Study the Test, Not Just the Material

Study the Test, Not Just the Material

Article by Mike Carmody, CFA, Lead Instructor on (Updated on ) in CFA Study Tips

The CFA exam curriculum is large and intimidating. But knowing all of the material doesn't mean you will pass the exam. You also need to study the format of the exam itself and build your stamina to prepare.

If you're reading this article, you're probably studying for a level of the Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) exam. Congratulations on taking this difficult and rewarding journey!

If you're like most CFA candidates, you're spending most of your time studying the material. Since there's so much material on the exam, that could easily consume all of your time.

But is that really the most efficient way to prepare for the exam? Is there something else you should be doing?

Keep your eyes on the CFA exam.

I have taught thousands of people at seminars taking professional exams. I often would tell them to focus on the exam and not the material. Clearly there is much overlap, because to pass the exam you must know a good portion of the material. However, knowing the material does not mean you will pass the exam.

You must also study the exam. For example, if you are taking the Level I exam, you should know there are a total of 180 questions. The morning session will have 90 questions and the afternoon session will have the same. Since you have six hours to complete the exam, you can average 90 seconds per question.

There are three choices for each question, with no penalty for guessing. Each question is independent—it does not reference another question. What does that mean for you?

Build your exam-taking stamina.

You must develop stamina to focus for six hours on one day. Since the average time per question is 90 seconds, the questions are not likely too complicated. There will not be any involved numerical calculations. You must know the key material well to move at a fast enough pace. Ruling out just one option improves your probability from 33% to 50%.

Knowing this should influence how you study. You can become adept at recognizing the correct answer even if you could not write it on your own. Familiarity with the material will likely get you some points. Knowledge of details is required because they have 180 questions, which is plenty to cover a lot of the material.

Don't get buried in the material.

Remember that you don’t have to know everything to pass the exam! Above all, focus on becoming good at taking the multiple choice test. That will prevent you from getting lost in the CFA curriculum and help you concentrate on the immediate goal before you.

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