06/05/2016 – Path to CFA: Level 1, Part 3

Life definitely passes in a blink of an eye when you’re busy. Like 1000s of others, I’ve written one of the world-acclaimed CFA exams yesterday, finally done (so far)! I’ll first give a quick summary of my thoughts on the exam in general and the exam taking experience, then I’ll give some general tips for studying for the L1 exam if I (god forbid) have to take it again, I’ll finish off with some curious thoughts about the CFA in general because I’m still tired 🙂

The CFA L1 Exam in General

The entire CFA L1 curriculum, if I have to put it on a difficulty scale between 1 to 10, would rate as a 5. Don’t get me wrong, the exam wasn’t easy, but what the materials lack in difficulty, they make up for in the volume of information. I started studying in mid-January thinking I could finish all the materials by mid-April, but due to work and other commitments I didn’t finish all the materials until the beginning of May, which gave me about 3 weeks to do practice exams.

Now this sounds like it’s plenty of time, but due to the length of study time, I’ve forgotten most of what I’ve studied in the beginning, and it was a nightmare because I chose to study Accounting and Financial Statements first to get the difficult stuff out of the way. So I ended up using about a week to re-learn the material, then spent one week doing practice exams before bleeding out 1 practice exam in the final week due to work commitments.

Exam Taking Experience

I picked up my friend who was also writing the exam and headed off to the Toronto Congress Center, I thought I was early at 7:10am but hell no, plenty of people have already set up their stuff and looking dead serious. We relaxed by waiting in a giant line at Tim Hortons… wait you don’t care about that? Suck it up and pretend you’re interested, please. Just kidding, here goes the actual account.

I generally cruised through both morning and afternoon session, not because it was easy, but because they are generally straightforward and you simply know the material or you don’t. If I had to pick one the afternoon session would be the harder of the two, or maybe I felt that way due to sleeping only 6 hours the night before. The accounting portion was muddy to go through as usual, and the other portions giving me trouble was fixed income and economics.

I almost passed out in the second hour of the afternoon session, and pretty much slept for about 10-15 minutes before continuing the exam. It’s known that you shouldn’t eat too much at lunch, but apparently too little is bad for you too, who knew eh?

One thing I would note is the seriousness of the person reading the instructions for the exam, including the mandatory ethical behavioral pledge we all had to sign. From her tone it sounded like offenders will be stabbed by pitchforks in a reddish and hot environment. Ok, she did wish us good luck on our exams so it’s not too bad.

General Tips

Overall, the exam material was quite straightforward, the exam committee however, is quite devious as they enjoy creating questions that are tricky mostly in the way they’re asked. This is especially prevalent in Ethics, where you are required to get an excellent score else face failure (even if you scored perfect in all other sections). General tips for studying the L1 is:

  1. Start early – material isn’t sky high difficult, but it’ll bury you in information overload if you don’t already know most of the material
  2. Study Accounting before Ethics, and study Ethics last – these two sections are important and weigh a ton on the exam, studying those last allows the materials to remain fresh in your mind and would require less ‘re-studying’ when you’re trying to memorize the rules (learning it is counter-intuitive as real life work experience will instantly crush ‘what you learned’)
  3. Actually stick to the study schedule – this might be a no-brainer, it’s easy to get lazy because you’re tired or unmotivated, but studying anything – even a small portion of a chapter – would help as it’ll keep the materials fresh in your mind
  4. Physical exercise – you need those endorphins to keep you going (also for giving you something else to depend on other than your DHV stories when wooing the ladies)
  5. Relax the day before your exam – you’ve studied hard, last minute studying will scramble your entire thought pattern and impression of the exam testing experience, do anything except study, but reading Ethics in general is fine
  6. Get a personal driver, or a friend/family drive you to/from the exam venue – this is optional. I tested in Toronto so this might not apply to you. In general you need it when you’re getting out the zombie horde of a parking lot, plenty of horrible drivers so keep yourself sane and cool by having another person driving you home (or a lobster eating party) after your exam


Random Thoughts

It’d be interesting to find out if the exam content is the same from country to country (theoretically it should be), because some really smart Asian kid who just took it 12 hours earlier could memorize most if not all of the exam answers and sell them to the highest bidders in North America. I tried to find the dates of which the CFA Institute held the exams in Asia but couldn’t find any. Of course, the smart CFA charter-holders may have already thought about this and created contingencies for it, why else would we sign a candidate pledge at the beginning of each of the exam sessions?



Congratulations to all those who’s been studying all these months for the CFA exams, you survived and deserve a break! Time to make up to your friends and family whom you’ve neglected.