How MUCH harder is CFA I?

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Jan 21, 2007 8:23 pm

I'm interested in taking the CFA level I test in
December 2007. If I start now I believe I will realistically have about an hour
per day of free time to prepare, give or take, plus additional weekend

I put in the ballpark one hour per day over six weeks for the 7, scoring a 90,
and the same over a two-week period for the 66, scoring an 84. I realize these
tests are entry level and not equivalent in any way to the CFA so would like
any recommendations for my plans or how to approach the CFA differently.

My strategy for each of the above was nothing elaborate. I simply read the
Dearborn books four times each, doing at least one full exam in between in
addition to chapter exams along the way. I did not have any in class training
provided by my firm or elsewhere.

If I start now is the "reading overkill" approach likely to be
sufficient for CFA I as well? I've heard a ballpark 250 hr recommendation for
study. (Per level.) I have this time available now if I start immediately and
can bump it up a bit on the weekends. I'm willing to do whatever it takes but
if you have any audio or video materials that would assist, I'm very interested
in trying these out as a supplement to text materials.

My background is not biz, accounting, or econ related (previous degrees in a
humanities area) but I do have decent math chops up to intermediate calc. 
I have the advantage of being single now with no obligations (other than
prospecting of course!) to take too much time so I want to knock level I out in

Recommendations beyond reading only? Is 250 hours over nine months about right?
Any other tips welcome.

Jan 21, 2007 10:05 pm

The CFA exams are considerably more challenging than the Series 7.

If you are concerned that you're not up to it; there is a competency exam that the CFA Insitute posts on its website to give you an impression of whether you are likely to be able to study for the exam at your current level of math, accounting and economics. You probably should be fine on the finance components.

Every person, regardless of background, I've ever known who took the exams believed them to be the hardest tests they have ever taken. Many people explore the level one, but never actually take the test.

Consider the demographics of the average test taker - generally a ambitious person with a graduate degree and a few years of experience in finance already. As it is still not required to get most jobs in finance (that seems to be changing for entry level PM positions at asset management firms, though); the takers tend to be the kind of people who actually like taking these tests, and the average pass rate for level one is about 35%!

Compare that to the Series 7 - which virtually every employee of a brokerage firm must hold, and which has an average pass rate of 70%+. The average taker probably has SOME college and isn't fond of taking (or studying for) tests.

What is the level of difficulty? Well, the math level is advanced algebra, the accounting is college level, and the level of economics is post-graduate. Compare this to the seven, where the math is mutiplication, where there is no meaningful accounting and the level of economics is lower division college.

The average test taker is doing it while working 40-60 hours a week, they will start in late January for the June test and study an average of 250 hours for each level. Most will not pass the first or second level on their first try - so that 250 hour number wasn't high enough for most.

The test is expensive - expect to pay about $2000 for each level for books, practice tests and the test fees themselves. Failure means the loss of a substantial amount of your investment.

In the end, you will be one of a handful of retail advisors with the designation. Its very cool (I  guess) to have one because it is so highly respected by those who know what it is, but very few retail clients will understand the difference between it and a CIMA. Some very chic boutique firms make a big deal about the designation, but most don't really care if their advisors have one.

You may find that it pisses people off. I have found that the older producers in the office, who consider themselves portfolio managers and financial geniuses, have tended to deride the value of the credential. The CFPs I know all know all know that the CFA is a much harder series of tests and I've found that many resent this designation - considering how much time and energy they put into the CFP - arguing that its less applicable for our profession (they are right if your business tends to be with clients who make less than $250k / year). Many people have wanted the designation, but couldn't pass level one or two. They tend to discourage people from taking it, as well.

If you are competing for fairly sophisticated clients (executives, people with MBAs or who those understand money management fairly well), then the knowledge is valuable - as you will be called to justify portfolio management decision or answer financial planning questions that can't be done within whatever software program you use's paramaters, but if your practice is centered around fairly normal people, I think that the CFA is probably not required.

The primary benefit of one to a relatively young advisor is as an "escape hatch" - that it is very helpful in getting a finance job working for someone else.

It also gives you a great deal of confidence in dealing with wealthier people, as you really do develop a solid understanding of finance from the curriculum...