11 July 2013
With just one season standing between now and December, many financial services professionals find themselves lowering their heads to the daunting Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification exam. Holding the certification, which is the gold standard in the industry, is a testament to your hard work and knowledge—but passing the exam can be difficult. According to the CFA Institute, only one in five test-takers pass. This is why candidates with the certification are so sought after by recruiters in financial staffing and hedge fund recruitment: they are top-tier professionals proven to be significantly ahead of their competitors. So, are you thinking of getting CFA certified? Testing time is already here for this year, but there will be another Level 1 exam in December, and all Levels will test again next June. Here are some steps you can take to prepare yourself: Preparation Get—and stay—organized. It takes a lot of focus to master the amount of material required for the CFA exams. The best way to make sure you stay on track for all 18 sections of material is to plan out which sections you’ll be studying during which weeks, and how many hours per week you plan on dedicating to them. The CFA Institute measured the workload necessary to pass the exam at a total of 250 hours of studying. So register early, get your materials early, and spread the hours out as manageably as possible. Only you know your schedule and what you can work with. Start early, end early. When you map out your study plan, make sure to start your coursework early enough that you can leave an extra month open prior to testing. This will allow you another several weeks to review and refresh your memory on all that you just absorbed. While you should have put aside time to review as you went along, you want to leave plenty of time to go over the material as a whole in order to grasp the big picture as well as the finer points. Sign up for a review course and buy a study packet. There are a number of resources on the internet to aid in acquiring a CFA, but don’t inundate yourself. Purchase your materials (there are several levels of study packets available, ranging from strictly notes to a complete workbook of notes, practice questions, instructions, and a final review) and sign up for one review course. Rely more on your studying than on the review class for preparation, but use the class and materials to go over weak points as you go along. Studying Read, solve problems, and review. There is a lot of reading to be done for the CFA exam, so focus first on the readings when studying. Find what method works best for you—some prefer to solve practice problems as they go along, while others prefer to get through entire sections before putting pen to paper. Whichever way you find most comfortable, make sure you schedule routine review days and practice tests as checkpoints to make sure you understand the material before proceeding. A great way to do this is to review the Learning Outcome Statements (LOS), or objectives, provided with each section. Make flash cards and carry them with you. Not only does it help to take notes as you go along, but jotting down key points on flash cards and reviewing them on your commute to work or during your lunch break can help you retain vital information throughout the months of prep. Many financial services professionals juggle an already full schedule with their CFA preparation, so having access to notes without lugging around stacks of information can be helpful. If you need to travel even lighter, there are a number of flash card apps for smartphones available across a variety of providers and operating systems Use your calculator. When working on problems, practice using the calculator you’ll be using for the test. It’s important to know all the functions the device provides in order to be quick and efficient with each set of questions. Although the test is 6 hours long, you want to make use of every minute on every question. Knowing the tools available to you can only help and may reduce stress during the exam. Though difficult, obtaining a CFA certification is an excellent way to boost your career and open new possibilities for your future in Financial Services. According to the CFA Institute, the average salary for a CFA professional is over 50% higher than that of a non-certified candidate in the same role. So amp up your credentials! Sign up for the next round of testing, get your materials, and plan out your study schedule to acquire your CFA today.