My Personal Guide to Obtaining the CFA® Charter
REQUIRED DISCLAIMER: CFA Institute, Kaplan Financial Education(“Schweser”) and Becker Professional
Review(“Stalla”) do not endorse, promote, or warrant the accuracy or quality of the information offered
in this document. CFA Institute, CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst® are trademarks owned by CFA
Institute. Stalla® is a trademark of Becker Professional Review. Schweser® and Secret Sauce® are
trademarks of Kaplan Financial Education. James Morales(“Author”) is not employed by, affiliated with,
nor endorsed by any of the organizations mentioned above and nothing contained in this document
should be misconstrued as being approved or endorsed by any organization mentioned in this
James Morales, CFA
(Author of http://www.passanalystexams.com) Email:
Table of Contents
MY BACKGROUND 4
MY SCORES 5
LEVEL 1 5
LEVEL 2 6
LEVEL 3 6
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY 8
THE MONTH BEFORE 12
EXAM DAY – IT’S GAMETIME!! 14
IT’S OVER – WHAT NEXT? 16
APPLYING FOR CHARTER 17
WORK EXPERIENCE GUIDELINES 17
SCHWESER VS STALLA 19
PERSONAL DISCLAIMER: These are my own pieces of advice on what worked for me. Always evaluate
any tips you find online in relation to your own study habits, level of maturity/discipline and time
constraints. I make no guarantees that following my advice will work for you or is even suitable for you.
All advice and tips contained herein are based solely on my own personal experience in preparing for
and taking the December 2008 Level 1, June 2010 Level 2 and June 2012 Level 3 exams. There is no
assurance made that these tips will apply to future exams as the curriculum changes every year as well
as the prep provider materials. You are responsible for your own performance whether and how you
apply these tips to your personal situation.
Welcome to my own guide for passing the CFA exams and obtaining your CFA charter. As many who will
read this know, I have a blog where I document my studies for the CFA Exams located at
http://www.passanalystexams.com. I get a lot of inquiries on advice I have for fellow candidates. After
passing all 3 exams on the first try and now being a CFA© Charterholder, I thought it would be helpful to
collect some of what I feel are best practices in one place so that they may help someone down the
My name is James Morales, CFA. I'm 37 years old and I graduated from Columbia University in 1998 with
a BS in Computer Science and for the past 14 years have been working in a variety of Finance, Treasury
and IT functions. I started out as a SAP developer but eventually worked my way into more integration
work and eventually as a FI/CO functional consultant. What's that you ask? Well, I was basically sitting
right on the fence between the business and the IT department which allowed me to use both my
business acumen as well as the technical skills I have obtained over the years in configuring the
Finance/Controlling module of SAP, a leading ERP(Enterprise Resource Planning) system that many
Fortune 50 companies run their business on. I was basically a business analyst on steroids.
I decided to reinvent myself and transition into a new phase in my career so I pursued my MBA. Luckily I
was able to also transition into a Finance role doing some FP&A and some Treasury work. In December
2008 I graduated with my dual MBA/MS in Finance degree at Florida International University(FIU). Many
may be asking why I pursued the CFA given my IT background. Well, after spending 6 plus years at it I
realized that IT is a very limiting experience and while it pays very well(I was making over 6 figures and
could easily do so for the remainder of my career), I also know that there is not much room to grow. This
is especially true if you work in industry vs for a consulting company. Typically you will be part of a small
IT department and will not be asked nor expected to do more than what you currently do. Consulting is
better in that regard since you will typically hop around to different clients and different projects. The
downside to that is that it typically requires major travel which is something I'm not too big on,
especially since I have young boy girl twins that I cannot be away from too long.
With that little bit of background, I registered for the December 2008 Level 1 CFA exam. I used the
Stalla L1 prep course which started right after my degree program finished. After an intense 4 month
period of study, I passed the Level 1 exam rather easily. I took 2009 off to get my sanity back after 2 plus
years of studying and decided to go for Level 2 in June 2010. After 4 very hard months of preparation
and not feeling to confident of passing, I wound up with a passing score. After taking 2011 off, I decided
to take Level 3 in June 2012. I’m happy to report that I passed and as of October 2012 I am an official
CFA Charterholder! I went 3 for 3 on the exams which is a rare feat.
