Some of us need it all, a full-time job, taking care of a family and working for 12 hours a day. This is not a bad thing, but how can you fit CFA exam preparations into this equation. This may seem impossible but it’s not, it’s tough but definitely possible.
It’s all about managing expectations and sticking to a sensible study routine. Here’s the tried-and-tested survival guide to juggle them all.
- Yours: First, acknowledge and accept that it will be difficult. You will need extreme discipline and focus to do this. Be honest with yourself in terms of judging the amount of free time and ability to focus, or else you’d be working hard but not smart.
- Your partner, family and friends: Discuss with your partner / family / friends and let them know why you will be taking the CFA, and why it’s important to you. Explain to them that there will be moments of disappearance (to study), unintentional short tempers and grumpiness, but you would still love to spend quality time with them. Oh, and try to be patient when they comment on preparations.
- Employer and colleagues: Discuss and pitch to your boss about the merits of CFA to the company, and ask for exam sponsorship and time off if possible. Let your colleagues know that too so that they will respect your study time during lunch hours or days off.
Workup a solid study plan
- Know when you need to start
Many of you may be doing full time jobs or aren’t as well practiced in finance. You will need to know what is the right amount of time needed for you to finish the CFA syllabus. Quickly brush on the CFA study guide to give you a brief idea.
- The study plan
A good study plan to stick to is dividing them by reading/studying and practice time. Delving deeper, you can split the studying section by the number of chapters or even better, just number of books (see example below).
Using a 6 months CFA study plan (with e.g. 5 CFA study books and CFA study guide), here’s an example of key milestones and time targets:
- Week T-26: START (Follow the CFA Study Guide)
- Week T-22: Book 1 completed (including end of chapter questions)
- Week T-18: Book 2 completed
- Week T-13: Book 3 completed
- Week T-9: Book 4 completed
- 5 weeks to go: Book 5 completed
- Week 5/4: 1 week buffer for emergencies, just to be conservative
- Last 4 weeks: timed practice exams (including mocks) and last minute revision on weaker topics
It’s one of the best practices to finish reading a month before at least to focus on timed practice exams relentlessly. You’ve all heard of the adage “practice, practice, practice” already. If you find you have extra time, get more practice questions.
- Weekly study plans
This is where the details matter, as you need to honestly assess your available time in an average week that you can dedicate to your studies.
For June exams, 6 months preparation starts on 1 December (note: this would be different for candidates taking December Level I and aiming for June Level II of course). So, you have 26 weeks from 1 December to 30 May that means 12-13 hours of quality study time per week on average (assuming 300-350 hours per Level).
For December exams, 6 months preparation starts on 1 June, so your period is (roughly) 1 June to 30 November
So now it’s time to find and block out this 12-13 hours of uninterrupted study time in your week. List your weekly commitments in terms of time: for work, personal (don’t sacrifice sleep!), family, friends. Total up the available study hours you honestly think you can achieve in a week. Aim to exceed this amount of study time slightly as buffer for unexpected events.
Some scheduling tips:
- Try to incorporate 1-2 hours of study per day on work days if you can. It will help alleviate your weekend load. Studying during commute, lunch breaks, or an hour pre or post work are useful strategies.
- Do incorporate exercises in your weekly routine, especially when you’re tired. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it will give you a nice burst of energy and focus for studying on work days.
- If work is extremely demanding, and you know you’d be too tired to focus post work, try scheduling in socials on weekdays instead. This helps relieve stress and leaves the bulk of your weekend free for heavy-duty studying and problem solving.
- Be realistic and test it out in the beginning to make sure it works and you’re not falling behind schedule. Then, stick to it!
So after your audit, if your available study time is at least 12-13 hours, great – you’ve got a viable plan. If not, you have to adjust #1 by starting earlier and update #2. Do this iteratively until you satisfy all 3 steps, and you’ve got a solid study plan ready to go.