The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) curriculum is a rigorous course that prepares the student for roles that require financial analysis and deep understanding of financial concepts. The exam is gradually becoming a de-facto requirement for roles in the capital market. The question on the minds of most of the students is how one can complete the curriculum in the quickest possible time.
First let’s look at the administrative angle. The Level I exam is conducted twice a year – December and June. On the other hand, the Level II and Level III exams are conducted only once a year i.e June. So anyone targeting to complete the exams in the shortest time will have to schedule it as follows
• Appear for Level I in December 2014. Results out by mid January 2015
• Appear for Level II in June 2015. Results will be out by August 2015
• Take the Level III in June 2016. Results will be out by August 2016
So starting from Dec 2014, you will be done with the exams by June 2016 i.e. 1.5 years.
The schedule mentioned above assumes that you are able to clear the examinations at the first attempt. If you talk to your colleagues, they may tell you that it is difficult. But remember, it is not impossible. Let me share how I think the exam can be cracked in each level in the first attempt.
The first level of the exam covers different aspects that build the foundation of the subsequent topics in level 2 and level 3. Regular study of the topics will ease the pressure that may build up if you decide to keep all topics for the end. Each student should devise his / her own study plan once he / she registers for the exam. Most of the topics would have been covered in graduation or post-graduation curriculum. The only new topic is Ethics and CFA curriculum places a lot of emphasis on this topic.
Level II is considered to be the most difficult level by most CFA candidates. The key topic tested at this level is financial statement analysis including currency effects. The detailed level of analysis covered requires a more rigorous study of the topics. As a result, it is suggested that more time is devoted to the study, compared to what one may have invested while studying for level I. I would recommend a weekly 10 - 12 hr study schedule for covering the topics. One should target to complete the topics at least a fortnight before the actual exam. This will allow for additional time to revise the key and difficult topics. The morning and afternoon sessions of both level I and level II exams are fully MCQ based.
CFA Level III exam is more focused on the fund management side of the capital markets. Having completed the more difficult level, level III exam is relatively easier in terms of the study rigor. The biggest hurdle faced at this level is the exam format. The evening session of the exam is MCQ based. However the morning session is based on small case studies that requires essay-style answers. Most students err and think that a lot of theory is required to be written. However, more than the lengthy text matter, the key concepts tested in the problem ought to be highlighted. Hence, solutions with key bullet points (aka a presentation slide) would also fetch you the desired scores. For all the three levels, it is recommended that one takes at least one or two practice exams before the actual exam. This will help one to strategize depending on the topics one has prepared well.
Such a disciplined approach of study will definitely help you realize your dream of completing the CFA curriculum in the shortest possible time i.e. 1.5 years.