I don’t mention this to brag, but to give you an understanding of the foundation I had coming into my
CFA studies. None of the above makes me any smarter than anyone reading this, but I do feel that the
combination of an IT project management background combined with my financial analyst experience,
and my Master degrees definitely gave me a built in advantage when studying over the average
candidate. I also had the maturity and discipline to shut down my life for 4-6 months to focus on this
and have the maturity to maintain a consistent dedication towards the studies week after week while
balancing a family, a full time job and an outside life. I don’t think I could have done so at the age of 23
right out of school. Passing this exam for most people will involve managing time and effort almost as if
you were managing a project in a corporate setting. You need a structured plan that you can follow and
have the dedication to stick to. I think my background assisted me in handling that part of the challenge
Here are my results from the December 2008 Level 1 exam. All > 70% except for Ethics. This confirms
my thinking as I walked out of the exam that I completely destroyed it top to bottom.
Level 1: Pass
The table below illustrates your subject matter strengths and weaknesses. The three columns on the
right are marked with asterisks to indicate your performance on each question or topic area.
Multiple Choice Q# Topic Max Pts <=50% 51%-70% >70%
- Alternative Investments 8 - - *
- Corporate Finance 20 - - *
- Derivatives 12 - - *
- Economics 24 - - *
- Equity Investments 24 - - *
- Ethical & Professional Standards 36 - * -
- Financial Reporting & Analysis 48 - - *
- Fixed Income Investments 28 - - *
- Portfolio Management 12 - - *
- Quantitative Methods 28 - - *
Here are my results from the June 2010 Level 2 exam. THIS WAS THE HARDEST EXAM I EVER SAT FOR
BY A MILE. I walked out of there thinking I failed. I may have survived with some intelligent guessing or
maybe I was smarter than I gave myself credit for. This exam is no joke and given the 39% passing rate
that year, many others thought so as well.
Your results for the June 2010 Level II CFA exam are below. The pass rate for June 2010 Level II was 39%. If you
have questions or comments, please contact us.
Level II: Pass
The table below illustrates your subject matter strengths and weaknesses. The three columns on the right are
marked with asterisks to indicate your performance on each question or topic area.
Q# Topic Max Pts <=50% 51%-70% >70%
- Alternative Investments 18 * - -
- Corporate Finance 36 - - *
- Derivatives 36 - - *
- Economics 18 - * -
- Equity Investments 72 - - *
Ethical & Professional
- 36 - * -
- Financial Reporting & Analysis 72 - * -
- Fixed Income Investments 36 - * -
- Portfolio Management 18 - - *
- Quantitative Methods 18 - * -
Here are my Level 3 exam results. I walked out of this exam with a confidence level somewhere in
between how I felt walking out of Level 1 and Level 2. I was optimistic I passed but definitely would not
have bet the house on it.
Congratulations! We are very pleased to inform you that you passed the June 2012 Level III CFAexam. 52% of
candidates passed the June 2012 Level III CFA exam.
Now that you have passed Level III, you must be a regular member of CFA Institute to be eligible for the award
of the CFA charter. Log in now to verify your current membership status or complete the application process.
A summary of your exam results is provided below. The three columns on the right are marked with asterisks to
indicate your performance on each topic area.
Please contact us if you have questions or comments about the CFA Program.
Q# Topic Max Pts <=50% 51%-70% >70%
1 Portfolio Management - Individual 27 * - -
2 Portfolio Management - Individual 9 * - -
3 Portfolio Management - Execution 21 - * -
4 Portfolio Management - Individual 17 * - -
5 Economics 24 - - *
6 Portfolio Management - Institutional 34 - * -
7 Fixed Income Investments 23 - * -
8 Derivatives 13 - * -
9 Derivatives 12 * - -
Q# Topic Max Pts <=50% 51%-70% >70%
- Alternative Investments 18 - * -
- Equity Investments 18 - - *
- Ethical & Professional Standards 36 - - *
- Fixed Income Investments 18 * - -
- Portfolio Management 18 * - -
- Portfolio Management - Asset Allocation 18 - * -
- Portfolio Management - Individual 18 * - -
- Portfolio Management - Performance Eval. 18 - - *
- Portfolio Management - Risk Management 18 - - *
Level of Difficulty
My personal opinion on how hard each exam is from a material and actual exam perspective
Exam Curriculum Difficulty Exam Difficulty
Level 1 * *
Level 2 *** ***
Level 3 ** ***
**Second Highest Difficulty
I wrapped up my degree at the end of July 2008 and immediately began studying for the L1. This gave
me 4 months to prepare. I was not putting in 60-80 work weeks for Levels 1 and 2 which made it a bit
easier to prep but for Level 3 I was putting in serious hours. For Level 2 I started 4 and ½ months before
in February 2010. For Level 3 I started in January 2012.
