There is plenty of interest in this designation out there right now, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences. I wrote level II in early June, and was informed of my passing grade on August 19th (Far too long for an Item set test that is marked by computers).
Here are my thoughts organized into several convenient topics:
Content Difficulty – Level II is known to be the most difficult in terms of content. The topics covered don’t change much (See my Level I cfa review), but the depth of knowledge needed to get through the exam does. While writing level I, I found that there was very little material that I hadn’t covered in my undergraduate degree – I could prepare for level I very quickly. Level II introduced topics that I had not had much experience with, especially on the accounting side (especially international accounting). However, if you do have an accounting background, I don’t think the accounting material will prove very challenging – just shift focus over to the economics, portfolio management or one of your weaker subjects.
Change in Format – 2005 was the first year that the Level II exam did not include a written portion; The written portion was replaced by Item set questions. I can’t comment on whether the exam has become easier or more difficult because of this change (This was my first time writing Level II), but I do think that the type of questions asked have shifted as a result in the changing format. More than I expected, the exam focussed on having a qualitative understating of material rather than centering on calculations and quantitative answers. There were many answers where you had to pick the best answer: “A only; A and B; A and B; A, B, and C”.
Study Material – My strategy here differed from the recommendations of the CFAI (formerly AIMR). I used the study notes and software provided by Stalla as my primary study aid. Where I felt I couldn’t get an adequate understanding from the notes, I would either consult my undergraduate textbooks, or the recommended texts of CFAI. My choice of study notes provider was made based on my liking of the PassPro software that stalla produces – the software is well integrated with the study notes and exceeds that of other providers. Schweser is the other big game in town, and they also provide quality notes (many feel that the schweser texts do a better job of covering the material). There definately isn’t one note provider that stands out from the other – you choice will have to come down to preference not quality.
I wouldn’t recommend only using study notes (and no textbooks) for anybody who hasn’t had plenty of academic finance experience – The notes tend to be only refreshers, and if you are looking at the material for the first time, it will be difficult to absorbe any of the material.
Scheduling – According to my estimates, I studied approximately 250 hrs. for the exam, slightly below the recommended allocation of 300 hrs. – I would generally study 16 hours per week, with an average of 8 hours of studying during the week, and another 8 hours split up during the weekend. Here is how I approached the chapters:
I was able to stay relatively close to the plan I had set out at the beginning. When you’re working heavy hours, it’s not an option to fall behind. Here are the chapter topics:
Actual Exam – As mentioned earlier, the exam was very qualitative, which I found surprising. The exam questions did not relate to what I studied, in terms of question format and specific material. With many of the questions, I felt that I was looking at the material for the first time, despite being able to comfortably pass each of the six practise exams that I had written. I don’t feel that studying more would have made much of a difference for my own success, or would have led to a higher exam score – Having a background outside of the assigned material definitely helped.
The morning exam was seen as being relatively easy, while the afternoon left everyone in the coliseum gasping for air (I wrote at the Pacific Colliseum @ the PNE, along with several thousand others). It’s fairly difficult to gauge the difficulty of the exam after only the morning session.
Passing Grade – 56% of people who wrote L2 passed, vs. approximate 32% last year.There are several possible explanations as to why this grade was so much higher than last year: the great number of rewrites this year (from all those who failed last time around), the change in format, the return to the more traditional pass rate for level II (which is aprox. 50%).
There is no way to really know why the passing level jumps – CFA institute is quite cryptic on how they set the passing grade. One thing we do know is that the delay in getting are results back (2 months) is partially explained by the amount of time it takes for them to set the passing grade.
Final thoughts – I left the exam thinking that I had failed (unlike level I where was confident I succeeded), but ended up passing fairly comfortably. This exam, more than any other I’ve written, feels like a crapshoot. You definately need to know the material to have a chance at passing, but knowing the material is really not enough to ensure that you do pass. There are many well-prepared, intelligent people who fail – and I think you need a bit of luck not to end up that group.