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5-minute tips for the CFA® Program exam

It’s the week before the exams! In this series of posts, we present the top revision tips from Wiley, our AB Maximus CFA® Program exam prep course partner.

Every year, many hopefuls end up failing their papers – contributing to the exams' infamous passing rates! With the help of our friends at Wiley, we've compiled a 5-minute list of tips for every exam level – for an exam game plan at a glance!


1. There are 240 MCQs. So pace yourself and manage your stamina.

2. Target a score of 70% – a safe bet for a passing mark. That means you can miss 72 questions and still pass!

3. Note the topics with the highest weights: Financial Reporting and Analysis, Ethical and Professional Standards, Quantitative Methods.


1. There are 120 MCQs in item set format. They emphasise application of the tools learned at Level I.

2. Note the topics with the heaviest weights: Financial Reporting and Analysis (includes Corporate Finance), and Asset Valuation (comprises Equity, Debt, Derivatives and Alternative Investments)

3. When dealing with vignettes, circle and annotate the data that you need that’s buried in text or tables so you don't need to keep re-reading the vignette.


1. Morning paper: 10 to 15 essay questions containing short answers and fill-in-the-table formats and afternoon paper: item sets.

2. Note the most important topic: Portfolio Management, comprising two big essays.

3. Some topics are usually tested only in item sets (Ethics, Derivatives, Alternative Investments) and others in both parts of the paper (Economics, Equity, Fixed Income, Portfolio Management).

4. At the essay section, in general, the number of marks equals the number of minutes to spend on the question (eg. 12 marks = 12 minutes) and roughly how long an answer to write. Unlike the MCQs, you can’t randomly guess an answer, so time management is critical for the Essays.

5. When writing essays, use outline or bullet-point format. There's no need to write in complete sentences. Just make your points clear for the marker to understand.

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 courses, he worked in HSBC for almost 20 years.

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