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Counting Down to the CFA Exams

Four Weeks to Go…

By now you should have finished your first reading of the CFA curriculum. If you haven’t, then get a move on it – time is ticking away.

Make a plan for the critical phase that’s coming up: revision. There are lots of ways of planning your study time, but the simplest technique is to just divide your days up into blocks of study time, say a 2.5-hour block in the evenings after work or three 2.5-hour blocks on weekend days. This may sound obvious, but it’s crucial that your blocks are dedicated exclusively to study. Do, however, ensure that you give yourself time off in between your study blocks too.

You should aim to cover every single study session and reading which you can do effectively by a combination of reading, taking notes and answering questions. Topics that you found easy when you first studied them may now appear to be no more than a distant memory, so take time to revisit them. You may well ask yourself how it is that a topic you knew inside out five months ago now seems brand new. Don’t worry, it’s natural – just take some time to refresh your memory.


  • Clear an area at home for study.
  • Ask your friends and loved ones to be understanding.
  • Study actively. You should aim to write notes as you read (drawing diagrams and mind maps can help).
  • Write down key formulas as you come across them. Pre-printed formula sheets can be useful, but they are not as useful as ones you have made yourself.
  • Answer questions. There are lots of end of chapter questions in the curriculum books. It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked them before – you will almost certainly have forgotten the answer.
  • Try to study ethics a little at a time. For example, try reading 15 minutes of the ethics curriculum every night before you go to sleep.
  • Sort out vital administration and check this link for important information on the ID policy. In 2011, the CFA Institute changed its ID policy on exam day and international passports are now the only form of identification which will be accepted to ensure maximum security.


  • Study while watching TV.
  • Graze constantly while studying (you won’t be able to during the exam).
  • Despair.

Two Weeks to Go…

You really should have time off in the fortnight before the exam. An exceptionally generous employer may give you two weeks off, a very generous employer perhaps one, but if you get no study leave, then try to take some time off. It is amazing what can be achieved in a short space of time if you are dedicated. Carry on as before.

One Week to Go…

Focus on mock exams. These can be downloaded from the CFA Institute.

  • Try to work a paper in the morning and then debrief thoroughly in the afternoon.
  • Do all mocks to time and in exam conditions – that means no breaks, no food and no drink (you can have a drink during the real exam but the process is so time-consuming you are better off getting used to going three hours without one).
  • Do a "dry run" of the exam day experience: determine commuting time, parking availability, public transport schedules, etc. In other words, try to get a feel for what the real day will be like to ensure you feel as prepared as possible not only in terms of study, but also logistics.

The Night Before…

Do not be tempted to "cram" and study long into the night – a good night’s sleep is crucial to ensure all your preparation has been worthwhile. You will be amazed at just how much you have learned and absorbed once in the exam.

The Exam Day…

On exam day, aim to be at the exam center by 8 a.m. at the latest, and be sure you bring the following:

  • Your international passport
  • Calculator – either the Texas BAII Plus or the HP12C
  • Exam admission ticket (not written upon)
  • A timepiece
  • An eraser (with no wrapper)
  • Pencils (number 2 or HB lead) and pens if you are taking Level Three.

At lunchtime, eat lunch. Don’t discuss the exam with other candidates.

After the afternoon exam, leave and forget about it all. No post mortem, no remonstrating with yourself over questions you could have answered better. Back to normal life.

Ed Bace, CFA is the head of education at the CFA Institute. Richard Fernand, CFA is the director of industry relations at the CFA Institute.

AUTHOREd Bace and Richard Fernand Insider Comment

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