I took my CFA Level 1 exam last Saturday.
Thanks to all who cared to ask me how it went. I am lost for words as to how happy I am now that the exam is past. The thoughts about it firmly ruled my life for at least six months. The thoughts did. The studies? I wouldn’t be so sure.
Let’s preface this by saying that I did not choose to take my CFA exam. When my employer offered to sponsor it about a year ago, I genuinely embraced the idea with thanks. It seemed that December 4th, 2010 would never come. I had months to prepare.
The wake-up call came in June, when some colleagues and I attended a study programme in Cambridge designed to get our thoughts subtly directed towards the big December date. We received volumes of thick books and signed up for daily reminder emails. My CFA brothers-in-arms started asking about my study progress. Suddenly it did not look like a joke anymore – it was real. I urgently needed to study.
At which point I rioted. Had I not spent 5+ years of my life studying things I did not in the slightest need afterwards? Had I not wasted the supposedly most fun years crouching over books instead of going out and meeting cool people? Left and right, my female coursemates were fronting yearbook nominations for “Charming Smile” and “Most Desired”. I, however, was the chronic “Academic Guru” and “Miss Workaholic”. Thankyouverymuch; I would never make the same mistake again. Instead, I was going to be cool about the exam – cool to the point of failing it, if need be.
The most difficult part of any study process is making that first move for the books. If you are seriously planning a fail mark, make sure to postpone that crucial moment for as long as possible. What do you do after receiving your CFA package in the mail? Correct – you spend a couple of months using the *unpacked* box as a foot stand. It probably fits very nicely under your desk and keeps your feet comfortably positioned for all sorts of other routine activities. In the end, you are so successful in convincing yourself the “foot stand” is real that you phone up the CFA institute and complain that your books had never even arrived. Unfortunately, you are soon disillusioned.
Since few of us are at home during mail delivery hours, you are most likely receiving your CFA books on the work address. Even if you get as far as unpacking them, taking the whole bundle home is a heavy ordeal. Do not worry though – you can always transfer the books home slowly – one by one. Not even a week will have passed before all the [still untouched and shiny] books are piled up neatly on your dinner table. By which point you probably need to start thinking about doing the same with your second CFA package. Because there is not one but two of them. If you ever get to that stage, of course.
CFA books. Where to start?
So – now that you have brought most of the books home, one would think the studying should start. Wrong! It is still summer, and your holidays are in full swing. You make sure to use up the entire balance of your annual leave before year-end, embarking on 15 trips out of London between June and November. Overall, these amount to 60 days of absence. That’s TWO months outside the UK in barely five, destinations covering anything from Mexico to Faroe Islands to Norway to Montenegro to Georgia to Greece, you name it. Needless to say that it is fun. As for the CFA exam – December is still ages away. Isn’t it?
Now imagine you are done with your year’s holiday plan. The time is about mid-October, and your CFA books are still resting sleepily on your dinner table – by then covered in a thin layer of dust. As tempting as they look, you are not in a rush to open them just yet. After all, two months of studies may even give you enough time to pass. And oh gracious heavens, we surely don’t want THAT to happen.
The sight of the books right in front of your nose is a rather miserable reminder though. You experience a momentary stroke of genius and hide them under your bed. A friend tells you putting the books directly under your pillow facilitates the learning process – but, since you are actually trying to fail here, you decide to skip that.
What to do with the free time in London? You dedicate the first three weeks to catching up with local friends. Remember that you have spent the past five months competing with Michael Palin for the world’s most active traveller’s title. You arrange a series of after-work drinks and dinners, fill up your weekends with social activities, roll back glamorously into London’s exciting dating scene – and lose every passing thought as far as some dusty pile of books under your bed is concerned. Life has never seemed so good!
The finishing line: conscience awakes
The time is now approaching mid-November, and you still have not even touched the hapless CFA books. Your employer is probably suspecting all about your lagging discipline and arranges a week-long course with a CFA training consultancy – anything to get you motivated to study. Surely locking you up for a week with a dozen CFA soul mates will sort you out in no time.
Little do they know. Even in a dull rectangular training room somewhere in the forgotten corner of the City, there are far more interesting things to do than crack permutation formulas. The internet on your BlackBerry. The irresistibly cute guy behind you. Your neighbour’s curly hair. The Remembrance Day poppy on your chest. The rugby match outside – you name it. You are anything but bored. The lecturer’s words fly right past your ears.
