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My CFA Experience (Level III): Vy Bui

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What better way to close my CFA exam journey than by sharing my Level III study strategies, which helped me pass the June 2013 exam?

My first two articles talked about my CFA Level I exam experience and my third article talked about how my study strategies changed from Level I to Level II. So, this article focus on the changes (in detail) I made to surmount the difficulty of Level III materials and the essay exam format of the morning section. Hopefully, this will inspire current and/or future CFA candidates to pay special attention to their study strategies.

How many hours did I put in for the Level III exam? This is a question I got asked often. Honestly, it was about 650 hours compared with 350 hours for Level I and 450 hours for Level II.  I started reading CFAI books in October 2012. I spent about two hours a day, and it took me three months to complete all six books without doing practice problems at the end of each reading. I could have finished the readings faster, but I didn't because I was overconfident that I still had a lot of time.  Many candidates adopted a similar mindset, until we realized we ran out of time  and wished we would have taken our studies more seriously in the beginning.

Since reading these books for the first time just gave me an overall review of the materials, I knew I would have to read them over and over in order for me to understand and remember many concepts and formulas. Instead of reading CFAI books again, I chose to read Schweser books, which were a slightly trimmed down version of the CFAI Level III materials. This way I could see the materials in a different writing style and format, and my reading might be a little bit more interesting.

I planned to increase my study time to three hours/day starting in 2013; however, I wasn't able to execute that plan because of work challenges and an unexpected three-week trip overseas. I studied here and there, but it wasn't really effective. So despite six-day work weeks when I returned, I was determined to find more time to study since I was so behind.  

From March to May 2013, I drastically adjusted my study strategy. I switched my study location from home to the library to decrease distractions; I reduced my exercise time from 5 to 3 or 2 times a week; I stopped watching my favorite TV shows, and I literally cut all my social activities. Right after work, I went straight to the library and studied from 6 p.m.–11 p.m. Monday to Thursday. I took a break on Friday night so I could recharge my energy for long studying days on Saturday and Sunday. I usually studied about 8 hours a day on the weekend.

At the end of March 2013, I finished reading Schweser books. Then I started doing practice problems at the end of the readings and reviewed examples provided with the readings (blue boxes) from both CFAI and Schweser books. I took six full practice exams from Schweser and studied actual, released CFAI questions from the morning sections of the 2010, 2011, and 2012 exams. I was able to get these tasks done by the end of April 2013. I spent the month of May continuing to review materials and redo practice and exam questions. I also used one week of my vacation time to study more during the week right before the exam. I studied at least 10 hours a day.

I have to admit, it was hard for the last couple months since all I did was work and study for the CFA exam. Every time I found myself losing focus or unmotivated, when I thought about completing the CFA exam and the future opportunities the CFA designation would bring, I kept going. With more than 1400 hours invested in the CFA exams from December 2011 to June 2013, I am thankful that all my hard work has paid off and look forward to becoming a member of CFA Institute—a global community with shared values of integrity and competency in investment practice. 

I hope that CFA candidates will find my articles helpful in preparing for their exams. I approached each exam differently, so please feel free to comment or ask me any questions that you may have about the exams. Best of luck to all future CFA candidates!

Vy Bui, passed June 2013 level III CFA exam.

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650 hours for Level 3? Is English not your native language? That seems like A LOT...

Hi Kevin, thank you very much for the comment. English is my second language. However, it wasn't so much about the language barrier, it was more about me trying to pass this exam on the first try. I put as much time into the preparation for the exam as I possibly could by reviewing the materials and doing many practice problems.


Can you share how to tackle morning essay session? How do you manage your time and prioritize on the questions from the start? Any tip on essay?

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