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LITTLE MONK: Decoding Success in CFA Exams

LITTLE MONK: Decoding Success in CFA Exams

Author: Budhaditya Debnath | 27th January 2022 | Read Time: 6-8 mins

Hi everyone.

This is Budhaditya Debnath–I’ve cleared my CFA Level II exam recently, and a firm believer of the fact that ‘Time is your biggest asset’.  So, if you are not going to apply any of what Little Monk has to say, please refrain from reading further. If it’s the other way round, let me share with you a story of Little Monk.

Little Monk has two features—he is Little (No experience on how to tackle any of the professional exams) and he is a Monk (humble enough to learn from everyone). The day he stepped out of Monastery (school/college/essentially the comfort zone), the pace at which the world opened up to him was something he never expected.

Monk was amazed at how fast people would speak, move, do something and (strangely) expect results right away! Looking back at his days in the Monastery, he recollected as to how peaceful his life was, but then again, it was over. All he could do was to move forward.

Freedom from the monastic life of having to sit and study, freedom from having a fixed time to eat and sleep, was undoubtedly lucrative. The enjoyment (late-night partying and stuff), the thrills, and the opportunities that the city life had to offer were just a step away from Monk. That step was “money”– so to understand the nuances of how it works, Monk decided enrol for the CFA Program.

Monk was little, so before recklessly preparing for the exams, he decided to take a walk on the other side of the street, where he found two tables, Table A (Occupied by 3 people) and Table B (Occupied by 4), all depressed over the recent Level I and Level II results.

“Fear of Failure”—something Monk never experienced in the Monastery. He mustered up the courage and decided to ask them what they did wrong.

Table A: Occupied by three Corporate Hotshots, Mr. Qualified, Mr. Inhuman, and Mr. Lazy, who decided to self-study.

Mr. Qualified: Five Degrees!! Can you imagine? I’ve completed 5 degrees; CA, CS, CMA, CFP, and CWM. How can “I” not get through even Level I? This is completely unfair. I’ve done topics like Capital Budgeting and Financial Reporting throughout, why do I even need to separately do questions on the same?

Little Monk learned his First Lesson:

Do NOT disrespect the program. Even if you have prior knowledge, about the subjects, exams are author-specific and the very structure demands at-least 6 months of dedicated time to prepare, solve questions and sit for mocks. If you just care to add the three letters behind your name, better not go for it. Have a separate scheduled time to study. Focus on Deep Work for moments, consistently.

Mr. Inhuman: I do not understand. 20 hours a day I’ve studied!! I’ve mugged every single page of the summarized material, the formulas, the notations. How did I mess everything up in the exam? The questions were super time consuming and twisted. The language was hard as well.

That’s when Monk learnt his Second Lesson:

CFA Exams do NOT test your ability to reproduce ( Mugging up isn’t rewarded as much as they are in an Indian exam). Instead, your ability to recall and apply the concept in the situation is what gets one through. Practicing questions, recording your own voice notes whilst learning a topic/understanding a question, shifts your efficiency upwards.

Mr. Lazy: What the hell man? I’ve done all the End of Chapter (EOC) practice problems multiple times and even read the summary. I should’ve gone through.

Monk’s Third Lesson was an obvious one:

Just the Practice problems aren’t enough. One needs to solve the Candidate Resource questions at least once ( twice recommended) and sit for the mocks offered by the Institute and the other vendors.


Monk wondered, what would happen if he went for tuitions instead of going for self-study? Is it guaranteed that he’ll get through? With such questions, he turned to Table B.

Table B: Occupied by 4 students; Mr. Gifted, Mr. Lethargic, Mr. Ignorant, and Mr. Incomplete

Mr. Gifted: I’m a gifted Chartered Accountant. Managed to clear the same in a single attempt. Have been a rank-holder since my childhood. I did take coaching from a renowned Institute which teaches with complete concepts & logic….and completed 70% of the classes. My speculation on which topics are more important should’ve been spot on.

Little Monk gazed at his Fourth Lesson:

Covering less than 100% of the classes is an enormous risk. Impossible for anybody to game the exam. It’s better to cover all the classes as soon as possible and shift to practicing questions.

Mr. Lethargic: I did cover the classes, practiced questions, went through CFA Level I, for Level II, once again, covered the classes, but there just weren’t enough questions to practice. The item set format was really daunting. And the concepts were confusing enough for me to mess it up in Level II.

Monk’s Fifth Lesson was spot on :

Level II has a dearth of questions as compared to Level I. The concepts are quite challenging to pick up in one go. It’s optimal to do the classes (preferable 2-3 per day), think about the same deeply, understand it in your own language, and record your own voice notes ( of both the Class Notes/concepts as well as the Core Reading Blue Box examples).

Mr. Ignorant: This is my second time not getting through Level II. Damn! It was a borderline case. Only if I had done a bit better in Ethics, I’d have gotten through. Aside from that, I did the classes a long time ago, have forgotten a lot, difficult to pick up from the scratch.

Little Monk’s Sixth Lesson was:

A borderline case is a result of one not having a single/sufficient puller (Essentially, if your Ethics isn’t up to the mark, be sure to make it up with scoring above 70 in 2-3 subjects at least). Do NOT be ignorant as to whether there are review classes ( announced or provided already) of the topics. Review classes are the perfect breathers/kick-starters for revising the topic in a crisp and efficient manner.

Mr. Incomplete: I’ve done it all. Classes, review classes, questions, mock, everything, still, I kept on forgetting the stuff. Took too much time to revise. In the exam hall, I got too anxious. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t get through Level II.

And those were Little Monk’s Final Two Lessons:

  • Without bringing out your own natural teacher, your preparation is always incomplete. When you teach something that you’ve learned, you not only contribute to the other person but also solidify your own understanding of your own language. So, it’s very important to reply to/solve your Level related doubts. QForum is the best place for the same. Your activity on the Forum, be it whether you’re the one asking a doubt or replying to the same is directly related to your success in the exam. It’s the best Revision & Review Engine one can use to go through questions where someone else stumbled…imagine how useful it can be to refer to a compilation of all such queries!
  • It’s important to manage yourself, before going to the exam hall. Talk to people who make you feel good, meditate if you’re into it. Because mood is once again a significant factor on the day of the exam.

Little Monk took a deep breath. He cheered up everyone by ordering a hot cup of coffee for all and summarizing what he learned:

  • Set a deadline to complete your classes/reading the curriculum ( non-negotiable) and separate monastic study hours.
  • Aggressively record your own audio notes. Each chapter’s summary (not the one given at the back but your own summary), blue box examples, if possible, the questions/item sets, as in what did you learn there.
  • Revise using questions and review class Pick a chapter, say Capital Budgeting, solve an item set without revising anything. Force yourself to think. Irrespective of whether you get it right or wrong, read the solution. Go through the notes on that part. For more, go through the core readings and glance. Keep solving item sets on the chapter from both practice problems and candidate resources, Go to QForum and have a glance at the doubts posted on the chapter, try answering as much as you can, Close it up with the review class.
  • Sit for Mocks. 

Monk had the broadest smile on his face, when he heard that everyone there (both tables!) was once again determined to face the exam. He took a deep breath, cheered up and enrolled for his Level I exam.

The story ends with one last question………… did Little Monk become Wise Monk?

Answer – Not that relevant. What’s more relevant is, he decided to stay a Monk.

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