The Four Keys to Passing the CFA Exam

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Earning the coveted charter requires passing a notoriously difficult, three-part exam. But with a clear plan and supportive colleagues, it’s doable and rewarding.

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFAⓇ) is the most highly coveted certification in the investment profession. Earning this internationally recognized charter offers many benefits, including compensation and career opportunities.

Earning those benefits, though, requires passing the three-level CFA exam. The first two levels of the exam have a pass rate of less than 50%, and the third level is historically slightly greater than 50%. The CFA Institute recommends candidates study for at least 300 hours to pass each level, which is especially challenging for candidates like me, for whom English is a second language.

However, I passed, and you can, too. Here are my four most important tips.

1. Increase your English language competence

The CFA exam does not require listening or speaking skills, but intermediate English reading and writing skills are essential. Due to the complexity of the subject matter, even for a native English speaker, it is challenging. Therefore, especially if English is not your first language, my first tip is to increase your English language competence in reading for all three levels and writing for level 3.

You can better grasp the content when studying by finding the delivery methods or learning style that work best for you. For instance, instead of trying to read a book straight through, use supplemental materials and techniques such as flashcards or questions with detailed explanations of all answer options. Discuss material with others in a group or online setting or view videos to help make the material more intuitive and digestible.