How I studied for the Level 1 CFA in 10 days and passed on my first try, coming out of undergrad in finance

Let me begin by saying first that before sitting for my exam, I had accumulated a lot of experience through my undergraduate program, as well as extracurricular activities that involved working with accounting and finance concepts such as valuations and financial statement modeling, which gave me a head start on some of the more concentrated topics of study.

When I heard that my undergrad program was taking applications from potential CFA L1 candidates to offer exam scholarships, I thought I'd apply, not really knowing if the CFA was something I knew I needed for my career, or if I wanted to take the time to study for it. I received the scholarship from my school after applying for it on a limb and decided that I may as well now do the CFA since it was free, but I'd wait until after graduating in May to enjoy the rest of my senior year. Fast forward to late July- I had spent much of the summer traveling and hanging out, but my CFA books still sat in the corner of my room, untouched in the box sent to my house by the Institute. On June 5, I returned home from a week-long visit to New York to visit friends. With nothing else to do, no trips planned, and lots of free time due to my July start date, I began studying for the CFA.

The next 10 days, June 5 – June 14, I would wake up at 7 AM and study all day until 10 PM. I would limit inefficiencies in my schedule that wasted time traveling between locations, by choosing to either study at home all day or at a coffee shop and sticking with it for the remainder of the day. Those egg bites and Paninis at Starbucks became my sustenance for when I chose to study outside of the house. During these 10 days, I'd grab takeout for dinner, but some days, I would only drink coffee/protein shakes and blueberry juice, because blueberries help you remember. I lived with my parents but did not talk to them, I told my friends that I was busy and to call back in 10 days. At night I'd sometimes speak with my girlfriend on the phone about how much I hated life, but how determined I was to pass. I went through a few emotional cycles and felt like the most boring person in the world during those 10 days. My other friends that started studying for the exam long before me thought I was crazy.

Here is the key to my success:

During these 10 days, I did not read any section of the CFA books, other than Ethics. I strictly did practice problems from Kaplan. I logged every single problem I got right and wrong with an excel tracker that I built. Each of Kaplan's topic practice quizzes had between 80-180 questions. I would break each section into 10s, and I'd move on to the end of chapter questions in the CFA materials as soon as I was able to consistently achieve ~+70% (7 out of 10) on the last few 10 problem sets for that particular topic in Kaplan. After completing about 70% of the Kaplan questions, which is how many questions I'd usually have to do to get my average in a section to move from a 33% to a 70%, I would move on to the end of section questions from the CFA books. After those 40 or so questions from the CFA materials, if I scored above a 65%, I would move onto the next topic, starting with Kaplan. Rinse and repeat 9 more times- I averaged a little bit over a topic per day. Online, I read that it's popular for people to skip sections entirely, such as derivatives or alternatives, or econ, when they were faced with two weeks or more until exam day, and had only started studying. I did not skip a single section and would not recommend for anyone to do so, and I was able to get through them relatively fast. They key is speed and quantity (hundreds of practice questions a day), and training your mind to recognize questions so that you could go with your gut and choose the correct out of 3 choices without much thought. It's about automating yourself. I created my own graphical organizers and tables on blank pieces of paper with pencil and paper to memorize some of the most frequent patterns and relationships between concepts, which was especially useful in the derivatives and the accounting sections. It was also my first time using the BAII and I had to learn it on the fly.

I actually did not know that the CFA website had posted mock exams until the last 3 days leading up. From June 12-June 14, I completed both 120Q parts of A, B, and C. Between those exams, I averaged between a 65% and 68%. Some forums I read told me that the soft pass rate for the actual exam was a 70%, so after completing mock exam C the day before my real exam on Saturday, I knew it would be a close one. But, I also knew that I missed a decent number of questions on the mocks because I was exhausted, careless, or distracted. I prayed that for test day, under pressure, I would have much better focus.

Quite frankly, after walking out of the test, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I thought it was difficult but not terrible. I was honestly comfortable failing because I know that some people had studied for months.
I heard that I passed a few days ago, and it wasn't by as thin of a margin as I had thought. My overall score was the midpoint between the 90th percentile and the minimum passing score. I only worked hard for 10 days and had one of the best summers I could have hoped for. As for how this sets me up for Level 2 in a year, I'm sure I may be at a disadvantage- and I will probably have to alter my strategy. For now though, I am proud to say that I cracked the first exam in under 150 hours.

For those taking the test in December or those curious about my process, feel free to ask any questions~

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Aug 7, 2019 - 2:57pm

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