AlicewilsonCFA (Alice Wilson) 10 September 2017
An avant-garde approach to CFA exam preparation
Cramming your brain with hundreds-page-long textbooks is impossible. Let’s discover a more inspiring way to systematize prep knowledge for CFA exam.
Is CFA exam challenging? Without thorough preparation, yes it is. In fact, all kinds of exam require a good prep for it. Yet, this task can be overwhelming as there are so many things to remember. You cannot just read the whole book and expect to memorize all the concept and formulas magically. Things just don’t work that way.
Wrapping up each chapter with bullet points, keywords, formulas is crucial. Again, noting down all these things is such a daunting task. However, summarizing the lessons can be more effective and time-saving by mind mapping. This method facilitates a lot in organizing the chapters systematically. Thus, this piece of writing provides a walkthrough on how I use this method for my CFA prep study.
First things first
Chartered Financial Analyst is a professional credential program provided by CFA Institute. This program is for people heading to be experts in investment and finance. It covers a wide variety of topics relating to ethics, quantitative methods, economics, corporate finance, financial report, security analysis, and portfolio management.
To part take in the CFA program, you must be holding a university degree, or being a senior at your university, or having 4-year experience in work relating to investment decision-making process. There are three levels of the program, and candidates take one exam per year in 3 years. And this is on the assumption that they pass on the first attempt.
Also, there are four major requirements for being a CFA charter. 4-year qualified working experience or a combination of working and education experience approved by CFA Institute CFA Program completion
· Being a member of CFA Institute and having appliance for local CFA society’s membership
· Adherence to the standards of professional conduct and code of ethics of CFA Institute
What do these things mean?
It’s a long way to go
If things go smooth, you need three years to become a CFA charter. And in these three years, you need at least 250 hours of learning each year. In other words, CFA study requires an enormous investment in time. And after all that time, you may, or still, may not, get close to being a CFA charterholder.
You need a high commitment to your study
No pain and no gain must be the oldest thing in the book to be a piece of advice. Yet it’s true in this case. Even though you should expect to invest several thousand dollars every year, the cost of this program is not the only thing that requires your commitment. In fact, the knowledge of the three levels is presented in a system. So if you don’t stick to your study, there’s no hope of passing the test.
Proper preparation is a must
Different people may have different styles of learning. And I am not having any comment about that. In fact, I will also share the one that helped me pass. But whatever style you use, thorough prep study is always critical to your actual performance in the test.
So you want to be a CFA Charterholder?
Everything comes with the pros and cons. And being a CFA charterholder is, of course, not an exception. It requires a significant amount of time, money, and effort. But what it gives you back worth its weight in gold.
Having the charter benefits you in many different ways. First, you can boost your reputation as the charter provides an excellent credential to your CV. Second, it gives you a lot more prospect in your career. And it’s not only about the increase in your salary but also the overall promotion and success.
Third, there are so many fields in which having CFA title will be a considerable plus. Whether you are a sell-side analyst, buy-side trader, economist, or financial advisor/ planner, being a CFA charterholder will facilitate a lot in your work.
There are a lot more things to tell beyond this list. But before dreaming of what you can do when being a CFA charterholder, let’s get back to the reality. You are cracking your brain trying to put every concept, definition, and formula into your memory.
You can easily search for “CFA study tips”, they are everywhere on the Internet. But if you want a real-life story, here is mine. Below is the complete walkthrough from when I was studying for the level 1.
The story of my prep study
Like many others, I was once a CFA candidate. The exam date was getting closer and yet I was getting farther away from memorizing all the chapters. I don’t think the textbook is hard to understand. In fact, most of the finance books explain the knowledge in a highly understandable manner.
The common problem for seemingly all CFA candidates is that it’s frustrating when trying to remember all chapters at a time. And what is even harder is how to see the relations among the chapters. It’d be much better if you can see CFA as a whole, have a big view of it and have a grasp of every single knowledge branch of it.
I spent about two weeks trying to note down the wrap-ups of every chapter, but I was not satisfied. This way helped a little bit; I seemed to remember things more easily. But when it comes to long chapters, the summary was still too long for me to absorb. There should be something that embraces all sides of the chapter systematically.
I remembered reading a book series by Tony Buzan who is famous for his techniques using one's Mind. His books focus on how to learn effectively with different inspiring methods. And one that is appreciated the most is mind mapping. I started to look for more information on this method and learn how to summarize the lessons using mind maps.
How exactly did I use it?
Step 1: Reading
It is evident that you need to know what the chapter is about before summarizing it. Some people just jump into doing exercises after each lecture. But I don’t think this way will work.
Right after the lecture when the concept of the topic still remains, you can do the exercise with ease. But there are always some missing holes. Reading the textbooks yourself is a great way to ensure there is no missing piece.
Step 2: Note down the keywords
Highlight the key concepts and formulas in the chapter, and make sure you arrange them in order. Which concepts and formulas are under which headlines? I always answer this question when grouping the keywords together.
