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09/05/2011

To Pass the CFA Exam—Train for a Marathon!


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CFA San FranciscoIf I told you I was going to run up the block and back to my house every day for a year and when I was done, I would be ready to run a marathon, do you think I would be successful? Of course not! But many candidates take the same approach to preparing for the CFA exams.

If your study approach resembles my marathon training scenario, you probably do problems in little chunks of time topic by topic—perhaps during commercial breaks during your favorite TV shows. I’ll agree that over a week’s or month’s time you may have actually completed a full exam. But that’s not the same as sitting down for two 3-hour exam blocks. The outcome looks to be the same but it isn’t. That’s because you are training for a sprint when you should be training for a marathon.

Training for a sprint does not give you stamina needed, time management required, or strategies necessary for extracting required information from convoluted word problems.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

Turn off the TV, set aside a full day, and sit for three full hours to take the first half of an exam. Then break for two hours (the same time as at a real exam—just enough time to eat, freak out and then suffer from food comatose in the afternoon). Then start in again for a second three-hour stretch to complete the full exam. Re-create a realistic exam scenario. Do not allow food or drink in the room. If you need a bathroom break, do not add on extra time to do so. You won’t get extra time in the real exam!


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Better yet, schedule a day with your study group to take full-length exams. Having the support of a group can help assure that you “keep it real.” Take the exam in a remote location—away from your home—perhaps in a local public or college library. And time yourself!

DOES THIS APPROACH WORK?

We’ve seen candidates set aside the last four Saturdays before an exam to do this exact same thing. The result—all but one passed. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll pass, but I believe it can significantly increase your chances.

So answer honestly—have you ever sat down for a six-hour block of time and taken a practice full-length CFA exam? If not, it may be time to gear up for a marathon.

–Linda Lam is the associate director of the CFA Review Program at the CFA Society of San Francisco.

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Comments

Best advice I've read this week! As I continue to encourage candidates to pursue the CFA to advance their careers I'd like to credit your analogy and link to the post. Thanks!

Thank you Gail! I'm glad you found it useful and hope it helps the candidates you are encouraging.

I'd like to think its closer to training for an IRONMAN!

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