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Here's how to cram at the last minute for the CFA® Program exam

The exams are around the corner – do you know your stuff? This series of posts in the month leading up to the exam will cover revision tips, summaries and must-knows for students to make sure they’re thoroughly prepared.

This one’s for the crammers: we sound out which topics deserve your immediate attention, which are most worth it, and which you should prioritise last when time isn’t on your side.

For those who’ve already finished (well done!) this serves as a handy guide of how to partition revision time.

Many candidates, in the interest of time, often skip topics with weights less than 10% during revision. This is illogical, and a good way to fail. The correct solution is to strategically devote time to each topic.

(*Do note that most, if not all, topics will be used again in Level II and III - so you still have to make sure you know them well, or suffer the same fate in the next exam.)

1. “Easy” Topics - Must cover

  • Alternative Investments: 4% of exam (10 questions)

This topic can be covered in 1 study session comprising 2 relatively easy readings.

  • Equity Investments: 10% of exam (24 questions)

Like the previous topic, this one’s a relatively easy read and can be covered in 2 study sessions.

  • Corporate Finance: 7% of exam (19 questions)

Six readings, which can be completed in 1 study session. Focus especially on the first two readings – they’re used in the Equity chapter too.

  • Financial Reporting and Analysis (FRA): 20% of exam (48 questions)

This topic is critical to whether you pass or fail the whole exam. According to CFA Institute, a candidate’s score on the FRA segment usually predicts whether they pass or fail the whole exam.

You must know how accounting method choices and differences between IFRS and U.S. GAAP affect the reported results for companies, why there are differences and how to adjust for them. Do not focus on debits and credits.

2. “Worth It” Topics - Cover to maximise your marks

  • Derivatives: 5% of exam (12 questions)

Many candidates skip this chapter because it seems like too much work– but don’t. The readings are relatively simple and you may find derivatives much easier than other topics.

  • Portfolio Management: 7% (12 questions)

Four readings achievable in 1 study session. Candidates that took Finance at university will already know about half of the material (eg. Markowitz efficient frontier, capital asset pricing model).

Focus on the first reading in Study Session 12 – asset allocation decisions – as many are unfamiliar with this concept.

  • Fixed Income: 10% (24 questions)

Seven assigned readings can be covered in 2 study sessions. Know your basic definitions, how fixed income instruments work, and some of their core risks.

3. “Less Worth It” Topics - Not for last minute-ers

  • Economics: 10% of exam (24 questions)

Many students make the mistake of focusing on economics, but the assigned readings are disproportionate for the exam weight.

You will need to cover microeconomics, macroeconomics, and global economics in 3 study sessions, and you must do sample exam questions in order to be fully prepared.

  • Quantitative Methods: 12% of exam (29 questions)

Same as Economics: doing sufficient practice questions is a must to do well.

  • Ethics: 15% of exam (36 questions)

While the topic is not difficult to understand, many find it difficult to master. Current events often find their way onto the exam, so candidates should have read the business section of newspapers to brush up on current affairs.

You should also know these topics by heart:

I. Professionalism

II. Integrity of Capital Markets

III. Duties to Clients

IV. Duties to Employers

V. Investment Analysis, Recommendations, and Actions

VI. Conflicts of Interest

VII. Responsibilities as a CFA Institute Member or CFA® Program Candidate

About the Author

Darren Degraaf, CFA, CPA, MBA, MAFM, PRM, is the revision expert in AB Maximus' CFA® Program exam prep course. He is currently adjunct professor of the Sauder School of Business in the University of British Columbia and director of Instructional Management for the Stalla Review for the CFA Exams Division of DeVry University. Before an international career in CFA® Program exam prep, he worked in HSBC for almost 20 years.

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