For those of you who didn’t know (odds are slim for our limited audience), I sat for the CFA Level 1 Exam this past Saturday. For some reason the CFA Institute calls it “writing” the exam. Every time I see that I think I have mistakenly stumbled upon some instruction manual for coming up with exam questions. The CFA stands for Chartered Financial Analyst and there are three tests covering Finance, Economics, Statistics, etc. and a number of years of work experience required to become a “CFA charterholder”. The three tests are Level I, Level II and Level III (so…logical…and note that if it is in roman numerals it is automatically harder to pass).

Why the CFA? Since I have a background in Finance and don’t have a job where I USE Finance all the time I seem to like to go back and study it (see MBA 2001-2003). I really do enjoy the subject material, it’s a resume builder, it’s relevant to some of my job reponsibilties and, well, my company will pay for it. I had always wanted to do the CFA or CFP program, but didn’t have the impetus to do so until this year. Omar, another analyst at my company mentioned that he was taking the December test and I figured that now was as good of a time as any since I could knock out Level I before the new baby is to come.

The deadline was September 15th to sign up and I only had a few days to decide. Sure you’re supposed to take 6 months to study for it, but I have an MBA in Finance and a degree in Economics so how hard can it be? (Very hard) And Omar hadn’t started studying, so surely I must have plenty of time? (Wrong) And I could disregard the passing rate of 35-40% because that probably factors in all the people who sign up and end up not taking it? (Wrong it only counts people who show up and take the test).

So after studying for three months just about non-stop I took it this last Saturday. It was difficult (as were all the practice tests, so I wasn’t surprised). Hard to say if I passed – I’ll find out in mid-January. Some thoughts from taking the test.

  • –The security was pretty impressive. I had to show my ticket and ID once to get into the building, once to get into the hallway, and once to be assigned a seat in the testing room.
  • –Everyone gets the same test and it starts with 18 ethics questions, then 12 quant questions, etc. It was funny to me to start the test and hear the pecking of calculators – I guess some people wanted to skip the ethics questions? Or were they already calculating how many more they could miss after missing some ethics questions?
  • –One girl brought in a batch of 10 pencils in a rubber band. If you can break the lead of more than a couple of pencils while filling in 240 ovals you’ve got bigger problems.
  • –They tell you to get there an hour in advance as they will close the doors at that time. I guess “that time” means 10 minutes until the test starts because most of us were sitting there for 45 minutes – you could tell that the people who failed it in June and were taking it again knew better and showed up later.
  • –The test is 6 hours total – 9-12 and 2-5. It would have been funny to watch as an outsider. At noon people converged on the snack bar to wolf down a sandwich, commiserate about some of the difficult questions and retreat to their cars to go get some more cramming in. “Halftime”, I called it