Giving yourself enough time to study and review the material thoroughly is where candidates really
mess up. You must consider the following when deciding when to start and how much time you can
- Educational background – the CFA is a graduate level curriculum, not undergraduate. While
there are undergraduates who do pass, I think the rise in candidates who are still in school or
right out of school is why the passing rates have dropped.
- Work Life – if you work long hours and on weekends, you must account for this and start earlier.
Your need for a buffer will increase if you are putting in 60-70 hour weeks at work. Certain
people can study for 2 months and be fine, but you’re most likely not that person so don’t
chance it. Give yourself enough time and enough leeway especially if work gets really hectic one
- Personal Life – At the time I passed the Level 1 exam, I was a father of 2 year old twins. I had to
put them on hold for 4 months and the last month before the exam they never saw me. Know
your own situation and handle accordingly. Your love life will suffer, your social life will suffer,
your ability to even watch sports or TV shows will suffer. I didn’t exercise for 4 months. If you
cannot put these things on the backburner for at least 4 – 5 months, don’t even waste your time
- Innate Ability – the reality is finance is easier to some folks than others. Whether this is because
of innate talent or training via school or profession, know where you stand and be honest with
yourself. I acted as if I never saw this stuff before despite my background.
When to start:
1. If you have no prior knowledge of the material and you don't have some technical
background (Engineering, etc) or you work significantly long hours at work(>50-55 per
week with weekend work) – start 6 months before exam date. You want to finish your
first review of the material 2 months before.
2. If you have a solid knowledge of the material. I.e., you have seen statistics, economics, and
either accounting or finance in school or at work. Allow yourself 5 months. You want to
finish your first review of the material at least a month and a half before.
3. If you have a commanding knowledge of the material. You may have studied for and
already taken level 1 and you are taking it again or you have an MBA in Finance or an MS
in Finance. You also have a light work schedule or don’t work at all. Allow yourself 4
months. You want to finish your first review of the material at least a month before.
Don’t get too hung up on this. Any schedule you may come up with is bound to be broken. Stick to broad
goals and benchmarks you can realistically achieve on a weekly basis. You’ll slip up from time to time,
work may be extra hectic one week, you may have unexpected personal demands on another. These are
inevitable and unavoidable. By starting early enough and putting in consistent quality time over that
period you’ll be able to smooth the normal ups and downs in studying intensity you’ll go thru. Some
people are too focused on this upfront, only after a few months do they realize it was futile to even try
to stick to a schedule and really not needed. The key is consistency.
I had my live class for Level 1 on Thursday. It was my goal to have the following done by the time of the
o Completely read the section being covered in class using some combination of the
Stalla, Schweser and/or CFAI readings
o Answer as many PassMaster/Qbank questions before the live class.
This would allow the live class to be a recap of what I just read, I could hone in on key topics, understand
better what was being presented. Make it a goal to use weekends to drill drill drill vs read read read.
You won’t always achieve this, but shoot for it as a goal. Other than the broad goals I outlined above, I
didn’t really have a study plan. I did follow the Stalla schedule which I reproduce below, follow at your
own discretion(from June 2009 class, ignore dates and focus on class #):
For Levels 2 and 3 I just tried to get thru a Study Session a week. Some are shorter and easier and some
are longer and harder. It’ll all work itself out if you just stay consistent and try to bang out a consistent
10-20 hours per week.
General tips during your initial reading of the material:
- For Level 1:Go in the order of the material. Ethics should always be first as you must master this
section inside and out if you want to pass. Do not start on FSA, you’ll forget everything if you
begin with it 4-5 months later. It being in the middle is the best place, trust me.
- For Level 2 and 3 : You can start with another section outside of Ethics and leave it for the end.
Much of this material at these Levels will be new to you so best to get after it early. Ethics is the
same in Levels 2 and 3, only the item set format changes but you can easily pick that up towards
- Note taking – this is entirely up to you. I started off doing it for some of the earlier sections but
eventually saw it was taking way too long to type notes into Word and in the end I’ve never
been huge on notes. Again, this is purely a personal call as to whether it will benefit you, just
realize it takes time away from quizzing which may provide more added value per second
- Take progress tests every 3 weeks on the material you’ve covered so far. The first one will be
quick but by the end you should have worked up to an entire single session(120 questions) mock
exam. This will help build your stamina for that last month as well as help you retain the earlier
material. This is the only thing I did not stick to. While it didn’t hurt me, it made my review
period that much more essential. T
- Use the CFAI material sparingly for Level 1 BUT PRIMARILY FOR LEVELS 2 AND 3.
