How to Cram for the CFA L3 Exam

“How did it get so late so soon?” –Dr. Seuss

We're now 30 days away from the exam. 30 days can be a lot of time. Or it can be incredibly short. But whether it feels long or short to you, the fact is it is officially crunch time.

If we use the convention that the average successful candidate's study requirement is 300 hours, I think an ambitious yet reasonable target is to backload 25-30% of that time over the final 30 days.

That means we should make around 100 hours of study time this month your baseline goal. 100 hours. That's your minimum acceptable baseline. That's a lot of time to put in, and you need to be comfortable with that fact.

Step 1 - Get your mind in the game

So let's accept that this month is not going to be easy. In fact it will be very very hard. You will give many other things up. But you've been here before. You know how to do this. And the end is in sight now. It will all be worth your sacrifice.

A lot of study providers stress staying balanced. In theory, yes this is good advice. You need to get sleep. You should try to work out and eat well. Doing those things will help you prepare better. But balance is also overrated. Accept that the balance you achieve for the next 30 days will be different than the rhythm of normal life.

So kiss your significant other/hobby/balance goodbye for the next 30 days, embrace the pain and the challenge, and let's get to work.

Step 2 - Don't waste time on things that don't matter

You've had months to go through the curriculum "at your leisure." If you did that congratulations. You have a good base understanding of the curriculum and you've seen and processed a lot of information. You're in a good place. The key now is to accelerate your momentum and not rest on your laurels.

If you fell behind that's (probably) OK too. You still have time. You can make up a lot of ground in 30 days if you're motivated and disciplined. But you need to accept that your knowledge won't be perfect. You might have gaps here and there. Just remember, a minimum acceptable passing score is probably around 70%. Perfection is not our goal.

Step 2b – Spend your Time Effectively

So what do you focus on? And equally important, what don't you focus on?

Basic principles:

  • Nothing beats practice problems
  • Reading the full curriculum is probably a waste of time at this point. This might not apply for Ethics and any specific readings you really struggle with.
  • Notecards are extremely helpful to memorize lists of pro/cons etc
  • We think summary notes are an awesome cram compliment (and of course we think ours are the best out there because they chunk material and walk you through likely testing scenarios)
  • Repetition is your friend. This applies for reading material, notecards, and even practice problems. In fact, we've long advocated circling and re-doing important or difficult problems more than once, even if you vaguely still remember the answer.

Step 3 - Steal Time

In CFA studying, as in economics, what happens on the margin matters A LOT. Over the next 30 days you will have strange pockets of time that feel like down time, but should in fact be study time. In fact, we recommend you go out of your way to manufacture more of this time. Note, when you do have these bits of time capitalize on them by using notecards and/or summary notes.

  • Commuting. Let's say getting to and from work takes an hour. That's study time +20 hours
  • Bathroom trips - At the risk of being crude, let's say 20 minutes/day x 30 days = +10 hours
  • Standing in line at stores/coffeeshops, just general waiting... +15 minutes/day = +7.5 hours
  • 2-3 extra "walks" while at work +30 minutes/day, for 20 work days = 10 hours

Those ideas alone got us almost 50% of the way to your 100 hours this month…without setting aside any dedicated blocks of time. Marginal study time is powerful. Aside from the extra time what else makes this approach so effective?

  • It's easier to get or stay motivated if you know the period of time is finite
  • It stimulates small discrete information processing which aids memory retention despite the fact that it's all happening in a condensed period of time
  • You can cover and recover material in cram guides or notecards without getting bored
  • It keeps your long marathon study times focused more on problems and less on covering material

The 4 Week CFA L3 Study Plan

Obviously the below is just a guide. But it’s a guide that has proven effective for dozens of candidates. Use it and modify it however best suits your goals.

T minus 4 Weeks

  • Use your manufactured/commuting time to start reading review notes
  • Start redoing end of chapter questions you have struggled with and re-reading the entire summary notes. Try to get through 25% of the study sessions
  • Re-do all questions you got wrong from both your previous Morning Exams. Glance over those you got right too. (Haven't done a mock exam? It's time)
  • Look over and re-do the End of Chapter Questions you got wrong the second time through
  • Review the notecards you struggle with at least 2-3 times. Further refine this pile. Start making notecards with walk-throughs of specific types of problems (don't have notecards? copy or cut out the tables and check lists from our summary notes as a shortcut)
  • Complete another full mock exam

T Minus 3 Weeks

  • Continue to read and reread the review notes
  • Review all incorrect questions from all mock exams you've completed
  • Re-do the EOC chapter questions for another 25% of the study sessions (if you can push this further that's even better)
  • Complete two new MORNING mock exams
  • Review any areas of weakness. Keep this specific. Are you weak in an entire subject matter or just in solving one particular type of problem? Make sure your notecards are very strong for these areas
  • Start refining your notecards into piles based on difficulty or importance

T Minus 2 Weeks

  • Reread the ethics guide during your commuting/manufactured time
  • Start getting through 25-50 notecards per day
  • Finish the EOC questions and redo all of the ones you've gotten wrong so far
  • Redo the mock exam problems you've struggled with
  • Take a full mock exam

T Minus 1 Week

Ideally you can take this entire week off from your day job. Or 2-3 days of it at least.

Think about it this way: sacrificing these vacation days could give you 40+ extra hours of study time. And while cramming isn't the most optimal way to learn, layering extra cramming sessions on top of all the groundwork you've done to this point will GREATLY increase your odds of passing.

This week you should have only 2 goals.

  1. Review your note cards and cram notes every free minute you can have
  2. Complete as many mock exams as you can while still being able to carefully review the answers (you can prioritize AM or PM mocks if you need too). Again, it can also be really helpful to re-do the mock exam problems you've had issues with in the past. This may feel redundant but it can actually be even more useful than seeing new problems.

The night before

Some people say rest and get your mind off of the exam. Others say to cram as much as possible. You’ve passed two exams already so you know what you need to do to come in fresh.

Hope that this helps. Remember, while you shouldn't expect to have much of a balanced life this month you should stay well rested, hydrated, and healthy as much as you can.

For maximizing your efficiency in covering material again and staying familiar with how it will be tested we can't recommend our study notes enough. We give you a LOT--mock exams, a mobile study app, a cram guide, equation sheet, and of course highly condensed notes. Check out the products. You can also sign up for our emails and get more great tips and tricks in your inbox as we get closer.