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Good Advice for Level II Exam Preparation: Lather – Rinse – Repeat

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CFA Exam Prep

There are approximately two months left before the CFA exam is given in June. By this time, most candidates should have read through a good portion, if not all, of the curriculum and spent time studying what they’ve read. But how have they ensured that they really understand the material?


Maybe they incorporated study advice and tips given by candidates who have already passed the Level II exam.

Practical tips I’ve heard include:

  • Study a minimum of 12 hours a week, more during the final four weeks before the exam.
  • Make flash cards for key formulas and lists.
  • Purchase two notebooks: one for writing out notes and one for recording practice questions and answers.
  • Create a calendar or spreadsheet to help with planning and progress tracking.
  • Spend more time studying for the Level II exam then you did for the previous level.

All good points, but they must be incorporated into an overarching plan if a candidate is going to get the most out them. Let me illustrate this by describing the study approaches used by Joseph, a current Level III candidate who sat for the Level II exam twice.

Joseph’s First Attempt: Read – Study – Move On

The first time he prepared for the Level II exam, Joseph created a calendar, set aside time to read through the material, and spent some time studying what he had just read. He went through some practice questions and when he felt he had learned the topic, he moved on. But despite this process, he was not successful on his first pass at this middle CFA exam. This experience taught him that while you can ‘learn’ material by reading and studying it, you don’t really have a grasp on it until you can remember it.

Joseph’s Second Attempt: Write – Review – Teach

Joseph knew he needed to adjust his study methods. Upon reflection, he discovered a few key elements were missing from his first study plan. Again he established a calendar, read through the material and studied it. But he added these steps:

  • Write: He wrote out all the LOS (learning outcome statements) and answers on note cards. He also took a number of practice tests and added all questions (with correct answers) he missed to the note cards.
  • Review: He made a point of going through the note cards every two or three weeks, to make sure he remembered the material, not just learned it once.
  • Teach: If you can teach the material, you have really mastered it. Therefore, Joseph made it part of his study plan to learn the material well enough to be able to teach it to a study partner on a weekly schedule.

A good study plan incorporates a process to both learn and remember material to make sure it is well understood. So just like the shampoo bottle says: ‘lather, rinse, repeat’. My suggestion: put the emphasis on ‘repeat’.

–Linda Lam

Linda Lam has worked with a candidate review program since 2000.


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