Finally – finally! – three weeks before the exam, you sort of half-open one of the books. The first glance confirms just how right your strategy to FAIL has been. You solemnly swear not to take Level 2 or Level 3. EVER. The people coming up with those mock questions must be one miserable bunch. Your hit rate on them is about 40 percent though – a little too encouraging for all the fun you’ve been having. You decide to wait another week and see what happens.
A week later, you are probably getting haunted by remorse. I should have studied all this time, you are telling to yourself – surely my employer would not be pleased by the extent of moral hazard going on? That’s when you abandon your initial strategy and begin studying for real. You shake the dust off the books, skim them thoroughly and copy the most important concepts into a little notebook. You are finally being diligent – so diligent that a slight stroke of luck could even see you passing – passing the CFA Level 1 exam you have so religiously been trying to ignore.
Luckily, the improved morale proves to be short-lived. Looking at your calendar, you realise just how many events you have pre-booked months ago. Concerts, theatre plays, tennis matches, arts exhibitions – there is something happening almost every night. Not to mention the ever-escalating number of friends’ Christmas do’s, year-end farewell drinks and birthday parties. Oh, and your best friend arrives for the MBA Banking Week in London. You decide to keep your priorities straight, very straight, as far as best friends are concerned. A secondary layer of dust starts building up on the CFA books, but you don’t really mind.
At last, only one week separates you and the EXAM. Clouds seem to be thickening overhead; the end is near. But many things can still happen in a week. You suddenly realise that Ryanair has rescheduled your flight home, originally planned for AFTER the CFA exam. Rather lucky, you think, as, instead of requesting a full refund, you transfer the trip to the weekend BEFORE the exam. Family is everything; mum will be totally pleased to have you two weeks earlier.
Riga turns out to be a blast. Your mum is pampering you restlessly and you gain a couple of kilos within barely a day. The rest of the time is spent sleeping, eating and drinking champagne – remember that you will not be seeing your mum on New Year’s Eve. And, since you are in Riga anyway, you might as well make a day trip to Tallinn. Make sure to have your CFA notes deposited in your luggage. Other than for a short-term conscience fix, opening them is however absolutely unnecessary.
My Riga, so perfectly beautiful. Six days before the CFA exam.
By the time you have safely returned to London, lost the baby fat and recovered from a champagne overdose, the time is Wednesday. You are officially on study leave from work and begin panicking, but there is little to do at this stage. Another tennis match is scheduled for tonight, and you decide to cycle 6 miles to Royal Albert Hall rather than take the Tube – anything to avoid studying.
On Thursday, it would seem that little can prevent you from hitting the books properly. You only pop out of the house briefly to visit the gym and lock yourself up afterwards. As you try to concentrate, however, it suddenly hits you just how many interesting activities your flat offers during the working hours. You begin by baking a round of blueberry muffins. You then get your breadmaker labouring on a brand new recipe. After which you once again admire the beautiful view from your window and shoot galore. By the time you have packed your camera away, munched down the muffins and stocked the bread in the freezer, the day is over. Oh, and your head is still wonderfully CFA-free.
Friday comes. The Friday before the exam. You need to be in good shape for tomorrow and visit the gym again. In the meantime, your colleagues continue bombarding you with emails, and you feel you absolutely HAVE TO stop by the office before returning home. Even when you eventually make it there, you find no peace – your neighbour is a keen drummer and regularly practises on Fridays. Undisturbed, you decide to counteract with some loud ex-Yugoslavian rock music instead. Let’s see who wins.
A few hours later, the church bells outside are chiming 10pm and the neighbour finally surrenders. That’s when you study for real, cursing yourself for not having been THIS responsible from the very beginning. Whatever happened to the former top student of the top business school in the Baltics?
In the best student traditions, you stay up for most of the night and show up at the exam brightly red-eyed and exhausted. You are allowed to unseal the exam books – the questions are embarrassingly easier than you had thought. Surely you have plenty of time. Your mind begins to wander, as do your eyes. You are positively surprised so many fine representatives of the opposite gender have nothing better to do on a Saturday than take that God-forsaken exam. After some rigorous thinking, you decide that their employers must be paying for them, too.
“It’s time“, you hear at last, “Please stop writing now“. As the papers are being collected, you cast a few concluding glances – not at your answers (those are all wrong, anyway), but at the named cute individuals around. You wish you could exchange numbers with some of them. Telephone numbers, of course, not the number of degrees of freedom – you smile as you realise the exam is over. Finally over, at least for this year.
I took my CFA Level 1 exam last Saturday. And I have definitely failed it.
But boy, did I have fun preparing.