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I'm taking the CFA exam next week. This is what I'm doing to get through it

CFA exam day will be here before you know it.

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam day is June 3. Here’s some advice from a Level II candidate, a Level III candidate and a CFA charter-holder for what you should be doing right now and on exam day in order to pass.

Incoming investment banking analyst attempting to pass Level II

Sergey Litvinenko is a 21-year old student about to graduate with his Master of Finance from Boston College. He's focused on passing the Level II CFA exam. He said that he did not find Level I difficult in terms of content, but the challenging part was trying to cover every single topic and making sure he had a solid grasp of the material.

“My recipe was to read every single book from A to Z, do every single practice problem in those books, move on to practice tests, find weak spots, revise, rinse and repeat,” Litvinenko said. “It is quite intimidating to go through thousands of pages and try to keep everything fresh and interconnected in your head, but this is how it works.

Litvinenko is approaching Level II in the same way he did Level I. However since Level II has a slightly different structure, he decided to allocate more time to practice tests.

“I still read every book and do the practice problems, but it is taking a smaller portion of time compared to Level I,” Litvinenko said. “One of the reasons must be that there is some overlap between the exam and my previous finance studies.

“Also, when you deal with ‘short’ cases, it is imperative to pay attention to every single word said in a case,” he said. “If you miss something, you might go in a wrong direction – and again, it is not about the hard content; it is more about being able to consume a lot of information, make sense of it and keep a sharp focus.

Hedge fund associate attempting to pass Level III

Noelle Sisco, an associate at hedge fund Napier Park Global Capital, has achieved the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) and taking the CFA level III.

Proper budgeting of time is key, Sisco said. Here are her three main tips:

  1. Plan out how you intend to use May for studying and follow it – "Being able to check off my study to-do list helps recognize my accomplishments and increases confidence going into exam day."
  2. Find something non-work-related to focus on during study breaks – "I play various instruments so they help me wind down after a few chapters...golfing and fishing are other good go-to's."
  3. Make her own study guide – "I have found this to be especially helpful. I am going through the full curriculum and writing my own study guide, because it helps to learn the material and I feel it helps to be able to reiterate it in my own words."

In retrospect, there are a few things Sisco wish she had known in advance or done differently before and during the Level I and Level II exams.

“I wish I had a better idea of what the test day was like for the CFA Level I exam,” Sisco said. “When walking up to the test center that morning, there was a line all the way down the block of people preparing to enter the test center.

“I definitely didn't realize how big it was, but the excitement of it all kind of made me like ‘game on,’” she said

CFA charterholder says not to overlook ethics – or lunch

Marco Sementilli, a portfolio design analyst at City National Rochdale, the investment management subsidiary of City National Bank, previously worked at UBS. He passed all three levels of exams and is a CFA charterholder.

From now until the exam, candidates’ focus should be on mastering ethics and completing as many practice problems as possible, he said.

“For all candidates, ethics is such an important part of the exam, but it is also arduous and time-consuming to master,” Sementilli said. “Reading through the Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct section two or three times in May should leave candidates well prepared for the ethics portion of the exam.

“Practice problems will help to reinforce the material learned throughout the candidates’ studies,” he said. “A large part of the game for these exams is knowing how to answer questions accordingly, and there is no better way of doing this than by taking practice problems.

“The last piece of advice that I can give is to relax on the Friday before exam day – you’ve worked as hard as possible to get to this point and you need to have a fresh mind for exam day.”

“If at all possible, pack your own lunch for exam day because some of the larger testing centers, New York City, for example, will be a madhouse during lunch break with other candidates trying to get something to eat,” Sementilli said. “If you need to use the bathroom during the timed portion of the exam, raise your hand and do so."

Photo credit: AntonioGuillem/GettyImages

AUTHORDan Butcher US Editor

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