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07/17/2012

Which Level I CFA® Exam Should You Take—December or June?


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On the surface, it sounds like a no-brainer. Starting with the December Level I exam shaves six months off the time needed to take all three exams, right? Yes, in theory that’s trueif you pass all three on the first try. But let’s dive into this a bit more so you know what you’re against if you decide on this route.

LEVEL I: THE DECEMBER PATH

Let’s say you take the December exam and pass. Now what? Well, you don’t get your results until about the third week of January and you can’t register for the Level II exam until you have them. Assuming you click ‘register’ three nanoseconds after you get your pass notice, it will still take a week or two to get your Level II exam materials. That only gives you about four months at best to study for the next exam. Not impossible, but you are definitely behind the eight ball.

Oh, but that’s not all. Because you can’t register for the Level II exam until late January, you have missed the least expensive registration period. So not only will you be crunched for time, but your wallet will be a bit lighter as well if you choose the December exam route.

Up until now, we assumed you passed the December exam. Well, don’t forget that pesky low pass rate looming in front of you. Approximately 40% of all Level I takers pass and move on to the next exam. But that means the remaining 60% will have to rinse and repeat if they want to want to continue on the CFA path.

What does it mean if you fail a December exam?

Well, the same scenario above applies: you will have less time AND it will cost you more money to register for the next exam. But like those late night infomercials, that’s still not all! If you have to take the Level I exam again in the following year, you will have the ‘opportunity’ to study a new curriculum. Remember, the material changes every calendar year, at least a little bit.

DecemberExamPath

SO HOW DOES THAT COMPARE TO STARTING WITH A JUNE EXAM?

If you pass, you have plenty of time to register within the first price break, so you will save money. Registering that early also gives you a leg up on all those taking the December exam. You have at least five additional months to study for that brutal Level II exam. And you don’t have to start studying right away. You can take a little time off to recharge. That is definitely not a luxury you have if you take a December exam.

If you fail the June exam, you have missed the first price break, but there is a ‘benefit’ to retaking the exam in December. Because the next exam is in the same calendar year, you do not have to learn any new material. You can use the same curriculum you used to study for the June exam.

JuneExamPath

Before you embark on the path to your CFA designation, take time to think about which is the best path for you. Feel free to tell us in the comments below if this information has changed your exam timing strategy at all.

–Linda Lam

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


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Comments

Very informative article, I agree with Linda’s assessment that all candidates need to understand what they are getting involved in when they make the decision to start the CFA charteholder journey. I have been asked by candidates the same question, which is a better time to take the exam, Dec or June, my reply has always been less so on the cost associated with the test, but more on the individuals assessment of their available time. Candidates will need evenings and weekends to absorb the material; Look at your personal and business calendars and make a determination as to which period is better for you to dedicate time to study (is the Fall or Spring a better time for you personally?). In addition taking a CFA prep course will help you with your study schedule as well as build the confidence needed to perform on exam day.

Excellent article Linda!
I routinely counsel students to NOT take the December exam for the reasons you cite. In addition, I find that students will not start studying for the December exam until August, when they return to campus for fall semester. At that point, their time is WAY too short to do an adequate job preparing, and on top of that, they underestimate the time their fall classes will command. DOUBLE WHAMMY! I would much rather coach a group preparing for the Level I exam in June, by starting them on healthy study habits in January. The bonus on many campuses is that the last semester of their graduating year is usually a little lighter on class load, and in my experience, the groups that do this have a much better pass rate than the groups sitting for the December exam.

It has been my bias from the time AIMR (sorry, CFA Institute), opened up a December test, that it be reserved ONLY for those who took Level I in June and did not pass, and were retaking it to get back on track.
Kevin Waspi, CFA
Department of Finance
College of Business
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Mario - The increased cost can be a factor, but the I agree with you that time is probably the major factor - not only if there is enough time to prepare for the current exam, but does it leave enough time to prepare for the next exam.

Kevin - Thank you for your comment. Glad this was helpful. I field a lot of these types of questions too, so there does appear to be a need for clarification on the subject.

I appreciate the candor and insight into the process. I myself was looking for the December path, with only 4 months to study for Level 1. I tend to underestimate the total cost involved, (study time, information), in order to successfully pass. I have chosen to take the June exam and am glad I will have plenty of time to prepare. This article provided me with more detail and further reinforced my decision.

Thanks Kevin (Manley)- I am glad this helped you make a good decision! Wishing you the best in your studies for the June exam. ~ Linda

Interesting it is the first time I read the benefits between register in december or in June.
I will go for december even if it means no life for at least a straight year.

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