CFA Exam – What is it? Why do it? How to prepare

IT would be easy to forget that there are many fine people out there who have never heard of this “CFA Program”.

What is the CFA Program?

The CFA Institute describes the CFA Program as a graduate-level course for investment professionals. The course covers an extremely broad range of topics including:

  • ethics,
  • quantitative methods (read: basic statistics/econometrics),
  • economics,
  • financial statement analysis,
  • corporate finance,
  • portfolio management,
  • equity investments,
  • fixed income investments,
  • derivatives, and
  • alternative investments.

Why become a CFA Charterholder?

If you are a practicing or aspiring consultant, is it worth becoming a CFA Charterholder? In my opinion, CFA Level 1 is definitely worth doing as it provides a very good overview of economics, finance and asset management which will help you understand how a company should manage its assets. If you want to be able to provide a company with comprehensive advice, it is useful (if not essential) to understand how to value a business, deal with its assets, identify appropriate investment opportunities, manage cash flows, and obtain financing.

Preparing for the CFA Exam

Having just completed the exam, I thought it would be useful to provide some thoughts on how to prepare for the CFA Level 1 exam. However, I realise that this job has already been done.

James Cox provides a concise and easy to follow study plan for passing the CFA level one exam. If you are a CFA candidate, or considering becoming a CFA candidate, it is well worth reading.

CFA Level 1 Exam 2009 – post audit

An exam day overview

I did the CFA Level 1 Exam yesterday. If you haven’t heard of the CFA Exam before, see the article “CFA Exam – What is it? Why do it? How to prepare.”

It is definitely one of the most exhausting tests I have undertaken, a gruelling six hour 240 question multiple choice exam. The CFA Institute recommends 250 hours of study for the test, and I only managed to notch up about 120 hours at best. Needless to say, I found it to be quite a tough exam.

If the pass mark for the exam were a simple 50%, I would be confident about passing. Each multiple choice question had three possible answers, so the expected result from blind guessing is a healthy 33%. A bit of common sense, some clever educated guessing, and my background in economics and econometrics would probably be enough to push me above the 50% mark.

Unfortunately, the pass mark for the exam is somewhere around 70%. So, success is by no means assured.

The examination supervisors are called “proctors” and, as I sat down in the exam hall, the head proctor’s voice boomed over the audio system, “All electronic devices, including mobile phones, must be switched off and surrendered. We have systems in place to detect the use of any electronic device within the examination hall. If a mobile phone is discovered in your possession during the timed portion of the examination, it will be confiscated and a written report will be submitted to the CFA Institute”.  Wow, the power had really gone to his head. We were under the control of a 60-something year old power hungry proctor.

As it turned out, the Salvation Army were holding their National Congress right next to the examination hall . Trumpets, trumbones, drumming, and a chorus of voices filled the exam hall for the entire first half of the exam. Did God not know I was trying to concentrate? I can only hope that this highly inopportune spiritual distraction was a positive omen.

Thirty minutes into the test, the choir continued to sing, and I read my first economics question: “If the supply of money decreases which of the following is least likely to result in an increase to  …” Decrease, least likely, increase … sorry?

Some kind of miracle may be required.