Here is a collection of the best CFA exam-taking advices we compiled from various sources as well as our personal experiences.
Most of these are rooted in common sense and aim at minimizing the unnecessary stress level associated with writing a career-defining exam. Of course, some level of stress is necessary; at Financial Analyst Warrior, we even believe that stress should be nourished and transformed into combative aggressiveness as we so eloquently demonstrated in our previous article about the warrior mentality. Since they are based on common sense, some of these tips and techniques will sound familiar. We hope that you find some of these helpful as you take the exam.
We are finance people, which means we have an innate desire to put disclaimers everywhere to protect our rear end from people implementing our recommendations and not experiencing the desired results. Therefore we will include a disclaimer with regards to those strategies, which is actually not really not necessary…
Although most of these tips were implemented successfully by our team, they may not necessarily work with everyone. You should find the exam-taking recipe that applies to you. As we discussed in an earlier post, some people study more effectively with loud music; advising them to study in a quiet environment doesn’t help them. Only apply advice that works for you. If you think about it though, this applies to everything, you should never take advice at face value and always consider if it fits how you operate and what works for you… but we are digressing on a philosophical tangent here, lets get back to the exam-taking strategies.
Top CFA Exam Strategies
Read the questions AND answers carefully.
Here are three specific examples of the type of questions that could make you loose stupid points:
1. Negative questions. The questions often asks to identify the incorrect statement. We often have a reflex to instinctively select the correct answer, which is why candidates must be extra careful.
2. All of the above choices and none of the above choices. An example of answer choices could be:
A) Statement 1 is correct
B) Statement 2 is correct
C) Both statements are incorrect
Here you have to be careful because answer C) could also say both statements are correct. You must read carefully each answer choice.
3. Pick the most accurate statement. This question means that there may be more than one statement that is accurate but one of them is accurate all the time while others are not. This include formulations such as:
- most likely
- closest to
- best described
- least likely
- most appropriate
Pause to make sure the answer makes sense
This is the most underestimated tip in general but it applies to all exams that involves numbers. Sometimes we make calculations quickly because of the time constrains and forget to check if the answer is logical. This is even worse on multiple choice question because if after long calculations we see our answer as a choice, we just select it and move on. For example, if you find that the correlation coefficient is 5, you probably made a mistake along the way. This also happens with outlandish numbers like a put value of $3,000. Just take the time to see if it make sense before pursuing!
Do not perform technical analysis on the multiple choice questions. There are no patterns.
As we said in our first exam strategies post, the correct answer can be any letter. It is virtually impossible to outsmart the question so do not even waste time trying to break the code.
Make sure you mark the correct spot on the answer sheet.
It may sound silly but when you skip questions or sections in order to come back to it at the end (which we recommend), it is easy to start marking the wrong spot on the answer sheet. You will then waste tons of time erasing your answer sheet and re-marking the correct section.
Do not stress over a question. When you are stuck, just pick a random answer and move on.
Remember that to get a 75% grade (which is usually enough to pass), you can get a quarter of the questions wrong which represents 60 questions overall. Identify the answers that you guess and come back to them at the end, if you have enough time (which you will if you follow this advice).
Manage your time effectively
You should spend an average of 90 seconds per questions but as you will soon find out when you do practice exams, many questions take just a few seconds to answer. One reason for this is that there are much less numerical questions that requires calculations than you tink. Most candidates are surprised by how little they use their calculator during the exam.
Start with an easy topic.
You can boost your confidence level right off the bat by starting with either an easy topic or one which you master well. You should determine which topic to start with before the exam. By starting with your comfort zone, you will also build a time cushion which will be useful later on. Topics that require long readings such as ethics should be kept for last (even if ethics is usually the first topic on the exam). The flip-side of starting with your comfort zone is the risk that they ask particularly complex questions and it destroys your confidence in the first few minutes of the exam… I say it is still worth taking that chance and starting with your favorite topic!
Do not mingle and talk to others before the exam or at lunch.
I know that will come across as a bit anti-social but try to avoid human interactions before the exam and at lunch time. The reason is that you need to stay “in the zone” and not let other candidates’ anxieties, questions, concerns and comments affect you. The worst thing you can do at lunch is to start questioning yourself because you discussed with your buddies and they answered differently on such and such question during the morning session. There is really no possible benefit of talking about the exam after the exam so just avoid discussion altogether. If you see someone you know at lunch, I say there is nothing wrong with pretending that you have to go pick-up something from your car…
These are some of the tips that helped us the most, feel free to share your best exam-taking tips by posting a comment below. Of course, the more you master the material, the less you need tips but obtaining the CFA Charter is a war and it would be a dumb decision to engage in a war without a strategy and relying solely on brute strength. You may win the war if you have exceptional strength/fighting abilities/weapons but most of us do not so a proper plan of attack goes a long way…
If you have not done so already, we invite you to check out our latest eBook Study Guide specifically tailored for the December 2013 CFA Level 1 exam. With over 400 pages of fresh content, this Guide is the ideal companion to your CFA Study Toolbox.