When Should I Start Studying for the CFA Exam?
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When should I start studying for the CFA® exam?
This is a timeless question and I can’t think of any class I taught where this has not been asked. It is also not level specific. I have heard it from Level I, II, and III candidates. As we have covered in the past, studying for any CFA® exam is not to be taken lightly.
Colleagues, charterholders, or friends who tell you “Oh, I just studied two weeks before the exam and crammed it all in,” are probably not being completely honest with you. Each level has its own focus and the exam is too broad in scope for any one person to simply put in two weeks of self-study.
I don’t buy it and neither should you. You should start studying for any CFA® exam level as early as possible. The new curriculum comes out in or around July of each year. If you are targeting the June exam for Levels I, II, or III, I would recommend signing up for the exam, and starting to read the CFAI curriculum readings the day after Labor Day (in September) and pace yourself until you have read and highlighted important concepts in the CFAI readings up until the end of December.
You should do as many, if not all, of the readings except Ethics (don’t worry about Ethics for now) between September and December in the CFAI books. Then, starting in January and ending around April 15th read the prep provider’s materials, your highlights in the CFAI books, and any notecards you made so that you are “solid” with the curriculum materials. What you should do from April 15th until exam day will be the subject of my next article. (Hint: Practice Exams)
Starting in January as many candidates do, and relying solely on the prep provider’s materials, are not effective ways of getting the result you want…a PASS! Prep provider’s materials should supplement your studying of the CFAI curriculum, not replace it. Starting to study in January for the June exam does not leave adequate time for you to do all you need to do to feel comfortable on exam day. So, again, get a head start and begin your study program the day after Labor Day in September. If you are planning to take the CFA Level I exam in December, you should sign up for the exam and start reading the CFAI curriculum books in the same manner I described earlier—starting on or around March 15th, and ending no later than June 30th. Then starting in July and ending around September 15th you should read the prep provider’s materials, your highlights in the CFAI books, and any notecards you made. My next article will also cover what to do from September 15th until exam day.
–Nathan Ronen, CFA
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O. Nathan Ronen is the lead CFA instructor at NYSSA and has helped over 20,000 candidates to pass the CFA exams. He has been teaching CFA Levels I, II, and III for over 16 years and has a unique understanding of each level. Ronen’s knowledge and real-world finance experience helps bring the theory to life. Ronen worked as a supervisory analyst training government regulators, an accounting analyst, and a corporate finance analyst. Ronen has also taught in-house CFA seminars at Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, and many other major financial institutions. He holds an MBA in finance and accounting from the University of Chicago.