Step 3: Make a mind map
When I short down the hundred-page-long topic, I will create a mind map for it. I always start with the name of the topic at the central of the map. Then, I will go for the headings, sub-headings, concepts, definition, and formulas. I keep writing and drawing some illustrations until the topic is fully presented in the paper.
This step takes a lot of your time. And an excellent alternative for this is to download the premade CFA Mind Maps. These mind maps are like treasures to me. I have the full collection of them for my prep study for CFA exam level 1 and 2.
The creators of these mind maps are those who have passed all CFA Exam Levels with high scores, so there should be no worry about its quality. All the keys of all topics are comprehensively included. These maps are the one-time investment for all-time return on investment.
Step 4: Do the exercises
You cannot just learn by heart the theory and expect to be able to solve the problems in the test. My way of doing exercises is traditional, but I think it helped a lot. Once I complete the mind map, I will read them all over again. Then, I will start doing the relating exercises.
I didn’t really try to do as many exercises as possible. Instead, I’d love to look at the mistakes after each one, fix them, note them down, and make sure there will be no same mistake in the next exercises. This method really focuses on the quality of the study, and it ensures you can "perfection-ize" your performance every time you solve the practice problems.
Step 5: Revise the maps
When the exam date is coming closer, I will not spend most of my time doing the exercises. Instead, I will review the maps thoroughly to make sure I memorize every single aspect of them. I will still do one or two practice problems, but just to reinforce what I learned.
Did it help?
Short answer: Yes.
This method is exactly what I’d always been looking for – a tool that gives a birds-eye view of all the chapters. What is more amazing is that there is even an app to make things much easier. There is no need to sweat your hands writing down all the summaries or spend days typing them.
At first, I was skeptical about the comprehensiveness of the premade mind maps. I just bought one mind map for one topic. But I was just overthinking; the mind map is even more comprehensive that anything I had done before. It covers every single aspect of the chapter. But if you also want to have a demo first, you can download the samples.
As my first attempt with CFA Mind Maps was delightful, I went for the full version of level 1 and level 2. Instead of having splintering mind maps on each topic, you can have the complete walkthrough of the whole level. Download the full level 1 and level 2 mind maps for CFA exam here.
What’s the point of using a mind map for CFA exam preparation?
The mind map is like a tree. It has the roots (concept), trunk (headings), branches (formulas), and leaves (definitions). You will look at the mind map like looking at a tree as a whole or its details. And the best part is that you can see the relations among the roots, trunks, branches, and leaves. As a result, the knowledge is absorbed thoroughly.
The whole topic is presented on just one page
Ease of approach
CFA Mind Maps makes thing much easier. Especially in the last days of revision, this method will be even more powerful. For the final month before the exam, I spent most of my time looking at the map. I started from the roots to the leaves to ensure nothing is missed. Also, when putting the maps together, I can see the explicit relations among all the concepts.
And if there was anything seemed vague, it would look it up again in the textbook. I repeated this process chapter by chapter until the whole level is dealt. It feels like compressing the entire book in your brain, and everything is in proper order.
Ease of learning
This method inspired me in many different ways. The CFA Mind Maps eliminates all the frustrating manual tasks of summarizing. It is a complete DFY tool that gives you the walkthrough to the whole reading. It makes the prep time an enjoyable experience and the best part is that it empowers the candidates the full control of their study.
There are no two words that can be as convincing to prove its effectiveness as “I passed”. With the inspiring concept of CFA Mind Maps, I did have a thorough preparation for the exam. After revising each map, I practiced each concept with some typical exercises. And I think there is no btter combination than this.
As CFA Mind Maps systematically organizes the knowledge, retrieving the knowledge when doing the actual test was super easy. I even knew for sure which roots, trunks, branches, or leave I should use to solve every problem on the test. I had no difficulty in both solving the test and passing the test.
Who should use it?
CFA Mind Maps is ideal for those who are preparing or the CFA exam with low time-budget and high demand for the performance. As these maps thoroughly cover the topics, they offer a deep understanding for the learners. Also, the maps are all presented in a concise manner, making it super easy to understand and remember.
Those who are serious about taking this exam and want an all-inclusive revision for it should also grab this tool. Reading the textbooks is never enough. The more important thing is how many percents of knowledge stay in your brain after reading.
CFA Mind Maps provides a highly effective way of learning. And here is an amazing fact. If you notice, the mind maps are like the neuron cells in your brain. As they have a similar arrangement, reading a mind map helps the brain works more efficiently to memorize the knowledge.
The bottom line
Mind mapping is a powerful method of revision for the CFA exam. It offers a thorough approach to all the topics, which makes the prep works more productive. And to maximize the effect of mind mapping, CFA Mind Maps is my recommendation. If passing CFA exam with flying color is what you have always been dreaming of, make your dream come true with CFA Mind Maps. Grab it now!