Tactical time management tips for the CFA Level 3 exam
Time management is the achilles heel of many a CFA Level 3 Candidate.
In my L3 class there is at least one, and usually more, Band 10 re-takers who left 6+ points blank on the morning section of the exam (that's almost 2% of total points).
Leaving a question blank isn't about knowing the material. It is the worst kind of failure, because it has nothing to do with how many hours you spent staring at the curriculum. I mean, you don't even know if you left something blank you could have filled out in five seconds because you spent too long on a difficult problem you were unsure of elsewhere.
This is a rookie mistake. It's also the most common reason prepared Candidates fail the first time.
How to tell if you have a CFA exam time management issue
Here is an email I received in mid-May from a diligent student in the morning exam class. She wrote:
"I did 2 AM exams back-to-back in two days as a three hour exam, and we covered most of those questions in Tests you have made.
Sitting 3 hours together for AM was CRAZZY! First I couldn't complete it (at least 30 mins more were needed :(, return calculations were no time to even understand and do (though I do both IPS questions last one hour) and most importantly I was breathless by the time I finish a question and switch b/w questions."
She goes on:
"Is that normal how AM is? I couldn't get more 45% in those. Ydays' mock i took full length. How must i handle this to get that feeling how you wrote in one of the emails "walking into L3 knowing that I will pass? I know very well I had that feeling when I went for L1 and L2 and when I walked out of it, I knew I nailed them. I want to feel the same for L3 too when I sit for it. How to do?"
My heart drops a little bit when I read an email like this. Because let me tell you, it isn't good.
If you can't manage your time, you will fail. If you leave significant problems blank, you will fail.
Most Candidates have a time management problem. It's just not as obvious as the one that wrote me that email.
So you need to practice test tactics to increase your speed.
This is especially true for re-takers like my student and it is especially true for many L3 Candidates where English is not their native language.
Three CFA Level 3 Tactics for Time Management
1) Start TIMING yourself on every problem or even SUB SECTION of problem.
If it is a 4 point problem, set a stop watch and only let yourself write for 4 minutes. STOP when the timer goes off. Evaluate what you have written. Is it enough? Did you use detail from passages or the relevant key words/trigger words graders are trained to look for? Keep in mind that spending this much time is actually OVERSTATING how long you have because those 4 minutes also include READING the passage.
Why is this effective? Most L3 Candidates, even those who are well-prepared, find that time flies in the AM. Prepare for this challenge by training specifically for it.
Following a strict stop-watch protocol will TRAIN you for speed. You can move faster. You can learn to write in bullets. You can get into the test-takers heads to anticipate what they want to see. You can memorize basic structures that are efficient but also showcase your work for many types of problems: compare/contrast, picking a suitable portfolio where you must talk also about why those elimianted are unsuitable, IPS calculation questions, duration adjustment calculations and on and on and on.
2) When you do mocks or more full length exams SKIP AROUND
If you feel yourself slowing down, or better still, if you look at a problem and don't immediately know how to get started SKIP it until later. It is a classic CFA L3 candidate mistake to leave some questions blank. This is a CARDINAL SIN. DO NOT DO THIS. Do not feel that just because you answered Part A and B of a question that you cannot skip Part C or D. Often times you are onto new material that there is not much need to review details from A/B to solve later.
Why is this effective? This strategy works for two reasons. One, it liberates you to attack the test YOUR way. For example, when you sit down on exam day you will likely be nervous, jittery. Maybe you didn't sleep perfectly. So flip to a problem that is easy and get the juices flowing, prime yourself with an easy win. You can continue this strategy to pick off the easy stuff in the beginning. This locks in points and probably gives you a more accurate read on the time you have to devote to the harder stuff.
The second reason this strategy works is because it lets your sub-conscious worry on a problem. Things that seemed obscure or confusing might work themselves out in your head as you are working on something else. Or perhaps just returning to a problem with fresh eyes will cause you to see the "trick" to the problem that you missed before. Just one word of warning when you employ this tactic, WRITE DOWN the problems you skipped AND the problems you want to go back to. Use that scratch paper.
3) Win Every Problem, but if you're going to lose, lose fast
This is really a sub-set of #1. You see, every problem on the CFA has an assigned time value to it. This is the number of points it is worth. A 5 point question should get much more detail/depth and show much more work than a 2 point identification problem. Your sole job on each problem is to "earn a pass". You need 70% on every problem. And you need to do it in the time alloted. Get that and it's a win, move on. Get more and you can bank points for those problems you miss (and there will be 1-2). Speaking of misses, if you KNOW you aren't getting a problem right, save time, make a guess and move on. If you have more time at the end you can circle back to the problem.
So there you have it. Three battle-tested time management techniques for the CFA Level 3 exam, with a particular focus on how to navigate the morning section.