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The 4 types of CFA Candidates



Every year I work with hundreds of CFA Candidates to pass the CFA exam. While each of you have specific challenges you also tend to share similarities with many others.  

Because really, no matter which level you are studying for, at this point the chances are you fall into one of just four categories.

You are either in the:

  • “Oh Shit” Bucket
  • The “Time to start studying” bucket
  • The “Stressed but studying” bucket
  • Or the “Gaining confidence” bucket

Let’s start with the last two, because let’s face it, if you’re in category #1 or #2 you’re best off buying our notes and reading 20 pages in the next ten minutes. Just do it, because we don’t want to hear any more excuses. And just do it because I’ll refund your money if you don’t think the material will help you.

With that, let’s break down the four major categories of CFA Candidate and the specific strategies that can help you.

The "Stressed but studying” CFA Candidate

The "I’m stressed but studying” CFA candidate comes in two types.

The first type is a Candidate that is covering the material and probably slightly ahead of pace from that standpoint. The stress here can come from a variety of things:

  • Not knowing how the material will get tested
  • Struggling a lot in one specific study session or topic area (here’s an article on how to drill the areas you are weak in)
  • Thinking you are further behind then you are
  • Not having a specific plan for how you will study for the next few months
  • Not having put time and vacation days onto your calendar (yes you have to macro-manage your life)

If this sounds like you the first thing you should do is take a deep breath.

Breathe….I know it’s hard, but you’ve got time (there is always time)

Generally you have some good study habits built, and you are getting through the material. You have time to focus on your weaknesses, finish the material (where you will likely still find some stuff you already know), and do lots of practice problems.

Speaking of which, you are actively practicing problems right? Don’t fall into the trap of passively reading material. Another trap is to read too many blogs about “how to study” or “what to study” instead of just focusing on the material.

Otherwise keep working hard. If the material is confusing check out our explanations of the material (paid or elsewhere on the blog), and don’t spend too much time in any one section right now.

The second type of stressed Candidate is stressed by NOT studying "enough." Set a plan, that will help you understand what "is enough" and conversely, can get you relaxed in those moments when you are not studying (for the record, when I struggled as a Candidate this was my bucket).

The “Gaining confidence” CFA Candidate

As a “gaining confidence” CFA candidate you are the envy of your peers. You calmly whip through material, proudly answer other Candidate questions on Analystforum, and compare:

  • how many question bank questions you’ve done (Level 1: L1)
  • how much material you’ve already read (Level 2: L2)
  • how many old morning exams you’ve already taken (Level 3: L3)

Assuming you’re not overconfident you’ll want to compound the advantage you’ve earned. Do not rest on your laurels.

Start reading some summaries, make sure you take a full old mock exams, and review our free flashcards to keep the breadth of material fresh.

On the other hand, if you’re gaining confidence but still have a lot of material to cover then you’re failing. You are failing yourself despite understanding what you’ve already seen and this is such a common, regrettable, and controllable mistake. Get cranking.

The “Time to start studying” CFA Candidate

The “Time to start studying” CFA Candidate may be overconfident, naïve, a Band 8-10 re-taker, or very confident in their studying process and able to backload hours of studying in May.

The point is, only you know if you haven’t started studying because you’re lazy, because the hardest part is getting started and sometimes you just need an outline of how to do that or because this is just about when you “need” to ramp up.

If the last one is you, I know you might know what you’re doing. But at some point before you know it you’ll be pushing the time boundary and starting to make stupid decisions out of apathy or hubris. Log-in and download our first chapter and spend 20 minutes reading. Boom, just like that you’ve gained some momentum.

By the way, the worst “time to start studying” Candidate is the one that should put themselves in the “oh shit” bucket.

The “Oh Shit” CFA Candidate

Some people who think they’re in this bucket are actually in the “I’m stressed but studying bucket.” Congrats I guess :)

For the rest of you, welcome to the pain of being knee-deep in the CFA Institute meat-grinder.

An "oh-shit" CFA candidate might not have started and know they have work to catch up, or maybe you’ve started but it’s all gibberish to you, or you’re moving along the material but you didn’t really learn the L1 material that well the first time through.

The good news is that you might be reading this with enough time. You should emphasize practice problems and don’t be afraid to take shortcuts in reading some of the material to catch-up (if that’s the type of oh shit you are facing).

One way to do this is by getting our condensed notes. They’re specifically designed to help you cram the material, and the easy-to-read format will give you all the key testable material in a digestible way.  

It’s not where you start studying, it’s where you finish

Right now there are four main types of CFA Candidates. After the exam that goes down to 2 types of candidates: happy and sad.

Only you control how you approach your studying the rest of the way. Your goal should be to move from wherever you are into the "gaining confidence" type.

And once you're there, don't stop. Accelerate. 

Now, GoStudy.