Most of the candidates get serious for the exam two months before the CFA exam. So, if you are one among those candidates and want to know how to approach CFA level II exam in next 2 months, then this post is for you.
“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.” ~ Arnold Schwarzenegger
We can learn a lot from the above Arnold’s quote. We also have so much to cover in these two months. But we can do it because we are always smarter than we know. The number of months left should not be a criterion for preparation for the CFA exam. Rather we should look at the number of study hours. 5 hours daily for 2 months is better than 1 hour daily for 6 months. I know few guys who had finished their preparations in last 2 weeks by studying 10-12 hours daily. But that strategy may not suit everyone as grasping power differs from person to person. If we study more than 6-8 hours daily, then our retention power drops significantly. So, we should not target more than 8 hours of study per day.
The curriculum of CFA level II can be finished in 200 hours and we even can revise it twice in those many hours. But if you devote only 200 hours, then you won’t have time for practicing enough number of questions which is crucial for passing the exam. Also, candidates tend to give too much weight to practicing ‘n’ thousands number of questions for CFA exams that they end up spending hundreds of hours in solving questions. Few guys even solve more than 5,000 questions. Attempting more questions is fine but that should be not done on behalf of your revision time. More is always not better. If you end up solving 5,000 questions but those questions are of poor quality or are in not the itemset based format, then you will be wasting your time.
First of all, we need to make a strategy for the exam. Unlike CFA level I exam, where the CFA Institute has clearly specified the exact percentage of each subject’s weight in the actual exam, the percentages are in ranges for the subjects in CFA level II and CFA level III. But we should not worry about that as by looking at the historical trend, we can guess the composition of June 2014 CFA exam.
|Topic||Weight||Weight (2010-12)||Weight (2013/2014)||Expected Weight (2015)|
|Ethical and Professional Standards||10 to 15||10||10||10|
|Quantitative Methods||5 to 10||5||5||5|
|Economics||5 to 10||5||5||5|
|Financial Reporting and Analysis||15 to 20||20||20||20|
|Corporate Finance||5 to 15||10||10||10|
|Equity Investments||20 to 25||20||20||20|
|Fixed Income||10 to 20||10||5||10|
|Derivatives||5 to 15||10||10||10|
|Alternative Investments||5 to 15||5||10/5||5|
|Portfolio Management||5 to 15||5||5/10||5|
CFA Institute changed the composition of the exam last year. Earlier they used to have 10% weight for Fixed Income and 5% for Alternative Investments. But they changed it last time. They have added one more chapter to Alternative Investments this time and replaced one chapter of Fixed Income with another one. So, we can expect the composition to remain the same as of last year this time as well.
The importance of new topics added : It is very important to know what are the new topics added by CFA Institute for CFA 2014 exam. In 2011, they added Inventory and Long-Lived Assets to Financial Reporting and Analysis and out of 4 item sets of FRA, 2 item sets were asked from those two chapters. And not a single question was asked from those chapters in the next year. Similarly, last year they added one chapter Fundamentals of Credit Analysis in Fixed Income and only 1 item set was tested from FIS and that was from that newly added chapter. They have replaced that topic this year with another new chapter Credit Analysis Models. So, you can make an inference and focus more on the newly added topics this year.
Looking at the weight of topics, if we can focus more on 6 subjects, then we can easily pass the exam. Those subjects are Financial Reporting and Analysis, Equity, Corporate Finance, Derivatives, Ethics, and Alternative Investments. And apart from Derivatives in the list, most of the subjects are comparatively easy and straight forward. So, we must try to finish these 6 topics first and then move on to the next 4 topics.
Financial Reporting and Analysis: One of the most important areas of CFA level II exam and it also carries the maximum weight along with Equity in the exam. This is the area which generally helps candidates in crossing the minimum passing score. The variation of scores in Equity is not that much. But the variation is huge in FRA and that’s why it is the most important topic. The first two chapters of FRA are from CFA level I and should not take more than 4 hours in total for the first reading. One should try to finish the first chapter in 1 to 1.5 hours and the second chapter in 2.5 to 3 hours. The next three chapters are the most important and you can expect one item set (5%) from each chapter. Every single topic is important in those 3 chapters. Spend your considerable amount on these three chapters and write down all the important formulas and points while studying it for the first time. Try to finish the 3rd chapter (Intercorporate Investments) in 6 hours, 4th chapter (Pension) in 4 hours and 5th chapter (Multinational Operations) in 5 hours. Last 2 chapters of FRA are not that important. However, few questions can be asked from these chapters especially from the areas that have been added to the syllabus this time. So, you would require a total of 19-20 hours to study FRA for the first time. These 19-20 hours time excludes the time required for solving the item set based questions. You should practice around 30 item sets for FRA. That would take around 15 hours of your time assuming 18 minutes per item set and 12 minutes for analyzing your mistakes. You may need to practice more item sets if you are not getting more than 70% marks in the item sets. For that, you can practice additional 20 item sets and that would take 10 hours more of yours.
