CFA: Working on Strengths or Weaknesses

Studying for the CFA is difficult for many reasons. One of those is the fact that the material covered in the CFA exam is very broad. There is no doubt that you will be much stronger in some parts of the exam and weaker in others. Speaking from experience, it’s always much more interesting to read material, do practice question and review the parts of the exam that you understand better simply because it goes faster, you feel like you are making better progress, etc.

Critical Portions vs Others

Many different portions have different values depending on which level you are doing. I would say that no matter which level you are doing, these sections are ones that you simply cannot afford to fail:

-Equity and Fixed Income Valuation

Other sections such as economy, quantitative methods, portfolio management and, derivatives are important but you *can* pass the exam while failing 1 or maybe even 2 of them. You will always hear about exceptions such as, candidates that passed the exam while failing a big part of the exam. It does happen, but I would say that those are exceptions. The process that makes you pass or fail the exam is not straight forward and you can only depend on general rules  to guide you. Some have passed by failing multiple sections but you could also fail the exam without failing any sections. It really depends on many factors.


There is no other way to put it, you MUST be solid in the critical sections and, these should take over half of your time. One could almost make the point that you can pass the exam by focusing only on the big sections. So I would say, spend half of your time on these sections until you get 65-70% consistently in each of them. Then, continue working on them for about half of your studying time, always on the weakest one. You want to be certain that you have no major weaknesses in these sections

Don’t Aim for 100%….

As much as being strong in one of these sections is interesting, I think it’s more important to “not have weaknesses.” Taking your scores from 50-65% is difficult. But taking them from 65% to 80-95% is a whole other challenge and you could end up taking up so much time doing that that you’d have neglected other parts of the exam.

Other Sections

As for the other sections, I would put an equal amount of time on all of them for the first couple of months of studying. You might struggle on one or two portions but don’t let it get in the way. I would wait until you’ve done more practice questions, exams, etc. Every time I went to do an exam, I knew I had weaknesses in 1 or 2 of these sections and I could live with it. I knew that I would most likely do well in one and maybe not as well in the other.

In summary, spend a lot of time on your weak parts if they fall in one of the critical sections. Do not spend too much time on the sections that you are strongest in because, it’s just not worth the time investment.

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