Top 6 study tips

As I have done a considerable number of studies in my life, I consider myself quite a study expert (or nerd depending on your interpretation!). I always liked to learn new things but also have learned on “how to learn” doing the course of the process. Hence my top tips that might work for you as well!

1. Forget the long term planning

Everyone who has worked in business, has come across detailed planning processes, that once put into place have to be amended every time again. This either results in stress when people are behind schedule, or relief and a decrease in work effort when ahead of the planning. Furthermore, valuable resources are drawn away from the production process and instead spend more time on completing timesheets, swim lanes, and monitoring other people’s progress.

Hence, don’t include this organisational bureaucracy/overhead into your studies instead apply some simple maths. E.g. for CFA an average student needs 250 hours prep time. Suppose you decide to study every weekend Saturday and Sunday 7 hours each day, this implies you have to start 4.5 months before the exam. The reason why long term planning doesn’t work for studies, is that you don’t know what is ahead of you. Hence, assume you are an average student and optionally add some additional hours to the average suggested study time. Some sections might take you longer than the average student, others will take you less time to comprehend: don’t overcomplicate things!

To ensure you are on track just set some general goals: e.g. first revision of entire material done after 2 months, finalised mock exam revisions after 3 months, second revision of material done after 4 months, final revision of all material after 4.5 months. By setting rather general goals you are not going through phases of euphoria or disappointment when sections take shorter or longer.

2. Prepare a short term planning for the last preparation method

Once you have an overview of what the curriculum entails then you can plan out your valuable time in the final weeks. The difference now, is that you know what your strengths and weaknesses are and how long certain sections or revisions will take you, hence planning is valuable in this stage. Just come up with a daily plan in which you combine reading, exercises and mock exams for the final stage.

3. Do the first revision more quickly than feels natural for you

You will be surprised how many books are written by different authors not totally aware how their section ties fits into the overall picture. As a result, concepts that are assumed to be understood in chapter 1, are sometimes explained only in chapter 5. Hence, first try to gain a good overview and see how the pieces fit together before going into too much detail.

4. Use different sources

As in tip 3, the authors will explain the material the way they find most logical, but this might not be the most suitable for you! Hence, gain different points of view by looking at other articles and information on the internet: especially Wikipedia is a great tool that explains technical concepts in a layman’s manner and also gives you a historical development that has led to the current situation/practices.

5. Use mock exams to fill the gaps

Mock exams are an ideal tool to determine what your weak spots are. They also will reveal parts of the curriculum you either have assumed to be less important, or so logical that you did not properly think it through! Exam revision also allows you to signpost your exam so that you know how much time to spend on each item and can determine if you are on track or need to speed up.

6. Ensure “alone-time” for the final days before the exam

Children are lovely, and some people can’t get enough from their work however these factors can also be a great distraction from your study and the one thing you need during the last couple of days before the exam is focus. Hence, plan ahead and either study at home and make sure it is quiet and you are not interrupted, or go to a quiet place like a library. The last couple of days is usually the time when everything comes together so don’t let all your good efforts be wasted because you were too busy with other stuff! Discuss this in advance with your spouse or boss so you can reserve some quality preparation time just before the exam.


About Servaas Houben

I am a Dutch actuary and worked in the Netherlands for the first 4 years of my career. Thereafter, I worked for 2 years in Dublin and 4 years in London. I am now heading the actuarial department of ENNIA in Curacao.
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5 Responses to Top 6 study tips

  1. Bhavin says:

    Hii Servaas, Thanks for sharing very useful information…. being patient and consistent in revision and preparation is proved all time working for me…

  2. ram says:

    Hi Servaas

    Interesting post. appreciate your CFA study tips. This is really great. Just one more question. How to approach morning IPS questions for level 3. do you have any kind of comprehensive list. If so, do share the same. thanks. Ram.

    • Hi Ram,

      Morning IPS is really a matter of good and precise reading. The best way is to practice just a lot of exam questions so you get an idea what they are after and what the tricks are. I don’t have a list of possible questions or an approach mainly as level 3 is very broad. Hope this helps a bit!

  3. crdarwin says:

    Thanks for the advice. As a student hoping to someday take (and pass) my actuarial exams, I appreciate any helpful pointers I can get! Are the exams similar abroad to those here in the US?

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