How to Pass the CFA L1 with Five Days of Studying

Today I came across an article by a student at Baylor who claims to have passed the CFA with only 5 days of studying, two being on flights.
Here are the biggest takeaways I found from his piece:

Really Understand the Exam Format

Although I had limited time to study for the exam, I did spend time understanding the topic weightings and prioritizing according to their exam importance. I also read all I could about the exam and found out that Ethics would need special attention, not least due to the 'ethics adjustment' factor. So even if you're in a rush, take some time to really understand what the exam is about, so that it can inform your study strategy. You can also learn more about all three CFA exams with the CFA Insights Guide.

The Right Background Can Give You A Head Start

It also goes without saying that background makes a huge difference with regards to how much study is necessary to do well on the CFA exams. While I didn't have much work experience in the finance realm (my internships so far have been in other sectors), my extensive academic experience made a huge difference. I have taken at the graduate and undergraduate level nine finance courses, 10 economics courses, several math & stats courses, and two introductory accounting courses. As was reflected in my allocated study time - and my CFA results - FRA was my weakest subject by far. I also found that my undergraduate course work was much more relevant than my graduate economics coursework, with many topics in my economics classes being too specific or complicated to apply to the similar topics on the CFA exams, at least in Level I.

Nevertheless, I can confidently say that having a robust academic curriculum helps immensely, and if possible, any college student that is a prospective CFA candidate should take economics courses such as Money & Banking, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics, and finance courses such as Investments Analysis, Options & Derivatives, corporate finance, and International Business Finance. While I can't really comment on which accounting classes would be useful, I do know that IFRS is really important for you to study if your accounting courses have only covered GAAP. If you happen to be a college student without experience in any of these subject areas, then you definitely need much more study time, as there will be considerably more new material to cover.

Practice Exams are Key

One of the things I have learned from my hellish weeks in university is that practice exams are vital to testing what you do and don't know. In fact, research studies indicate that taking practice exams are one of the best ways to study and retain material. Some caution though: with the CFA exams, you must keep in mind that when taking their online subject test exams, the questions are recycled from a bank of questions, so your improved performance on certain questions may just be you remembering the answers from before. Additionally, it is not uncommon for the website to crash the night before the exam, so you should definitely take these free practice exams early!

Plus, what I have found is that by taking the practice exam before I have fully studied all of the material, I can better hone into the areas I am weakest in, and spend less effort towards subjects I am already familiar with. This allowed me to really focus on specific topics such as IFRS, Technical Analysis, and Accounting Ratios. In fact, I dedicated the two of the three days I was back home after vacation solely to practice tests, which allowed to learn how to use the calculator and really learn the relevant formulas.

Make Your Own Formula Sheet

For the math driven portions of the exam, I recommend making and memorizing a formula sheet - especially since you won't have one on the exam! While stuff like the annuity formula may be less useful to you since your calculator will have the function built in, stuff like the breakdown of ROE via Dupont Analysis, elasticity calculations, and the Dividend Growth Model are just a fraction of what you may find useful to have for quick reference.

Do Not Skimp on Ethics

Additionally, I recommend thoroughly reading the CFA material for Ethics, since the subject material is specific to the CFA Institute and charterholders, and a substantial 15% weighting for the exam. The Ethics portion can be used as a sort of 'tiebreaker' for determining whether an on the border candidate should pass. This was the first subject I studied (because it was luckily the first in the curriculum) and while I only got through about 70% of it, it made a big difference focusing on this first. Even so, I commonly found myself being overly conservative in my intuition, assuming things were unethical when they technically were acceptable.

Get Familiar with Your CFA Calculator

One disadvantage of my background is that before I started my business classes, I had primarily science and math classes, and had used my TI Nspire CAS calculator since middle school. This meant that when the CFA exam came around, I had to get familiar with a simpler calculator - either the TI BA II Plus or the HP 12C. I do recommend the TI BA II Plus Professional if you choose the TI for its algebraic notation, as the additional functions on the Professional prove quite useful on the CFA exam for those relevant questions and save you precious time. If you're looking for full guidance, you can get 300 Hours' BA II Plus calculator guide here.

If you are able to get intimately familiar with the HP 12C though, it is a very quick calculator due to its RPN notation, which requires less keystrokes, but many people are not familiar with this, so I do not recommend using the 12C if you are studying with a time crunch.

Don't Get Overconfident, Either

You also don't want to get overconfident in your abilities just because you have an extensive work and/or educational background;. Despite having taken nine finance courses, none of my classes covered technical analysis, which was an important subject for the Quantitative Methods portion of the exam, and there were areas of Economics that I was still lacking or had forgotten. This is why taking practice exams is so important, and if possible, reviewing material that condenses the main subjects into 'soundbites' so you can quickly ascertain what you are familiar with and what you need to focus additional study to.

