Conan Barbarian, CFA

Conan! What is best in life?

To crush your enemies,
See them driven before you,
And hear the lamentations of their women.

Wrong! Lumi, what is best in life?

To crush your fellow candidates,
See them repeating exam levels below yours,
And hear the lamentations of their spouses.

That is good, that is good.

…And of course even better if it’s on the open steppe, with the falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair…

It’s been a while so I thought I should check in. Got about 15 hours under my belt in preparation for Level III. It’s almost exclusively time spent with the Schweser materials and not the official CFA Institute guides. The fool who persisted in his folly (trying to pass relying solely on the CFAI materials) has become wise.

This time around I anted up for the Schweser Full Meal Deal, as it were. I’ve got online video instruction, online practice banks of myriad questions, and at some point Schweser will finish their summarizing, condensing, and abbreviating mojo on the CFAI Level III 2011 volumes and finally mail out our printed study guides and practice tests.

The Schweser video instruction is especially helpful. The instructors so far have been university professors who are CFAs in addition to PhDs. I like their honesty about which sections they like and which they find dry, and also their occasional humor.

“You’ll have a different teacher for the next chapter and video. He’s smarter than me, but I’m better looking so it all balances out…”

One instructor tackles the question of which of the CFA levels is the hardest? He gives his opinion, as well as some good advice. To paraphrase…

It’s a tough call. Level 3 is probably easier than Level 2, but harder than Level 1. The thing you want to make sure you do is put in enough time to pass so that you don’t have to see my face next year. If you’ve made it to Level III, you’ve proven that you’re smart and can study. Your biggest risk is putting in a lot of study time for Level III, but not quite enough to pass. Don’t let that happen to you.

I’m sure people who work in a large office with fellow CFAs find out a lot of helpful, intangible scuttlebutt regarding the exams. But I’m not privy to that in my day-to-day existence as a one-man show, freelancer from home. The videos are helpful here too as the instructors occasionally deviate from the material itself to give you historical statistics as to how many times a certain type of question has been asked in previous years, how testable a certain section is, or what to do if you realize near the end of an essay question that you misinterpreted the scenario that the vignette was laying out, and that all your previous paragraphs were based on wrong assumptions!

My study strategy for Level III is going to be a repeat of what allowed me to successfully pass Level II on my second attempt. It goes like this.

(1) Use Schweser Qbank to build a 60-question practice test (spanning all material).
(2) Take said test. I’ll get a good number of the questions wrong in the process.
(3) At the end of the test, identify the area where I performed the worst.
(4) Go to Schweser study guides and review that material and re-work all sample problems. If I still feel fuzzy, work CFAI study guide problems too.
(5) Go back to step 1.

Once we get to about 3-4 weeks before the actual exam, the strategy changes slightly. Instead of working the short Qbank practice tests, I switch to the printed volume of longer, more exam-like practice tests. Instead of expecting to miss a few problems, I expect to miss none. Instead of treating the area with the most missed questions as an indicator of where I should review, any missed question is a Big Deal, so I go back and read whatever necessary to make sure that it will never happen again on any similar question. This sometimes involves making some sort of chart for the tricky stuff (like the multinational / subsidiary accounting from Level II).

Now let me ask you, what camp will you be in, on the evening after the next exam? Will you be celebrating just the fact that it’s over, like most candidates, and cautiously optimistic that you might have passed, given the curve and how hard everyone else also thought the test was?

Or will you instead be celebrating your success, knowing that you knocked it out of the park – and have little use for the charity of any curve? Candidates like this do exist. Check twitter for #cfa on the evening after the next exam. While most test-takers will simply be blowing off steam, you’ll come across the rare Conan or Conette who is, instead, toasting certain victory.

It’s inspiring, honorable, and definitely what is best in life.