CFA Charter
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)

How to Earn Your CFA Charter and Still Have a Life

Four keys to preparing for the notoriously difficult CFA Exam.

The Chartered Financial Analyst or CFA Charter is the most highly pursued certification in the finance profession. Earning this exclusive, professional finance certification offers many benefits. Of these, you may expect increased compensation, career opportunities in competitive specialties like investment banking, and of course, adding to your expertise in finance.

The CFA Exam itself can be daunting, though. The pass rates average below 40%. On tops of this, the CFA Institute recommends that CFA designation candidates study at least 300 hours to pass. So, given that time investment, how can you balance work and studying—not to mention having a family or social life? Here are some helpful tips.

Commit to Your Time Management Plan…

We all tend to put off work that doesn’t have a deadline. Be sure to start your CFA charter studying process by establishing a deadline by which you will pass each section of the Exam. It doesn’t have to be incredibly tight—something like a year for each level can work. However, remember that you’ll need to stay committed to studying during this time. This means it must be a priority over social life or sitting around relaxing.

If you’re working, you’ll build your weekly studying plan around the hours you have available outside of work. An efficient study plan includes commitments to finish various chapters and readings by a specific date. It is important to leave several weeks to take mock exams and review notes and flashcards. And, with a user-friendly digital prep platform, you can study anywhere at your convenience, using virtually any electronic or mobile device.

…But Don’t Forget to Have a Life

Many analysts looking to earn their CFA charter are early in their careers. However, you may still be learning on the job. You may be working long hours at the office proving yourself. It’s a challenge to make time to study for the CFA charter while maintaining some social and family life. 

CFA review may make you miss out on some Thursday nights out with friends. However, taking time off from studying is an essential part of the studying process. Use your scheduling skills to connect with friends and family who can help you unwind. 

Don’t Go it Alone

As a CFA charter candidate, you’ll quickly learn that the volume of concepts, definitions, and formulas the exam covers can be overwhelming. Trying to force all that information into your brain on your own is setting yourself up for frustration. Taking a CFA charter prep course, whether in-person or online, can be suitable for moral support and even accountability. On the other hand, scheduling a multi-hour block of time may not be feasible after long workdays. There is also the cost to consider. Even if you don’t take a class, you don’t have to fly solo.

You can form a virtual study group. You may even find one “study buddy” who will help keep you accountable for your shared preparation plan. And of course, online resources like UWorld’s offer content lessons, mock exams, and other tools. All of these will let you know if you’re on the right track.

Embrace the Power of Active Learning

At some point in your CFA charter studying process, you might feel like there are too many books to read. Many of these books are long – having more than 300 pages each. As a result, studying can become monotonous, making it harder to stay focused. Of course, you can start by turning off your cell phone when you’re studying, but I suggest embracing active learning to change your mindset. 

Active learning is, simply put, a more engaged approach to preparing for each exam section. For example, after a first reading, move to practice questions. This will keep your attention on the material, even after a long workday. Then go over the questions you got wrong and refer to the study materials for further review. 

Effective studying involves repeating this pattern until you complete all the content. The more interesting you can make it for yourself, the better. Finally, in the last three weeks leading up to the exam, focus on mock exams to gauge your test readiness. Use this time to identify any final gaps of knowledge that you can fill in. 

With a well-executed study plan, you’re well on your way to not only passing your Level 1 Exam but building your confidence for Level 2 and looking forward to the professional rewards you’ll reap from earning your CFA Charter. 

Sam Gottlieb began his professional career as an attorney after earning both a JD and an LLM degree before earning CFA, FRM, and CFP designations. Sam has extensive finance industry experience having worked for financial training firms in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as teaching and writing on a wide range of financial topics. Sam is currently senior content specialist for the CFA program at UWorld.

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