o Level 1 - It is way too verbose in places and most of the material comes from college
textbooks which do not lend themselves to picking up the material fast. Just make sure
you try to go thru the questions at the end of each section and definitely do the
examples from previous exams. Schweser and other prep providers do a great job of
distilling this down into a more efficient format.
o Levels 2 and 3 – The extra level of comprehension required for these Levels demands
you understand how CFAI structures the material and how they test for knowledge. You
can only get that via the curriculum in my opinion. It will take extra time to read thru
these long texts but it’s worth the effort and you’re much less likely to be surprised
come exam day. You’ll start to see patterns emerge and can start guessing how they can
twist up a question to see if you really know it or can just apply ONLY what you see in
- Do not try to memorize formulas, learn what they do and are used for. It makes it easier to
recall them on questions and will also help you answer theory questions around the formulas
which are more likely to be asked vs pure plug and chug.
- Use YouTube. There are plenty of videos on the Level 1 topics. I used YouTube to explain
concepts from elasticity to calculating spot rates and forward rates. This helped crystallize the
material in my mind. Use the Internet as your best friend to look up explanations on topics you
may not be sure about. Wikipedia, Investopedia, etc were also great resources. Use your
resources, and don’t be afraid to go outside the CFAI/prep provider explanation of concepts if it
helps you learn the material.
- PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop trying to figure out what sections to study harder than others. I
get this question way too often. For Level 3, this is a complete waste of energy since all of the
material is lumped into Portfolio Management and combined in certain places so trying to figure
out how much of Fixed Income is going to be on the exam is fruitless. You know the breakdown
by section. You know Ethics and FSA are the big ones in Level 1. You know AI is the smallest one.
If that doesn’t tell you what you need to focus your studies on, nothing else will. Attempting to
figure out what can be studied least or that you can skip is a sure way to fail the exam. The
weights of each section are all the guidance you need on this.
The Month Before
This is the period that will separate the men from the boys. You’ve completed the readings at this point,
have been taking progress tests and now you’re ready to see where you stand. This period is painful, I
liken it to the last couple of reps you do when lifting weights. Unless you put in hard work at this point,
the earlier work won’t achieve much. You want to push yourself really hard during this period so the
actual exam is a walk in the park compared to what you’ve been doing.
- Take one 3 hr mock exam at the beginning of this period from one of the prep providers. Don’t
try to do a full review of the material beforehand, just take the test. You’ll probably bomb it so
shoot for a goal of 50-60%. If you do better than this, you’re golden but for most of us, 50-60%
should be reasonable if you’ve been studying consistently. The goal is to simply see where you
stand without having done a thorough second review of the material. Review the results of this
thoroughly. See what questions you got wrong just barely and ones you were completely
clueless on. This should give you a gauge of how much review work you need to do. Grade it by
topic so you know where to focus.
- You want to shoot for at least 10 timed 3hr mock exams during this month. That’s right, ten.
Make sure at least 2-3 of those are the actual CFAI mock exams and the free sample. The
Schweser and Stalla mocks were critical to my passing. They were more difficult than the real
thing and the way they are structured ensures you learn the material while being quizzed on it.
You want to review both your right AND your wrong answers to help reinforce the material. I
did this 3 times for each mock I wrote and it really does take the place of re-reading the notes
again. Remember, this last month is to get you in the mode of passing an exam and hopefully
also master the material. It does you no good if you understand the notes version of a LOS but
can’t answer actual exam questions on it. It’s important to start noticing the patterns that
questions can form around a LOS. There’s only so many ways you can ask a hypothesis test
question. Once you’ve seen most of them it’s easier to answer them going forward. Start
thinking through the wrong answers as well and know why they’re wrong. I tried to make it a
goal to not only get the question right but answer why the others were wrong without looking
up the answers. Only once I could do that consistently did I mark a question done for review.
This is when you know you’re in good shape for the exam. This is your goal for this period to
reach this point. This indicates you are truly “getting” the material, not just memorizing
concepts and definitions.
- Another trick I used was to give myself 2 grades. One “real” grade that simply measured the # of
right vs wrong just ilke the exam. I also wanted to test my ability to eliminate the wrong answers
as I mention above so if I got an answer wrong but could eliminate at least 2 choices and the
answer was within the 2 I had left to choose from, I marked it as “correct”. My purpose here
was to see how close I was to getting answers correct. I found it helpful and a confidence
booster to see that although I may have scored a 65% on one mock for example, the 2 nd grade
was closer to 85% which meant I was right there. Following this approach will help you not
panic when you can’t break 70 on a mock exam. As you’ll see later on, the mocks are usually
harder than the real thing.
