Hello gentlemen,

     If there are any Chartered Financial Analysts here maybe you all could give me some advice. I am graduating from my university this coming May. I actually have been recruited to an investment advisory firm not too far from where I lived prior to coming to college, but my role will be sales initially. This company emphasized to me that this role is only permanent if I want it to be, and I could move into analysis at some point. Anyway, my questions are as follows.

Q: I want to begin the process of taking the CFA level I exam, would you recommend taking a prep course? My teachers have been good, but only one in particular has given exceptionally good instruction.

Q: Should I prepare for this test on my own instead? I am a very hard worker and driven to study on my own time.

Q: How long do you feel it takes to fully prepare for CFA level I exam? I have a firm grasp of valuation methods and the philosophy behind them, but I feel that my accounting understanding though decent, may be lacking.

Q: And lastly, I have seen some example questions and supposed past test questions so I have an idea of the makeup of the test. Though what do you think the major emphasis on the level I exam is?

Any input would be greatly appreciated!

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Is it multiple choice or writing? If you can accurately score yourself, I recommend studying alone with practice guides. Sometimes the best are published by the testing authority. If the format of the test is such that you cannot accurately score yourself (as with any essays), I recommend paying someone who can score your practice tests, so some paid test-prep service.

I've been thinking of signing up to take the CFA I exam.  I've talked to some friends who have done it, and I've borrowed some of their books to get a start on preparing.  They generally didn't take any courses and just prepared on their own.  I don't think that there's any way around doing the independent studying, even if you take a course.

The exam is really broad.  It covers economics, corporate finance, portfolio management, financial statement analysis, fixed income, equities, derivatives, alternative investments (PE, distressed debt, real estate, closely held companies, etc), probability, statistics... and, of course, a good chunk of the questions are on their code of ethics.  Supposedly, financial statements analysis and ethics are the two broad categories that have the most questions.  People who've taken it are encouraged to correct me if I'm wrong about this, but I'm under the impression that it's more important to the test to understand the principles of each sub-topic, rather than to try to be an expert on any of them.

Sounds consistent with what I've heard about understanding the principles of all the sub-topics. Which books are you using, and do you find them to be pretty clear and helpful?

First off, I'm not a CFA charter-holder (you'll learn when you study the ethics portion you're not supposed to use "CFA" as a noun or call yourself "a CFA")

I only passed level 1 and I don't think I'm going to continue, simply because I don't think this industry is for me but i'll share what I've done to pass at least the first one.

study materials i used:

Kaplan Schweser study notes

CFAI textbook end of chapter practice questions

Elan Guides practice questions
Elan Guides mock exams

When you register you'll get a stack of like 6 books or something that are quite substantial in size.. some people use this but I didn't even touch these books. I just used Kaplan Schweser study materials. I just read through their materials and answered the question at the end of each section. YOu can also take notes on the way so you have a 'cheat sheet' of concepts you think you'll forget but don't take down EVERYTHING because before you know it, you're going to have a 20 page "cheat sheet" that really isn't. When you're done just answer all the multiple choice questions after each section in the CFAI textbooks just so 1) you get more practice and 2) you know the style of the CFAI questions. Level 1 is completely multiple choice so the way to perfect this is to just continue doing practice sets. I don't you suggest you do the following, but due to time constraints I had and my study abilities, I knew I couldn't finish everything on time so I completely skipped the Econ book. I think it was like 10% weight? It was a risk on my side but I concentrated heavily on Ethics/FRA/bonds which are the heavyweights.... luckily i passed, but barely.

As far as studying, don't underestimate it because most people do and fail. I started studying for the Dec exam in maybe late July/Aug? Studied pretty much 3-4 hours after work everyday, and all day Sat, afternoons on Sunday. Repeat until exam day. I took around 2-3 days off work before the exam to study all day. 

good luck, CFA is no easy task. From people who have taken both the CPA and CFA, they say Level 1 is equivalent in material to the entire CPA exam.

Thank you! Lots of helpful stuff here. I've read that Elan notes seem to be preferred over Schweser. Do you think one seemed to be more concise than the other, or did you have a preference? Aside from that, thanks for the input!

I didn't used the Elan as a study guide so i can't really comment on that. I just bought their practice questions and mock exams. But based on the quality of those I'd probably say the notes are likely just as good.... I know they're a lot cheaper as well as a packet.

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