Equity: This subject also carries equal weight as that of FRA. The only difference is that Equity is a little bit easier than FRA. There are 10 chapters in equity and out of 10 chapters, 3 chapters (1st, 4th, and 5th) are new. But 1st and 5th chapters were dropped last year and has been included again in the curriculum. But for the 5th chapter, they have included many new topics and there is a good probability that you might end up getting 1 item set from it in the exam. You can also expect 2-3 questions from the 4th chapter (Your Strategy Needs a Strategy). First 6 chapters are basic chapters and are very similar to CFA level I curriculum. You can finish those chapters in 1 hour, 2 hours, 2 hours, 1 hours, 3 hours and 3 hours. The next 4 chapters are very important from exam point of view. The 7th chapter is the most important one. They have always asked at least 1 item set from 7th chapter in the exam in last 5 years. You must focus more on this chapter and should finish it in 4 hours. 8th chapter is related to multiples and very easy chapter and can be easily done in 3-4 hours. Last 2 chapters are new concepts but are not that difficult and one can expect to finish those chapters in not more than 4 hours each. So, you require a total of 28-30 hours for equity. 30 item sets are ideal for practicing equity and you will be needing 15 hours for that. You may want to add additional 20 item sets if you are not getting good marks.
Corporate Finance: Corporate Finance is one of the easiest topics in CFA level II curriculum. There are 5 chapters in it. You have read some basics of first 4 chapters in CFA level I. You should try to finish first 4 chapters in 4 hours, 2 hours, 2 hours, and 2 hours. The last chapter is a new concept as it was not there in CFA level I curriculum and it is also important for the exam. You should finish it in 4-5 hours. This subject requires a total of 14-15 hours. Try to do at least 20 item sets for this. This topic is learned better by attempting questions. That would take 10 more hours.
Derivatives: One of the trickiest topic of CFA level II curriculum. But if understood well, you can score full 100% marks in this area. There are 6 chapters in it. The last chapter has been modified a bit. So, you may expect 2-3 questions in an item set from that. But still, the most important chapter is the 3rd one related to options. You are most likely to get one item set from that chapter. The first two chapters can be finished in 3 hours and 2 hours respectively. The 3rd one can be finished easily in 5 hours. You can give 3 hours and 1 hour to 4th and 5th chapters. The last one would not need more than 2 hours of your time. 20 item sets are more than enough for this topic and can be finished in 10 additional hours.
Ethics: Ethics is also very important especially when you’re a borderline case. You must focus more on this topic. It contains 8 chapters but most of the later chapters are case studies and should not take more than 30 minutes of your time. The first two topics are exactly the same as those were in CFA level I and they will also be there in CFA level III. The chapter of research objectivity is an important chapter. The first two chapters can be finished in 5 hours (try to finish these quickly, you can revise these better by attempting questions). Research objectivity chapter would take 2-3 hours. The remaining chapters will also take a total of 2-3 hours. It would require a total of 11-12 hours. 20 items sets are more than enough for the practice part and would take 10 additional hours.
Alternative Investments: The first and 3rd chapter are more important for the exam. The first chapter can be done in 5 hours. The second one can be done in 3 hours. The third one may require 6 hours as you need to study the case study at the end of the chapter as well. The 4th one should not take more than 2 hours. Overall, it would require a total of 16 hours. 15 item sets are enough for it. That would require 8 additional hours.
Fixed Income: There are 4 chapters. First 3 chapters are related to valuation stuff. The 4th chapter is regarding credit models. Spend a good amount of time in first 3 chapters. That would take around 10-12 hours of your time. Credit model can be done in 4 hours and the last chapter can be done in 3 hours easily. So, a total of 18 hours is needed for it. 20 item sets are enough for practice and that would take 10 additional hours. It is very important area this time as the weights have been changed from 5-15% to 10-20% this time. You will find at least 2 item sets from this topic.
Quantitative Methods: One of the easiest topic of CFA level II curriculum. The questions will be straightforward from this topic on the exam and it is high scoring. There are 3 chapters but if you know 2nd chapter, then you can finish first chapter in 10 minutes. The 3rd chapter, although very conceptual, was generally not tested in the exam. But lately they have started asking a couple of question from this chapter as well. You can finish first and 2nd chapter combined in 5 hours and third chapter in 3-4 hours. It will require a total of 9 hours. 10 item sets are sufficient for practice purpose and would take 5 more additional hours.
Portfolio Management: This is also easier because the first chapter which is also the lengthiest one, has been also covered in CFA level I. The last chapter is mostly theoretical and is generally not tested in the exam. The first chapter can be finished in 5 hours. The second and third chapters are very important for the exam and can be done in 2 hours each. The last one can be done in an hour. This topic would take a total of 10 hours. 8 items sets are enough for practice and that would take additional 4 hours.