- If you can, stay at work to study. You don’t want to waste time commuting and then trying to
get up to study once you walk in your house and see the couch. Stay at work, find a quiet corner
or conference room(should be all empty after 5pm) and give a solid 3 hours of taking a mock or
reviewing the study notes and Secret Sauce. Go home after. Traffic will be lighter and you’ll be
done for the night and can watch TV or catch up on other areas of your life. Treat it as an
extension of your work day not a separate piece of your life.
- Schweser’s Secret Sauce is an essential tool during this period. Read it front to back and bring a
copy with you everywhere so you can read it. Annotate it with notes and mark down areas
where you need another review of the notes so you know where to target your reviewing, You
shouldn’t need to review all parts of the curriculum evenly, some you will know better than
others. Focus your efforts on the areas you’re weak in. You should review Ethics and FSA front
to back however. These are too big to be even average in, you increase your chances if you can
master these two.
- Take every opportunity to study material during this time. At work, take breaks every hour or so
to look over a formula sheet or notes on topics you still need to get strong in.
- Try to space out the mocks during the entire review period but take the last mock exam the
Thursday before the real thing. Make sure to review it top to bottom then take the remaining
time to read the Standards of Professional Conduct again and review formulas. Use the Friday
before to wind down a little, it’s fine if you want to review some basics again but do not do any
heavy lifting on this day, it’s important to be well rested mentally for exam day. I spent this day
reviewing the mock exams once again but that was it.
- If you can, take the week before the test off. You can cover a lot with pure quizzing and studying
at this point.
- For Level 3 – it’s hard to practice the essay portion of the exam since you will be grading it
yourself and you can’t honestly judge how another human is going to grade your work. Just
because you think you were close enough doesn’t mean someone else will. Your goal for the
mock essay questions is to make sure you can throw something down for each question and try
your best to honestly grade yourself, with a bias towards less points.
Exam Day – It’s Gametime!!
OK, you’ve spent all this time busting your tail to prepare for this exam. Now it’s the night before.
You’ve done all the studying and reviewing you can do at this point. Now’s the time to get yourself
mentally prepared for a day long test that you’ve been busting your tail to conquer. Everyone is
different when it comes to test taking skills so some of these tips may not be relevant to you. I’ve
highlighted specific tips for the Level 2 and 3 exams since they’re different formats from the Level 1
- Make sure you get a good night’s rest. Be in bed by 10pm the night before, with your clothes
ironed and you showered already. You want the morning to be all about eating a good breakfast
and getting mentally prepared. You also need the extra time to find parking or deal with traffic.
Give yourself a buffer to work with by prepping the night before.
- Dress good. I heard this from Deion Sanders(ex-NFL football player) and it rings true. “If you look
good, you feel good, if you feel good, you perform good, if you perform good, they pay good.“
Truer words have never been spoken. I’m not saying throw on a suit but don’t go looking like
you just climbed out of bed. Plenty of test takers did just this at my test center. I went in
business casual clothes as if it was a workday for me.
- Watch some motivational video. I always get hyped up whenever I watch the Rocky movies,
especially the training scenes. I link to them on the blog. Sounds cheesy but it helped me get
into the right mindset before walking out the door. Seeing Rocky train his butt off before the big
fight was a metaphor for what I was doing and it gave me a rush of adrenaline I’m convinced
help me rock the exam. I also looked at a picture of my kids the moment before I walked in the
exam room. Helped ground me as to what I was really doing this for. Find your own motivational
tools and use them before the exam.
- BRING LUNCH – do not waste a single minute during the hour break you get trying to find lunch
or battle crowds. I brought a sandwich I made, an apple, a powerbar and a bottle of water. I ate
in my car and reviewed material that was not on the morning exam. I’ll go into more detail on
my lunch routine later but do not waste this hour. Some people say take the hour to rest your
brain but I think that’s nonsense. You’ve spent four-six months preparing for this moment,
you’ve sacrificed your life, health and maybe a relationship or two and you’re going to try and
get an hour of rest right in the middle of the real thing? You wouldn’t do that if you were an
Olympic athlete and you shouldn’t here.
