How I Passed the CFA Exams
Before I tell you how I passed the CFA exams, I’ll give you some background on my previous academic “habits.”
Spoiler alert: What I did to pass my university courses didn’t cut it for the CFA program.
I got through school with minimal effort. I didn’t go to class, didn’t sit in for low-weight quizzes, and typically opted for a “100% final exam” grading option when available. I would basically forget about school for the entire semester, work full time at my job, and then cram like a mad man for finals.
I approached my CFA prep in the same fashion at first. Long story short, I failed Levels 1 and 2 multiple times. My hard head refused to believe that what worked in school wouldn’t suffice for this endeavor. After each fail, I put in just a little bit more effort than my previous attempt and hoped it would be enough. It was a very expensive and time-consuming lesson for me, but I eventually caved (maybe “submitted” is a better word) and got my act together.
Here’s what worked for me when I finally passed (with approximately one hour left to spare in each section of Levels 1 and 2):
- I started my prep early – eight months before exam day.
- I studied on a regular basis - at least 10 hours per week at first and then 20-25 hours per week starting three months before the big day.
- Practice, practice and more practice - I did as many practice problems and mock exams as I could get my hands on.
The last point was the most impactful in my case. Reading and understanding the content of the CFA material is one thing. Application, on what I consider some of the toughest exams on the planet, is a different story.
It was critical for me to get used to how questions were posed and the intricacies of getting to the correct solution. I spent a lot of time going over the topics I scored poorly on and then redoing the problems until I got them right.
What I learned through my personal experience is what I now share with students in the CFA Exam Prep course I teach at McGill.
Bottom line: Don’t underestimate the difficulty of the CFA program and the amount of time and effort required to get through it. It’s important to give it your all.
In the end, adding those three letters after your name makes it all worthwhile.
Joseph Lutfi, CFA, CAIA, PRM, CIM