20 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Taking The CFA Exam

exam stress

Photo: YouTube/In Betweeners

6 years ago, I signed up for my CFA Level I as a sprightly, wide-eyed innocent.I wish at the time I had someone who’d gone through everything to point out the potholes of the journey I’m on. For example, warning me about the difficulty of Level II would have saved me a lot of trouble!

Here are 20 things I didn’t know before I went through the CFA exams. Some are funny and inconsequential, some are serious and important to know.


  1. It’s tough as nails. Yeah, OK, I know, it’s generally known that it’s tough. But I didn’t know that it’s never-seen-before-and-by-the-way-you-could-definitely-fail tough.
  2. That I’d have no weekends for the 6 months preceding every exam. That’s at least 18 months of no weekends, or 153 holidays’ worth of time. Gone.
  3. That people will start saying silly crap to me like ‘oh, you’ll be fine’ that will bug the hell out of me.
  4. I will be familiar with cafes nearby my home, all populated with similarly haggard professional-types probably also studying for the CFA exams.
  5. I will develop a sudden paranoia of calculators running out of batteries, even though that has never happened to anyone I’ve heard of.
  6. That the low CFA passing rate does NOT include people who didn’t show up.
  7. That I would not have the willpower to study on weekdays. The combination of the long day at work plus CFA is just a bit too much for me personally.
  8. That the CFA Institute material is dry as hell. Disclaimer: I find it much better now, but it was very difficult to digest when I was taking it as a candidate.
  9. That the key is to practice the hell out of the mock & practice exams. And that the CFA Institute includes a free mock for each candidate, and it’s one of the best resources at your disposal. Yeah, I didn’t know that until Level II.
  10. That it’s not necessarily a silver bullet for my dreams of career world domination. It helps, but it’s definitely not the answer to everything as many candidates think/hope it would be.

Click here for 10 more things to know about taking the CFA exam>

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