- SKIP COFFEE – if you got a good night’s rest you won’t need it. Eat a protein bar if you feel you
may run low on energy. Coffee will only amplify your nerves which you do not need come
- BRING TWO CALCULATORS. No matter what version(HP or TI) I strongly recommend bringing
two calculators to the exam. First off, you’ll have a backup in case one dies. Secondly, I found
having two during the exam helped me tremendously when performing multiple step
calculations. I could do one part of the calculation in one calculator then copy the value for the
next step in the calculation. This can help during annuity problems where if you make a mistake
on the 2nd part, you have to go back and recalculate the first step again. It also helped me
“reset” myself when I was going off the deep end on a calculation, which I am very prone to do
during a test. I typically blow thru exams fast and at times I can go overboard with a problem. I
would simply start over on the 2nd calculator and it had a certain calming effect on me. I know
this involves extra cost but if you can afford it, I recommend it.
- Bring mechanical pencils and a pen. I saw people with the old school pencils and sharpeners and
all I could do was laugh to myself. If you’re like me, you’re writing a ton on the exam book to
help yourself think thru a problem so you’ll go thru plenty of lead. Why waste any time
sharpening pencils when you can click once or twice? For Level 3, the essay portion has to be
done in pen. You can cross out all you want draw arrows all over the place, as long as it’s a
logical picture of the solution to the problem you’ll be ok. Feel free to bring erasable pens if you
want but not necessary. You’ll have plenty of space to write.
- Don’t speak to anyone before the test or during the break if you can avoid it. Your focus must be
laser-like at this point. I saw people chatting with their buddies, on the cell phone, playing PSP,
etc. Maybe that works for people but I don’t think you should have your mind on anything but
what you’re about to undertake.
- It can be a little frustrating waiting in the room while they go through the motions before the
exam starts. Use this time to start solidifying what your approach will be to tackling the exam.
- Go in the order of the test. I heard the advice to start on your strong section but on almost every
mock exam I took, I always began with Ethics. I did the same on the real thing. This isn’t a hard
and fast rule, it’ll just ensure you cover everything in an orderly fashion vs jumping back and
- LEVEL 2 and 3 – When answering questions from an item set, you will notice that the questions
follow the order of the reading itself. Depending on the item set, I would break it into chunks
and tackle questions one by one. During your prep you should have already figured out what
works best for you. Some may prefer reading everything while others like my piecemeal
- LEVEL 2 and 3 - As always, CFAI is GREAT at giving you just enough information to make you
think you may be leaving something out or question if the answer was really that easy. They also
have a habit of taking a problem YOU JUST KNOW HOW TO SOLVE inside and out and giving it a
slight twist so you spend 15 minutes BECAUSE YOU JUST CANNOT GET THIS ONE WRONG.
Watch out for these. These are the questions that sink candidates. If you have to guess do so
and move on. Each item set question is 3 points, there’s no extra credit given because you
answered a tough one correctly but had no time left to answer the easier ones.
- Fill in your answers as you go along even if you’re not sure of an answer. Circle the answer on
the sheet as well so when you review it you can start with verifying your initial answer is the
correct one. Scratch out the wrong answers on the exam book. All of this is to help you do a
quick review of the exam. Once you are confident in an answer, check it off next to the # in the
book. This will help you on your 2nd or 3rd pass thru as you can skip those questions and save the
time to work on the harder ones you previously may have guessed on. There were questions I
spent a second on and ones that got 5 minutes.
- Do not look up and around the room, they will think you’re cheating. I always looked straight up
and down whenever I needed to rest my eyes for a second.
- If you finish early, go over your exam as much as you can. On Level 1 I did 3 complete passes on
both sessions. For Level 2 and 3 I had time to do two. I caught dumb errors, rethought thru a
few problems and changed my answers but it also just increased my confidence when I’m able
to double and triple check myself. If for no other reason, you’ll feel more confident about how
you did and it’ll make the month plus you have to wait for the results that much easier to deal
with. I felt I gave it my best effort and performed my due diligence by checking over my
answers. Your goal should be to be done with 1st pass in under 2 hours giving you a whole other
hour for review.
- LUNCH ROUTINE - This is where I’m sure I’ll have people disagreeing with me but it worked for
me. As I mentioned before, bring your own lunch and go back to your car to eat it. While you’re
doing this, recall what topics on the morning session were NOT tested and use the Schweser
Secret Sauce and whatever formula sheet you have to study up on those topics during lunch.