Economics: There are 3 chapters in it and candidates generally find this topic a little difficult as there are too many confusing theories to remember which are not that intuitive to remember. But still, we should not leave it because, in the exam, there may be easier questions from this topic. The first chapter is very lengthy and would require 5 hours of your time. The second and third chapter can be finished in 3 hours and 2 hours respectively. It would require a total of 10 hours. 8 item sets are enough for practice purpose and that would take 4 more hours.
For all the topics, it is necessary to write down important formulas on a paper or notepad. Try revising all the formulas for FRA, Equity, Derivatives, and Corporate Finance on a regular basis. You may want to give 1 additional hour to revise these formulas. You may revise these in your office or your commuting hours.
The second revision should not take more than 50 hours and the third revision can be done in 30 hours. You must try at least 2 full-length mock tests (6 hours each). That would take 20 more hours including 4 hours for analyzing your mistakes.
|Topic||Hours for reading||Hours for practicing questions|
|Ethical and Professional Standards||12||10|
|Financial Reporting and Analysis||20||15|
You need a total of 250 hours for one reading and practicing enough number of questions. A second and third reading will take 80 hours more and 20 more hours for mock tests. So, you require a total of 350 hours. If you do not have enough time, then you can cut down on practicing questions by 50% and drop the third revision and one mock test and you would require 270 hours in that case. You may also cut down your time on the topics with 5% weight. But still, 250 hours is the bare minimum requirement and that much time you need to devote. That is a different thing and you may be able to pass the exam by studying only for 100-150 hours. But if you devote 250-350 hours, that will reduce the probability of failing drastically.
Your first target should be to study all the topics and practice half of the desired questions. That would take around 200 hours and you must finish it at least 20 days before the exam. So, you need to do that in 40 days i.e. 5 hours per day on an average which can be managed even if you are working or have a family. You can rise up early and can devote 3 hours early in the morning from 4 AM to 7 AM. Rest 2 hours can be managed later in the evening or during the day. Or you may devote 3 hours daily on working days and 10 hours on weekends. In the last 20 days, you can practice rest of the questions and can attempt one mock test. Then, you can go for one more revision and one more mock and then the final third revision.
Do not worry too much about the things you need to cover. Remember the famous quote from Bruce Lee.
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done. Make at least one definite move daily toward your goal.” ~ Bruce Lee
The importance of nutrition and health: Health and nutrition are very important for next 2 months as you would be absorbing a lot of stuff. You must take full care of your health and treat yourself like kings/queens. You can easily improve the performance of your brain by doing these small things. You must drink plenty of water as well.
Test Series: If you want to attempt item set questions, you must first attempt the questions from the curriculum books. Then, you can refer to the previous years’ mock exams. If you want more practice, then you can practice item sets freely from here which are based on 2013 syllabus but most of the syllabus is unchanged this time except fixed income. But if you want quality questions, then you can subscribe for out Super 30 test series that contains 30 tests of different topics. Each sectional test is itemset based tests of 1.5 hours duration. Each test will contain 5 item sets and 30 questions. There will be 4 tests for FRA and Equity. 2 tests each for Derivatives, Corporate Finance, Alternative Investments, and Fixed Income. And one test each for Ethics, Economics, Portfolio Management and Quantitative Methods. These tests have covered all the topics comprehensively. We also provide three full-length mock tests in mock test series. You can gain access to test series from here.
Final words: With only 2 months remaining for the exam, many candidates think of giving up. Remember that if you quit once, then it becomes a habit and seep into other areas of your life. Never quit. You must know that most of the guys would not have finished more than 50% of the curriculum so far. You can easily catch them with more focus and self-belief. You may not be the smartest of the guys but you need to remember one thing.
“It’s not the tallest or the most athletic player who gets the rebound, it’s not the quickest guy or the best shooter who is the top scorer, it’s not the most spectacular who wins the game, it’s the one who wants it most on the court. Everything you need is already inside. You want something? Fine get it! But always remember no one will give it to you, it won’t be easy. Not a bit. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. How much more can you take than everybody else? Are you willing to sacrifice? Ask yourself are you one of many and make excuses and say yourself you are not tall enough or not strong enough or are you the one that keeps practicing when everyone else leaves the gym? Are you the one who doesn’t listen when his body yells pain? Are you the one who doesn’t know what excuses are? It’s up to you. You chose your destiny. Choose wisely. Once decided there is no turning back!”
And please do not postpone the exam by citing stupid medical reasons. Remember that dead last finish is greater than did not finish, which trumps did not start. Don’t be afraid to fail, but afraid not to try.
I hope you find enough motivation and discipline to study extremely well and come out with flying colors after the exam. You may want to this read this post as well for CFA level II exam. Wish you all the best.