6 years ago, I signed up for my CFA Level I as a sprightly, wide-eyed innocent.
I wish at the time I had someone who'd gone through everything to point out the potholes of the journey I'm on. For example, warning me about the difficulty of Level II would have saved me a lot of trouble!
Here are 20 things I didn't know before I went through the CFA exams. Some are funny and inconsequential, some are serious and important to know.
- It's tough as nails.
Yeah, OK, I know, it's generally known that it's tough. But I didn't know that it's never-seen-before-and-by-the-way-you-could-definitely-fail tough.
- That I'd have no weekends for the 6 months preceding every exam. That's at least 18 months of no weekends, or 153 holidays' worth of time. Gone.
- That people will start saying silly crap to me like 'oh, you'll be fine' that will bug the hell out of me.
- I will be familiar with cafes nearby my home, all populated with similarly haggard professional-types probably also studying for the CFA exams.
- I will develop a sudden paranoia of calculators running out of batteries, even though that has never happened to anyone I've heard of.
- That the low CFA passing rate does NOT include people who didn't show up.
- That I would not have the willpower to study on weekdays. The combination of the long day at work plus CFA is just a bit too much for me personally.
- That the CFA Institute material is dry as hell. Disclaimer: I find it much better now, but it was very difficult to digest when I was taking it as a candidate.
- That the key is to practice the hell out of the mock & practice exams. And that the CFA Institute includes a free mock for each candidate, and it's one of the best resources at your disposal. Yeah, I didn't know that until Level II.
- That it's not necessarily a silver bullet for my dreams of career world domination. It helps, but it's definitely not the answer to everything as many candidates think/hope it would be.
- That it doesn't matter how awesome I was in exams before this. The chance of failing is very real, and will present a huge dilemma - do I retake? When do I give up?
- That a little more than wiggling around and fidgeting could get me accused of cheating and my exam disqualified. There is some regional variation (London normally is more reasonable), but the proctors don't screw around. Be good during the exam.
- The security during the exam will be impressive and tight. Some people will be trying to pull some dodgy crap on the day.
- That no matter what, there will be a candidate bringing an entire stationery shop's worth of pencils, erasers and calculators to the exam.
- That someone will probably show up for the exam in a suit. And on the opposite spectrum, someone will probably show up looking only slightly better than a homeless person.
- That although the exam starts at 9am, the doors will close A LOT earlier. You'll be shut out if you're sloppy on this.
- That I will from now on never be able to tolerate other people using the term 'CFA' as a noun. OK, I probably make this mistake all the time too, but I can't let it slide when I do realize.
- That displaying my current qualification in the CFA exams isn't as straightforward as it seems.
- You need to start early when the enthusiasm is high. When my HR person told me not to 'jump the gun' and sign up for Level I as soon as I started my job, she didn't know what the hell she was talking about.
- That despite the pass rates increasing with each level, Level II and III are actually way harder than Level I. You need to step up your game at every level. Putting in the same amount of effort as the last level is not enough.
Do you have any other things you wish you knew before starting the CFA process? Share them with us here!