The ultimate guide to improve your CFA exam scores

The CFA exam is a globally renowned financial qualification valued by organizations across industries and countries. It’s extensive curriculum which focuses on topics such as economics, financial reporting, investments, and ethics ensures candidates understand concepts from its grass-root level.

Each level aims to test a different skill set or level of understanding of the candidates such as Level I aims to test your understanding of key financial concepts, Level II tests your application of these concepts in real-life scenarios while Level III focuses on testing how well you can answer a question with integrated topics in an essay format.

Here are some key strategies that have worked well for our students and helped them improve their scores significantly:


1. Study according to the exam topics 

While Level II & III of the CFA exam are known to trickier than Level I, they aren’t difficult to pass. With the right exam strategy and study materials, you will be able to successfully pass your exams. Here are some of the key topics for the exams:

  • Level I – Financial Reporting and Analysis, Ethical Standards, and Quantitative Methods.
  • Level II – Financial Reporting and Analysis, Ethical Standards, Equity, Fixed Income, and Portfolio Management.
  • Level III – Portfolio Management & Fixed Income.

While some topics carry a higher weightage than the rest, you should not neglect the topics with lower weightage. It’s important to ensure that you learn key concepts from all topics as this can help you assure marks from a topic rather than lose all the marks instead. Within a limited time period, give the utmost value to the highest weightage topics.

2. Prepare based on the exam format

Each level of the CFA exam has different formats, level I has MCQs, level II has itemsets while level III has itemsets and case studies. While they all aim to test your knowledge, the testing method can make a huge difference during your preparation phase. You need to clearly understand whether the questions will be analytical in nature or conceptual focused, straight-forward, or indirect.

3. Practice as much as you can

Quite a few students understand the theoretical concepts well but stutter when they must be practically applied. To thoroughly assess your skill, you need to practice at least 5 examples of each concept. Something that quite a few candidates do is to either create a list format for each chapter or tie concepts together as a cause and effect relation through a story format. According to CFA Program examiners, you have understood a concept well when you can perform the question backward.

4. Leverage on an approved training provider

By choosing a specialized training provider, you will have the advantage of training with someone that is well aware of the curriculum changes and proven exam strategies. Good training providers usually employ multiple certified trainers to teach different topics as this ensures that candidates are learning from a trainer who is well aware of the specific topic, and can predict key areas that may appear in the exam based on their experience.

5. Use your study resources wisely

97% of CFA candidates recommend Kaplan Schweser as their preferred study material. Kaplan Schweser offers candidates resources such as practice exams, a quick-sheet with formulas, an online resource library, and a detailed study plan.

Another valuable resource that you can leverage is the one free mock exam for each level by the CFA Institute, which is downloadable from their website. This is the closest you can get to the actual exam in terms of difficulty and tone, so it is a very useful tool to calibrate your practice.

End-of-chapter questions will give you an overview of what areas are tested on the exam, so you can be more focused on these areas. Additionally, these questions will reveal the weaker areas that you must focus on to improve.

6. Study breaks are crucial

Everything has a tipping point and so does your brain. If you are planning to cram 2 chapters worth of content in one day at a stretch of 9 hours, it’s likely that you haven’t thoroughly learned every concept. Your objective should be to learn well the first time with months left for the exam rather than stress about re-learning a month prior.

Therefore, give yourself frequent study breaks and choose to hang out with your friends and family occasionally rather than being buried under your books.