You will read plenty of advice saying you can’t learn anything new at this point or that you may
get more nervous because you’ll find out you answered a question in the morning incorrectly
based on something you read at lunchtime. I disagree. I did discover that I had answered a few
wrong while reviewing but I also saw that I got some right that I was unsure about, so it was a
wash overall. However, the ability to focus on material that hadn’t been tested but most likely
would in the PM was crucial to how badly I dominated the afternoon session. There was one
stretch where I must have answered 20 questions in about 2 minutes and a good chunk of those
were from things I had just read or reviewed during lunch!!! It was surreal how much in a zone I
was during that period. So use this period to refresh yourselves on key areas you felt weak or
unsure about that were not on the morning exam. I think it will help you a lot.
- In the afternoon, try to find peace in knowing that in less than 3 hours, this ordeal is over. Once I
saw how close the finish line was I was determined to sprint my way to the end. I found the
afternoon session easier than the morning, which was a surprise. If you get frantic in the
afternoon because you think you’re borderline, you’ll increase your chances of panicking and
It’s Over – What Next?
No matter what Level you take, if you’re like me, finishing the exam will feel like you just stepped on the
floor after being on the treadmill for 2 hours. You won’t know what to do with yourself. Definitely take
the night of the exam and indulge yourself in whatever makes you happy. Reflect on how good it feels to
be done with such a huge challenge. Be proud of yourself for even trying. No matter what happens you
should feel good that you tried to face down this monster.
You’ll have to wait almost 2 months for the results so now’s the time to take some well deserved time
off and start reflecting on what your next move will be. Many will be tempted to go straight for the next
Level without even knowing if they passed the current Level. Whatever you decide to do, do yourself a
favor and take a break from all of this studying and enjoy your life and whatever else you put on hold.
You deserve it and so do your friends and family.
Applying for Charter
OK, you finished Level 3 and you received the absolutely awesome news that you passed and are now
eligible to apply for the CFA Charter which was your goal all along. My guide will be from someone
submitting an application for the first time. Some candidates get their work experience approved in
advance of passing the exam so that they can easily get the charter. I waited until I was finished with
Here’s the quick guide to the steps you need to take:
1) Finish application and document only the work experience that meets the CFAI guidelines for
eligible work experience. Don’t put anything that’s not close to qualifying. Your complete work
history is not needed only stuff that adds up to 48 months. See this page for guidance and take
2) Line up your references. Do this early, my application was delayed a month by having to chase
down former managers and colleagues for references. You need either 1 CFA Charterholder or 3
references, preferably from supervisors. I had 5 lined up to give myself some cushion.
3) Choose a local society.
4) Submit application and wait. It can take up to two months for final approval between the CFAI
and your local society. If you have a relationship with the local membership coordinator, this can
speed up the process a bit.
Work Experience Guidelines
Some general tips for documenting your work experience. My qualified work experience was solely as a
Corporate Finance Analyst or consultant with some IT sprinkled in there. This may be easier for some
and harder for others but these general tips should help.
1) Use key terms from CFA curriculum. Show how what you learned you use in your daily jobs.
You can go directly to the text and the LOS’s to come up with ideas on how to frame your work.
Use terms and phrasing from the text vs trying to be creative. Don’t lie of course but make the
connection between what you do and what the curriculum teaches. If this is too hard for you,
you probably don’t have the right type of experience.
2) Show how your work contributed to the investment decision making process. You don’t need
to directly make investments or decisions but show how your work was used in that process by
3) If you’re in IT or have some IT component of your job, make sure you demonstrate how the
platform/application was used to make investments or present information to decision makers.
Name the decision makers(Treasurer, CFO, VP of Finance, etc)
4) Follow the “this is what I did, this is who it helped, this is the type of investment(from CFA
curriculum) that my work product added value to” model.
I had all 71 months of eligible experience approved with no issues using this approach. For those with
similar backgrounds as me, please reach out to me via email below if you need some advice on how to
frame your experience.
I hope this document helps someone who is preparing for the CFA exams and those ready to apply for
their charter. Remember to tailor my tips to your own work habits and ethics and you will be well on
your way to your own CFA exam success and eventual approval to be a charterholder!!! I can be reached
at email@example.com with any questions regarding the exams, applying for your Charter or this
document. Best of luck and I hope to have you join me as a CFA Charterholder in the near future!!
Schweser vs Stalla
NOTE: In 2011 Kaplan(owner of Schweser) acquired Stalla. It is unknown at the time of this writing
how Stalla will be incorporated into the Schweser suite of products. Everything written below is based
on my personal experience with the pre-2011 material for Level’s 1 and 2.
