Muschamp Rd

Another CFA® Exam is Done

June 8th, 2015

This time I wrote the exam in Shanghai China. If this isn’t the largest test centre it is among the largest. I think it is disadvantageous to write in the larger test centres because security is stricter. I’m not talking about cheating, I’m talking about having to be in your seat long before the exam starts and just sitting there staring at the floor. The CFA Exam is not a six hour exam it is more like two four hour exams.

I actually think I did alright, I know I got one question wrong but several others I’m confident I got correct. There is of course a whole bunch of material in the middle. If I had another two weeks to prepare it would have helped. My practice exam scores were improving but I did not get a score above 70% which is the unofficial Internet rumoured passing score.

If I had to do it all over again, and I just might, I would do even more practice problems. I’m good at forcing myself to read and reread. I make notes especially flashcards. I of course did the questions at the end of the chapters I focussed on many, many times, but then I switched to doing practice exams. I prefer to do a half practice exam and then review my answers, but I forced myself to twice sit an entire six hour 120 question exam in a single day. I definitely have studied well over 300 hours but if I do not pass it will be because I didn’t do enough practice problems and I focussed on the wrong material.

A lot of ‘Internet experts’ will assure you some material is always tested, but two years in a row one particular question I practiced a lot did not appear. I of course can’t say which subject wasn’t tested, but suffice to say ‘Internet experts’ are not always correct. The CFA Institute makes a lot of material available online to candidates, much more than in the olden days. There is also official unofficial materials and unofficial official materials online. I advise against downloading too much crap. I think it is better to focus either on the material you struggle the most with, which is what I tend to do, or to focus on the most heavily weighted material which currently is:

  1. Equity Investments
  2. Financial Reporting & Analysis
  3. Fixed Income
  4. Ethics

Historically I have done well in Ethics, but this year I got too many questions wrong in practice exams and fear I overly neglected studying it. My strongest category based on half a dozen practice exams is Corporate Finance which is unlikely to be heavily weighted. My dream exam would be overweighted in Corporate Finance and Alternative Investments, hopefully I don’t need a dream exam to pass. My weakest areas are Quant and Derivatives. I really worked hard at Quant but that was many months ago, when I started sitting practice exams I did poorly in this section. So once again I will have to study Quant hard if I rewrite. Perversely I seem to do better on Derivatives at least some of the time, my scores can range from one out of six all the way to perfect on practice exam vignettes.

Unweighted Practice Exam Scores

My three biggest pieces of advice to future CFA Level 2 candidates are:

  1. Start Early
  2. Devote your effort approximately proportionately to the weightings
  3. Do practice problems until you never make a mistake on common problems

There will always be left field questions. You will use the wrong rate or the wrong value of T or N or beta. You will not get a perfect score. In Level 2 the questions are in groups of six. So I think in the future I will do questions in groups of six or 12 then review the answers. This will not allow me to track my performance as easily in a spreadsheet, but it will allow me to focus on my weaknesses and the questions that experts and statisticians forecast appear the most.

Now I really must get to the gym, I simplified my life as much as possible ahead of this exam focussing on just: work, studies, and the gym. I actually lost something like 8 kilos in the last six months. I gave up a lot to prepare for this exam including:

  • gaming
  • Game of Thrones
  • updating my website
  • most of my social life
  • whisky
  • playing guitar
  • painting miniatures
  • reading books for pleasure

Now that it is done and gone I will try to relax. Try to enjoy life a little, but not too much because I must look for a better job and I still want to lose more weight. One final thought I had while sitting in the exam centre, was whether anyone tried to cheat using a smartwatch. You’re not allowed a cellphone but you are allowed a ‘watch’.

The Internet sucks in China a lot of the time, but sure enough the next year smart watches and fitness trackers were banned, the powers that be do read blogs including mine.


Today or likely yesterday Eastern Standard Time was exam results day. I got about the score I expected to get, band 8, which means I need to improve my score by 10-20%. I do think I could have done better, writing in China is not ideal, but my life has been far from ideal since I did my MBA. I will of course rewrite. I plan to type out my flashcards ASAP and focus my studies this time on the following topics:

  • Fixed Income
  • FR&A
  • Corporate Finance

I actually got the top band in the following topics:

  • Derivatives
  • Equity
  • Ethics

I got middle band on FR&A but I still see it as my biggest weakness. A topic like Derivatives or Economics your score can fluctuate a lot from problem set to problem set. I’m glad I got a good score in Derivatives and I guess disappointed in my Economics score this year, so I will concentrate on improving my weaknesses and focus on the heavily weighted material giving less attention to Economics and Quant.

I definitely suck at Quant there are some easy marks there but although I studied it a lot I got progressively worse as the exam grew closer, it is not something in which I have a lot of confidence, I will try again to master that material. I must go to work, finding a better job is a priority, but if I can’t find one by January or probably November I’ll have to make a big decision. I think I can pass this exam, I just need to do more practice problems. I did a good job at memorizing formulas and definitions and improved my score six bands, I guess I am in it for the long haul.