While I only used one additional study material outside the CFA curriculum, what it was invaluable for in my time crunch was providing a quick reference to formulas and a breakdown of each CFA section into subjects which I could then determine how much study time to allocate to.

He does mention at the end he DOES NOT recommend waiting until a few days before the exam to start studying and that he did get very lucky. I currently plan on taking the L1 in June 2019 before my senior year, and starting to study sparingly in 2018. Being a Finance Major and Economics Minor, I should cover a lot of the material in my classes, so It shouldn't be too much to study out of class, besides ethics. What do you think of this guy's story and tips for studying? Is there any other tips you think that he missed that should be mentioned?

Comments (34)

Aug 22, 2017

Kid's been using a TI Nspire since middle school? Man I feel old, I remember senior year of high school thinking the black and white version was the most incredible thing I'd ever seen, having used a TI83 since middle school.

Best Response
Aug 22, 2017

As someone who has taken the exam, I call bullshit on this as confidently as I would someone telling me they chugged a six-pack of Coronas before passing SEAL training.

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Aug 22, 2017

Never underestimate what some good study PED's will do for a man

Aug 22, 2017

Bullllllllllllshhhhhhhiiiiiitttttttt

Aug 22, 2017

Cliffs:
1) Study vast majority of material before
2) Practice some questions
3) Make formula sheet
4) There's an ethics section in the test. It's kind of important.
5) Know how to use calculator.

Thank you for your contribution OP!

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Aug 22, 2017

He must have been on the edge of failing. The thing with the CFA L1 test is that it isn't very hard material there is just way to much to go over in 5 days. This individual's background played a very big role in him passing, someone without a finance background would not be able to do this.

Aug 23, 2017

How to Increase Your Penis Size in Just Three Easy Steps

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Aug 23, 2017

But you didn't list the steps!!! Maybe a HS student could post his intended guide on how to do so? Fuck I need advice asap, I have a date in just 5 days!

Aug 23, 2017

Life:
In summary, a series of people claiming out they found out the shortcut/easy way to accomplishing a task or getting rich quick.

Lesson learned:
Shortcuts have consequences. They don't always work. They come at an expense.

Final thoughts:
If you really do take a shortcut on CFA L1, you're going to fall on your ass in L2. Especially in FRA. These concepts have to be learned very well in CFA L1, or you'll be severely lacking a base for the later exams.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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Aug 23, 2017
Stay.Hungry:

I currently plan on taking the L1 in June 2019 before my senior year, and starting to study sparingly in 2018. Being a Finance Major and Economics Minor, I should cover a lot of the material in my classes, so It shouldn't be too much to study out of class, besides ethics. What do you think of this guy's story and tips for studying? Is there any other tips you think that he missed that should be mentioned?

I wouldn't recommend taking the exam while in college. Focus on your GPA and internships and applying to jobs. Applying and interviewing for jobs takes a long time. Bust your ass in an internship. Get a 3.7, 3.8+.

Take the CFA exams if you find yourself in an Investment Management position after college. If you go to IB or some other area, you're not going to need it and all you will be going for is an MBA.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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Aug 23, 2017

I just passed level 3, and L1, 5 days? No shot in hell. One of my very bright coworkers just got by L1 and L2 by doing practice problems exclusively, but he's also doing an MSF, so it's pure crossover. I had it down to a Science by the time I took it this year.
1) Read Schweser (or whichever) notes, NOT the CFAI material. In reverse order (heaviest weight last)
2) do mock exams starting 1 month before the test
3) Take the last week before the exam off work and do every blue box example and end of chapter question in the CFAI curriculum. (With the exception of L3, just stick to the mocks but do most recent last)
No shortcut, just solid strategy and it's no bullshit, you might be able to get away with some tests because of prior ability but you'll get popped somewhere - if you're an analyst by trade L3 will tough because of PM. If you're a PM L2 and L1 will be tough because of the analytical work.
4) get some beers and relax!

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Aug 24, 2017

sounds far more reasonable, than bullshit in the top post

Aug 24, 2017
NoseGoes18:

I just passed level 3, and L1, 5 days? No shot in hell. One of my very bright coworkers just got by L1 and L2 by doing practice problems exclusively, but he's also doing an MSF, so it's pure crossover. I had it down to a Science by the time I took it this year.
1) Read Schweser (or whichever) notes, NOT the CFAI material. In reverse order (heaviest weight last)
2) do mock exams starting 1 month before the test
3) Take the last week before the exam off work and do every blue box example and end of chapter question in the CFAI curriculum. (With the exception of L3, just stick to the mocks but do most recent last)
No shortcut, just solid strategy and it's no bullshit, you might be able to get away with some tests because of prior ability but you'll get popped somewhere - if you're an analyst by trade L3 will tough because of PM. If you're a PM L2 and L1 will be tough because of the analytical work.
4) get some beers and relax!

