Myths and Misunderstandings About CFA Exams

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Published 15 October at 10:00AM, inInformation - candidates


The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is one of the most sought-after professional credentials in the world of business and finance. The three-part testing process is known for being especially demanding. With so much to learn and such a formidable reputation attached to the title, the path toward becoming a CFA may seem daunting indeed.

According to Alain Elkaim, full-time faculty lecturer, coordinator of HEC Montréal’s trading room activities and instructor for the CFA training programs at Executive Education HEC Montréal, it is important to remain focused and not to get caught up in certain preconceived notions. He emphasizes that, although the journey toward obtaining your CFA designation is undeniably a colossal challenge, the exams themselves are very achievable. 

Prepping for the Marathon

The first hurdle, no matter what level you are studying for, is the sheer quantity of material to absorb. For each level, you will be required to pore over six curriculum books, varying in length between 500 and 1,000 pages. This requires a high degree of self-discipline. The secret, according to Elkaim, lies in being, and staying, organized. Start hitting the books as early as possible, up to six months beforehand, and plan out the work ahead by dividing it up into bite-size chunks. And remember: slow and steady wins the race!

Beware of Shortcuts

Condensed versions of the exam preparation books may be tempting to some candidates, in the interest of saving time. But be warned: these tools can hinder as much as they can help. Elkain stresses the importance of knowing your strengths and weaknesses with regard to study techniques. When you have a clear grasp of how you learn, you can make the most of your natural skills and downplay your shortcomings. Study guides can therefore be a useful tool for reviewing familiar concepts and giving yourself extra time to work through more complex material.

Time Management: The Key to Success

Given how heavy the workload involved in studying for CFA exams is, managing your time effectively is more important than ever. This is especially true for Level II and III candidates, who are often juggling their studies and a full-time career. Self-discipline is a must in order to stick to a regular study schedule. Study groups and training courses can be invaluable in helping you fend off procrastinatory tendencies. Not only will they guide you in successfully allocating your time and energy, they are great ways to track your progress and broaden your overall understanding. Think of them as a source of “positive pressure.” 

Dispelling the Myths

CFA exams are not unreasonably difficult, but the process for getting there is intimidating. It takes preparation, study, review and stress management. Elkaim also points out that there is a certain amount of performance anxiety involved, given that that the six-hour exams are held only twice a year. These factors all exacerbate the mental strain. He nevertheless confirms that the level of difficulty and workload have remained constant over the years. Then again, the prestige that comes with the CFA designation stems in part from the Herculean effort required to get ready for the exams, proving that the old adage holds true: to win without risk is to triumph without glory.