Update December 2015

I still have not officially registered. I started studying at the end of September but I have not been so diligent. I still have not typed out all the flash cards, but I have read Schweser’s Secret Sauce many times. I will have to get the official material soon, not much has changed according to some blogger, but I must do more practice problems, that is not my favourite weekend activity. I still have not found a better job and I’m tired of looking. My current employer is supposed to be open to me doing something more appropriate but I fear it is just more talk leading nowhere.

I have to get much more serious, by my estimate there are 22 weeks of studying and 18 study sessions. Some study sessions I just will not review in their entirety. I want to devote a lot more time to practice problems and practice exams than on my previous two attempts. I still have a list of a few more questions to cook, but even if I only learned the material I have made notes for that would be more than enough to pass, I did come close last time, but I worry I’ve been dragged down by those around me into more of a slacker lifestyle after being so diligent for so long, the holiday season and social media have to be cut to the bone, as much of your life as you can put off you must put off for the six months of prime CFA exam studying.

I don’t recommend blogging about your experience as a CFA Candidate if you pass all three exams maybe then you can take to bragging online.

Update January 2016

I’m trying to study everyday, but I work and go to the gym a lot. I also am doing extra stuff for work which is actually incredibly stupid of me considering my pay and how happy everyone is where I currently work. I went to Southern China again, it was a good trip, but too short. Alas it may be my last trip before the exam though many people ask me to travel places and my willpower is not infallible.

I’m trying to simplify my life just study, work, and gym. I’m trying to master Quant or a few parts of Quant I never seem to be able to master, so I’ve been doing a lot of Googling looking for insight, there is so much more content online in the blogosphere than when I started the CFA program, I guess I’ll stick the best unofficial CFA material I turn up below:

Update July 2016

Got my exam results again, the worst possible scenario, Band 10. I obviously did not spend enough time on the four heaviest weighted categories as I only got over 70% in one of them, Ethics. Shockingly I continue to be more ethical than my peers, but less successful, there is a moral there. I also got over 70% in the following categories:

  • Alternative Investments
  • Economics
  • Portfolio Management
  • Quantitative Methods

Not surprisingly I got below 50% in Derivatives whereas last year I think I did better, that just shows it really matters what questions they ask year to year. I still think I spent too much time studying Derivatives. I also got below 50% in Corporate Finance which also had previously been a strength but obviously I did not study it enough this year. But what cost me was not getting over 70% in FRA, Fixed Income, and Equity. I was particularly worried about Fixed Income.

You never get to see your actual score or which questions you got wrong, but I did many practice exams and it is just not the same, though I did not ‘cheat’ while doing these practice exams, I never achieved my goal of getting above 70% of the total questions correct which I think would safely put you into the pass category and the result was my score was a few lucky guesses short of a pass.

My 2016 Practice Exam Performance

My color  scheme is simple and you can click on the image for a larger one but green is over 70% which is my goal, yellow means my average in that section is not over 70% but better than my average in last years practice exams shown further above. I did not do completely proper weighted averages, some exams are overweight in some subjects but all are within the official ranges. As you can see I improved in everything but Fixed Income, Portfolio Management, and Alternative Investment but on the actual exam in two of those three categories I scored above 70%. You really do likely need a little luck to pass the CFA Level 2 exam, choosing what material to focus on is not a science and no online expert is 100% correct.

Since I will be rewriting my plan is to save the last two weeks before the exam to review what worries me most next year, as I felt I could pass if I had even two weeks more to review a few more concepts. This year it was Ethics, Fixed Income, and of course Derivatives which worried me the most. You must get over 70% in Ethics which I always manage to do, but every year I worry I won’t.

I don’t know the exact exam date (June 3rd 2016) but the ten weeks before the exam every weekend must be fully committed to studying as I plan to do 8 practice exams next time, this year I wrote the online practice exam three times as I lacked another new officially balanced exam to try, next year I will only do it twice. The Boston Mock is probably given somewhere in Shanghai but I really am alone in a foreign country, my Chinese is limited, I have no idea where it is offered. I will probably devote at least a month each to Fixed Income, Equity and FRA. I will also devote 2-3 weeks likely the 11-13th week out from the actual exam to Ethics. That leaves a lot of time between now and the first weekend in June to do practice problems. I never seem to have time to do as many practice problems as I would like, but this time, this time I simply must pass, and I will keep redoing my carefully collected problems as well as the official samples provided by the CFI until I am confident and quick.

Someone apparently took seven attempts, seven years of their life to pass this exam, I don’t want to break that record. I was too close in 2016, I probably should have passed if I was ‘a lucky person’ but I am not a lucky person, it is definitely better to be lucky than good, unfortunately I am ‘a good person’.

There will always be questions you don’t know, I collected a list of at least a half dozen from this year’s exam and those topics along with whatever is new or drastically different is where I will start my studying, in the mean time, I really do need a better job so I will continue to look for a better job and chip away at my personal “ta do” list. I need to find a replacement gym for California Fitness too.


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