The odd concern CFA candidates have heading into the upcoming exam

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Time is running out, and test takers know it. Exam day for CFA candidates is less than two months away. With a suggested minimum of 300 hours of studying for each level, anyone who is serious about passing the CFA is already deep into their prep. But maybe that can be part of the problem, at least for rookies taking their first swing at Level I. Is it actually possible to overprepare for the CFA?

Recent posts to the CFA analyst forum reveal one particular fear for first-timers: retention. Test takers who started preparing early are worried that the material they covered months and even weeks ago is slipping from their minds, due to the time that has lapsed plus the amount of material that has been covered since.

“I’m struggling to remember things I covered a while back, and given the volume of the exam, I’m scared I’ll be having to do more catch up than planned over the next month or so,” one Level I candidate posted.

“I feel like I am forgetting stuff at an alarming pace,” added another. “My retention is far lower than I’d like it to be,” a third rookie posted. “I am seriously reading things and thinking: when the hell did I do this?”

Indeed, Level I is known to be daunting due to the sheer amount of material that is covered. Much more memorization is required than with Levels II and III. On a separate chain, a would-be test taker acknowledged not only forgetting the actual valuation formulas that they studied early on, but even the names of the formulas, saying they “almost vanished from [their] memory.”

A current CFA candidate who passed Level I after failing twice told us that finding the balance of feeling prepared while not overdoing it was key to him finally passing. “Everyone talks about the 300-hour threshold and everyone knows the low pass rates” for Level I, he said. “So I started early and put in way more hours than that. I got to the point of paralysis by analysis.” The key to finally passing Level I? “I essentially stopped giving a s*@t and didn’t let the stress get to me” he said.

Members of the analyst forum who passed Level I offer some more concrete advice, including creating flashcards from earlier study sessions that can be quickly reviewed down the road without having to start fresh. Another good option is to understand what topics are weighted heavily and allocating more time to those areas. “Keep in mind that there’s a huge margin of error on the test,” reminded one candidate who previously passed Level I.

Questions regarding ethical and professional standards as well as financial reporting and analysis will each account for roughly 15% of the Level I exam in 2018, according to the CFA Institute. This is a slight change from last year, when financial reporting and analysis accounted for 20%, according to a blog post leading up to the December exam. Topic areas with the lowest weights include derivatives, alternative investments as well as portfolio management and wealth planning, which each hold just a 6% weight. Of course, the CFA Institute is quick to point out that these weighted percentages are not exact.

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