We want it all.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Ambition fuels our drive for continuous improvement. Many take on additional studies whilst on a full-time job. Luckier ones have employers' support in the form of study leave and exam fees.
What about the rest? How does one cope with having a demanding 12+ hour job, a family and studying for the CFA at the same time?
It's all about managing expectations and sticking to a sensible study routine. Here's the tried-and-tested survival guide to juggle them all.
- Yours: First and foremost, acknowledge and accept that it will be difficult. You will need extreme discipline and focus to do this. Be honest with yourself in terms of judging the amount of free time and ability to focus, else you'd be working hard but not smart.
- Your partner, family and friends: Discuss with your partner / family / friends and let them know why you will be taking the CFA, and why it's important to you. Explain to them that there will be moments of disappearance (to study), unintentional short tempers and grumpiness, but you would still love to spend quality time with them. Oh, and try to be patient when they comment on your CFA prep.
- Employer and colleagues: Discuss and pitch to your boss about the merits of CFA to the company, and ask for exam sponsorship and time off if possible. Let your colleagues know that too so that they will respect your study time during lunch hours or days off.
Establish your Study Routine
Each of us have our own personal commitments and study style. The key here is to set up a sustainable study plan that you can keep up with and remain consistent.
Here's how to construct a personalised study routine that works for you:
#1. Determine when you need to start your studies
As a general rule of thumb, many successful candidates (with full time jobs) start studying around 6 months prior to exams.
This would of course vary depending on your personal commitments (see #2 and #3 below), familiarity with the materials (say if you learnt some of it before or done it on-the-job), and risk appetite. You will be able to thoroughly assess this once you go through the exercises in #2 and #3 below.
#2. The "big picture" plan
I call this the top-down approach, as it's about setting the key study milestones that you absolutely have to achieve by certain dates. The benefit of this is that it keeps you on track in the grand scheme of things whilst allowing some flexibility in your study schedule.
A good one to stick to is dividing them them by reading/studying and practice time. Delving deeper, you can split the studying section by the number of chapters or even better, just number of books (see example below).
Using a 6 months CFA study plan (with 5 Schweser books), here's an example of key milestones and time targets:
- By 23 December: Book 1 completed (including end of chapter questions)
- By 21 January: Book 2 completed
- By 21 February: Book 3 completed
- By 24 March: Book 4 completed
- By 23 April: Book 5 completed
- 23-30 April: 1 week buffer for emergencies, just to be conservative
- 1-30 May: timed practice exams (including mocks) and last minute revision on weaker topics
It's one of the best practices to finish reading a month before at least to focus on timed practice exams relentlessly. You've all heard of the adage "practice, practice, practice" already. If you find you have extra time, get more practice questions.
#3. Detailed weekly study plans
This is the bottom-up approach that serves as a sense check to #1 and #2.
This is where the details matter, as you need to honestly assess your available time in an average week that you can dedicate to your studies.
For June 2013 exams, 6 months preparation starts on 1 December 2012 (note: this would be different for candidates taking December Level I and aiming for June Level II of course). So, you have 26 weeks from 1 December 2012 to 30 May 2013, that means 12-13 hours of quality study time per week on average (assuming 300-350 hours per Level).
So now it's time to find and block out this 12-13 hours of uninterrupted study time in your week. List your weekly commitments in terms of time: for work, personal (don't sacrifice sleep!), family, friends. Total up the available study hours you honestly think you can achieve in a week. Aim to exceed this amount of study time slightly as buffer for unexpected events.
Some scheduling tips:
- Try to incorporate 1-2 hours of study per day on work days if you can. It will help alleviate your weekend load. Studying during commute, lunch breaks, or an hour pre or post work are useful strategies.
- Do incorporate exercises in your weekly routine, especially when you're tired. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it will give you a nice burst of energy and focus for studying on work days.
- If work is extremely demanding, and you know you'd be too tired to focus post work, try scheduling in socials on weekdays instead. This helps relieve stress and leaves the bulk of your weekend free for heavy-duty studying and problem solving.
- Be realistic and test it out in the beginning to make sure it works and you're not falling behind schedule. Then, stick to it!
So after your audit, if your available study time is at least 12-13 hours, great - you've got a viable plan. If not, you have to adjust #1 by starting earlier and update #2. Do this iteratively until you satisfy all 3 steps, and you've got a solid study plan ready to go.
What's your study routine like? Did I missed any tips and tricks that worked for you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.