flashcards that’s pretty effective for remember CFA formulae or lists. Having a solid study plan (see #1 above) ensures you have plenty of time to try this and avoiding cramming sessions. It’s all about making learning interesting (see next point).
#4. They make learning interesting
I can see you smiling on this one! But let’s be honest, there are certain parts of the CFA curriculum that are as boring as watching paint dry (for me it’s pension accounting, what’s yours?).
Here are a few ways to make it interesting though: gamify your learning by betting that you can remember it, reward yourself if you finish certain chapters, connect a concept to things you know, etc. Teaching someone or discussing questions on the forum is a great way to test your knowledge and reinforce concepts in your memory too.
#5. They test themselves
This is so important that we talk about it all the time on 300 Hours. It is one of those big factors that makes a difference between a pass and a fail.
You should save up your practice exam and mock papers for your final month’s revision plan. 5-6 sets of practice papers is what we recommend to go for during the last stretch of intense revision.
More importantly, make sure you test yourself under timed, exam conditions. It’s the only way you can get a feel of the actual day as much as possible. Record your scores and analyse them by topic area to make sure you know your strengths and weaknesses.
It’s likely that your initial test scores are none other than disastrous, but don’t worry about it. You’ll get better over time as you get used to the time pressure and plug the knowledge gap with more practice.
#6. They take care of themselves
One of those things that are easier said than done. With your busy study schedule, it’s tempting to just eat unhealthy takeaways to focus on work all the time.
Let’s just say I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work out in the long run. Marrying your butt to your study chair for a long time would only sink your productivity significantly, make you (feel) fat, sluggish and unhappy. Not good for passing exams!
Eat better, get enough sleep (make sure they’re high quality zzz too), take breaks or go for a run to control stress levels during your studies. It’s all about spacing things out and making your routine interesting, remember?
#7. They track and measure their performance
It’s the only way you can improve it. Generate your own personalised study planner, track your progress and practice test scores as you complete your study goals daily – you want both quality and quantity!