+1 I passed all three levels on the first attempt using essentially the same process you did.

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Aug 24, 2017

Studying for L1 at the moment - Why would you read Schweser over CFAI? (besides Ethics I assume?)
Is it simply because it's shorter or is there more to it then that?

Aug 23, 2017

That's a great question. The CFAI material is tough to read, and goes super deep into every aspect on every level. For example: On level 1, the fixed income is really simple, basic TVM, Duration, maybe a simple calculation of Convexity... and this is what is reflected in the Schweser books. In the CFAI books though it goes super deep and wastes a bunch of time and memory space talking about convexity and how bonds react to interest rates, spreads, OAS Spreads, Z-Spreads... this stuff is important, more in later levels, but not for passing the Level 1. Also, the deeper you go into theses things, the more complex and more time it takes to grasp it. As a result, you end up wasting a bunch of time on complex things you don't really need to pass the tests. You're trying to pass a test, not master everything in the material. When you talk to people that have passed all the levels, the vast majority will tell you they didn't touch the CFAI material (except for blue box and end of chapter ?'s). The ethics may be the exception, but they are really pretty much the same in both. Fortunately, the ethics is short in both. Congratulations, WSO just saved you dozens of hours! Good luck! PM me and I'd be happy to talk to you more about it or provide some tips.

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Aug 24, 2017

Good luck pulling that off for level 2

Aug 24, 2017

Level 1 is extremely easy if you come from a finance background, I know a few kids who just took it cold and passed. At level 2 it would be impossible, but with level 1 its definitely plausible.

Array
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Aug 24, 2017

This is bullshit. Even if it's true, he'll get smoked in Level II as it builds on Level I's material.

Aug 24, 2017

haha. total bull.

Aug 25, 2017
Aug 24, 2017

I think it's possible to luck through L1. It's all multiple choice with 3 answers so your floor should be 33% on average even if you knew none of the material. Most people consider 70% to be a passing rate so you only need to know a bit more than half of the other 2/3rds of the questions...

-level 3 candidate

Aug 25, 2017

Solid writeup

Don't listen to anyone, everybody is scared.

Aug 25, 2017

I am sitting for the CFA Level I examination this June and so far I am only missing Econ. I have absolutely nothing to do until the exam so I can put all the hours I want, no work, no school, living alone, no distractions. I was thinking about skipping Econ to get to the practice exams fast. Should I just skip Econ and jump to the practice exams? Or considering my situation (a lot of free time) I should be okay finishing econ this week and jumping to the practice exams next week? FYI I am using Schweser notes and 7city (FitchLearning) to study.

Thank you in advance!

Aug 25, 2017

hit LOS things in the econ book, read those, 2 pages per section, then hit the end of chapter questions. correct those solutions. then yes head straight to practice tests...

Aug 25, 2017

@zeroblued is right, hit LOS or also add reading things in bold through chapters, do the concept checkers.
you can start practice tests at the same time - your incorrect answers will show what you understand less.

Aug 25, 2017

You mean the LOS key concepts on Schweser (2 pages each approx)? Or the summary after e/section in the CFA curriculum?

Aug 25, 2017

CFA I exam candidate here
3 weeks left and still missing economics AND quant.
By large the two chapters with the least cost/benefit ratio IMO (#of LOS/# of questions).

I'm aiming for mock exams only. LOL.
If that doesn't work all my answers will be letter A.

Aug 25, 2017

3 weeks is not bad at all, give it a shot.

always hitting A for questions you don't know answers for is increasing your chances, but it's better to do practice tests and/or concept checkers for the mentioned sections at least.

Aug 25, 2017

I would also suggest quickly going through every Blue Box question again to make sure you are aware of the steps/methodology. The ones you don't remember the steps or formula, put it on a Flash Card and add it to your pile. Once you are done that you'll have a stack of cards of formulas and questions that are likely to be tested that you don't remember and you can quickly go over them again and again and again. That's my plan at least (in addition to taking 4-5 mocks).

My name is Nicky, but you can call me Dre.

Aug 25, 2017

I read the summaries, watched some revision videos on econ and made all the EOC. Then just went straight for mocks as you guys recommended and have been since then doing tb and mocks.
Thank you everyone for your input!

Aug 24, 2017

That's rich! A Baylor kid emphasizing ethics.

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Aug 24, 2017
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Aug 24, 2017
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