AuthorTopic: How to optimize your performance on the CFA exam?
@2018-07-04 12:23:25
I get a lot of requests from my students (especially Level I candidates) to advise them on how they can optimize their performance on the exam. Most Level 1 candidates have never sat through a 6-hour exam ever before, and get intimidated just thinking about it. Here are some suggestions that I usually offer them. It is a good idea to read through these now and use them while you take mock exams in the weeks leading up to the exam so that they become part of your routine when you take the actual exam.

1. Mark down the answer on the separate scantron provided immediately after solving the question. Don't mark your answers on the question paper itself with the intention of marking them on the scantron once you have completed all the questions. My level III students last year told me that one of their fellow level III candidates actually made this mistake and ran out of time to fill in all her answers onto the scantron towards the end of the exam.

2. There is another lesson to be learned from this unfortunate level III candidate. So determined was she to fill all her answers on the scantron sheet that she continued penciling them in even after the proctor had officially announced the end of the session. Put your pencils down immediately when the proctor tells you to do so. This girl had her exam paper canceled, and was apparently suspended from taking the exam for three years.

3. If you come across a question that you don't know the answer to, try to make an educated guess. There are only going to be three choices for every question this year. If you can eliminate one option, you have a 50% chance of getting it right by choosing one of the other two. There will be difficult and tricky questions. Don't let them intimidate you, and back yourself. If you have no idea what the right answer is, take a wild guess- there is no negative marking for getting a question wrong.

4. No one has ever got a 100% on this exam, so chances are that you won't either. I think that the score required to pass the exam lies somewhere between 65% and 70%. It is perfectly human to get easy questions wrong. For example several years ago, on my level II exam, the value I was computing for the convexity of a bond wasn't one of the options. I just couldn't digest the fact that I wasn't getting such a 'gimme' correct. I sat there and derived the convexity formula, pulled my hair out, told the proctor that the CFA Institute had it wrong and wasted no less than 15 minutes on that question. My ego just wasn't willing to accept that I could get such an easy question wrong, so I refused to move on. Eventually, I ran out of time and did not get a chance to attempt the last question (but I did pencil in a wild guess). As I got up to leave for the two hour break after the morning session I asked a couple of friends if it was possible for the CFA Institute to not include the right answer among the choices. They had a good laugh and enjoyed their break, while I was left brooding over how I could have forgotten to square the change in yields in the denominator of the convexity formula!!

5. This takes us to the next tip- don't discuss the exam with your pals especially during the break, because no good can come from this. Get a breath of fresh air, have a light snack, and try to relax and recharge your batteries for the grueling 3 hours ahead.

6. A lot of questions ask you to choose the most likely correct, most likely incorrect, least likely correct, or least likely incorrect answer for a given question. As you solve your mock exams, your first step should be to underline what exactly the question is asking of you. Look for the unique 'true' statement when the question asks you for the most likely correct and the least likely incorrect answer. Look for the unique 'false' statement when answering a question that asks you for the most likely incorrect or the least likely correct statement.

7. You have a minute and a half per question at level I. Keep track of time, and time yourself when you attempt mock exams. I always recommend that candidates purchase and solve the mock and sample examples that the CFA Institute makes available. I have seen a lot of questions in my time as a student and a teacher, and I assure you that the questions provided by CFA Institute offer the best practice.

8. Ethics is a very important part of the CFA Program at all three levels. Usually in ethics questions you will be able to eliminate one of the choices easily, but will have a hard time deciding between the other two. I find that ethics questions prepared by learning providers tend to be verbose and test individuals on their ability to keep track of what's going on in complicated scenarios. The ethics questions that are asked on the actual exam tend to be very crisp, and the stories usually aren't that long. However, this does not mean that you will be able to solve them quickly- it takes a fair while to think through most ethics questions. Purchase the CFA Institute mock and sample exams and see the difference for yourselves.

9. When solving questions related to financial statement reporting and analysis, make sure you make a note of whether the most recent year is given in the right-most column or in the left-most. The convention used in exam questions can be different from what some of you are used to. Making an arrow indicating the movement from the oldest to the most recent accounting period, will help you avoid careless mistakes in answering questions related to changes in accounting elements over the period.

10. My students tell me that on the Level I exam, they don't use the calculator to answer as many questions as they had anticipated. CFA Institute comes up with really smart, conceptual questions that don't involve too many calculations- unlike the ones available on most testing software CD's and websites, which usually involve extensive calculations.

11. It is okay to skip a question as long as you come back to it later. If you don't find the time to come back to it, make sure you make an educated guess. Make sure you have time at the end to make these guesses.

12. One of my friends in college once got a 'C' on a course that he was a whiz at. It turned out that on the final exam, he had skipped one of the questions (I still remember the number- it was question 67 out of 100) in the middle of the test, but he had not left a blank space on the scantron. So he fed the answer to 68 in the space he would have marked the answer to 67, and so on. Learn from his mistake- if you skip a question, make a note of it, and leave the corresponding circles blank. Make sure you answer the next question in the appropriate space.

13. If you think the answer to a particular question is 'A', make sure that you mark 'A' on the scantron. It is surprising how many times I have seen people make the mistake of not actually marking the option that they intended to mark.

14. As you correct your mock exams, count the number of questions that you get wrong because of careless mistakes, and aim to reduce this number with every mock exam that you take.

I will be coming out with more tips as the exam nears. I just wanted to get these out there for you real quick so that you guys learn from other people's mistakes and avoid making similar ones while you take your practice exams. Best of luck!

@2018-10-11 18:55:17
Good morning,
i am very delighted with the content of your note on "how to optimize your performance on the CFA exam".I will be writing the December 2018 level 1 exam and would be grateful if you could advise/recommend a preparation schedule for me if i only have 3 hours to study every day. Implying 21 hours a week. Please kindly send me the schedule containing the topics and recommended time to read them. Thanks

CFA Discussion Topic: How to optimize your performance on the CFA exam?

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I was very pleased with your notes and question bank. I especially like the mock exams because it helped to pull everything together.
Martin Rockenfeldt

Martin Rockenfeldt