The million dollar question every candidate who decides to use a prep provider asks. I used both during
my preparation so I feel confident I can speak on which one is “better”. I personally signed up for the
Stalla Enhanced System w/ the Live Class. This is the course that comes with the full live classes for 16
weeks, all the videos, the study notes and lecture notes, the flashcards, mock exams(6 in total) and one
live mock exam taken either in a simulated setting or on CD-ROM. I also used the following Schweser
materials I was able to obtain.
- Study Notes
- Mock Exams
- Secret Sauce
The quick answer to which one is better is simple: NEITHER ONE IS BETTER
This really is like choosing between a BMW and a Mercedes(and I’ve owned both). No matter which one
you go with, you’re getting a quality product that is more than sufficient to get you to where you want
to go. However, as with that choice, your own personal preferences come into play. With cars, I love to
drive sticks, and Mercedes doesn’t offer any model in stick shift so that solves that. I personally went
with the Stalla course first because I got a nice discount thru my local CFA society and because they held
live classes in Miami. I liked the ability to lock myself in a room and focus for at least 3-4 hard hours a
week including the ability to ask questions of a professor which is what the class provided for me. It also
provided some networking opportunities with fellow candidates. I recommend it for that reason alone.
Each provider has areas where it’s better than the other so let me give my opinions on that. Based on
how you feel you should prepare, these opinions may sway you one way or the other.
- Video Lectures – Stalla hands down is better. Peter Olinto and David Hetherington are
awesome instructors, especially Peter. He’s worth the price of the program alone, seriously.
Schweser’s instructors and videos are ok, but I just didn’t get the level of involvement as I did
with Stalla’s. Schweser was more of a college professor style of teaching while Stalla was more
of a personal tutor style. You want the personal tutor.
- Quizzing Software – Stalla has PassMaster and Schweser has Qbank. It’s ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL
that you use at least one of these if not both. Folks have passed the exam using only the
material from the back of the CFAI readings but most will fail using only those. For my money if
I had to choose just one, I’d go with Qbank over PassMaster. While the quality of questions in
both are comparable, QBank was a little more flexible when it came to how to setup your
quizzes. PassMaster kind of locked you into answering questions with no input to level of
difficulty, # of questions, etc. I used both extensively however. One thing that PassMaster does
that QBank doesn’t is give explanation as to why answers are wrong. Helpful to gain true
mastery over the material
- Study Notes – Both are the same. You’ll be just fine if you use either. I used both, Stalla was my
main resource but in areas where I wanted to touch up, I used Schweser and/or CFAI readings.
Stalla has questions at the end of each section that are also repeated in the PassMaster
software. Schweser has concept checkers and self tests at the end which I do not think were
repeated in Qbank. Both were helpful to me.
- Flashcards – Stalla’s come preprinted with notes for each LOS. Schweser’s come with the LOS
printed out but no notes so that you can take your own. Personally, I did not see much benefit
from flashcards at all, they take too long to fill up. I would not use either nor spend money on
them unless you have used them in the past and they work for you
- Mock Exams – GET BOTH AND TAKE AS MANY AS YOU CAN. I’ll go into the whole mock exam
thing later on but you need to use the mock exams from both Stalla and Schweser. Essential
material. I did not take the live mock exam, I did it on CD-ROM at home but I heard it’s very
beneficial for those that did it live. The mocks separate the men from the boys, it’s essential you
take as many as you can no matter the source. If your local CFA society gives free live mock
exams take those as well. My first mock was a live one with no prep.
- Secret Sauce – this is the only area where Schweser runs away from Stalla. Secret Sauce is a
condensed summary(~200 pages) of the entire curriculum and tries to focus on the core
material you must know to have any chance of passing. I used it extensively during the month
before the exam. Stalla does not offer anything similar.
- MP3’s – Schweser only offers these and they are great to listen to in the car on the way to work
or while on the treadmill. Not essential but definitely helpful.
Conclusion – both are more than sufficient to prepare you well enough to pass if you put in the effort.
My own personal recommendation is to choose Stalla for the videos and study notes and pay to get
Qbank and Secret Sauce from Schweser. The MP3’s are a nice bonus.
For Levels 2 and 3, I would go with the CFAI material strictly and use Schweser to supplement when
necessary. I mean this!!! While Schweser/Stalla is good enough for Level 1, Levels 2 and 3 require an
extra level of comprehension and synthesis that the study guides just won’t give you. My unscientific
sampling of people after the exam and on the boards seemed to backup my conclusion that those who
used the curriculum alone thought the test was relatively easy while those who used the study guides