How To Study For the CFA if You Work Long Hours

Are you already working in finance, or another demanding job, but still have to find the time to study for the CFA? We have been there. Let us guide you through it.

It is not easy to find time for proper sessions of studying for your CFA exam. Study sessions should last AT LEAST one hour, but ideally in the range of 90 minutes to 3 hours. The main reason is that you want to get into the “flow” and minimize friction time: it will take you roughly 10 to 15 minutes just to get ready: figure out where exactly you left last time, getting all your writing tools ready, prepare a nice coffee, and find that cursed CFA calculator!

Because of friction time and the other reasons mentioned earlier, we disagree with short studying blocks at work (i.e. the sneaky lunch study break). Before or after work are the best times to do it. Of course, the weekend is the main victim of your CFA preparation.

Should I Study Only Weekends?

No. Studying only at the weekends is not a good idea. Both from a study efficiency and mental wellbeing perspective, you need to spread your studying across weekdays and the weekend. Even if you like binge-studying (are you for real?!), it’s better for your brains to give them some time to “sleep on it”. Your brains will process information better if you study for 7 x 2 hours, rather than 2 x 7 hours (i.e. weekday binge). By being exposed to related information over every day (you pick up on Wednesday where you left on Tuesday) you will remember it more easily. This is because every day you are being exposed to little nuggets of information in a more complex web of information (i.e. cash flow in accounting), forcing you to think about the broader subject every day!

Do not let the CFA ruin your weekends. It is easy to push off studying to the weekend. But, you need a mental break from work and studying! Also, if you allocate too much time to weekend studying, this will hamper your freedom and damage your relations. Friend asking you for a spontaneous run, or beer/wine? “No, I have to study” is OK now and then, but you shouldn’t become a Monk for 6 months! Take the hard route, and take that Sunday completely off. See it as your reward for making your weekdays a notch harder.

Allocating Your Study Hours: WEEKDAYS

Only you know whether you are a morning person or a night owl. Statistics (and our personal experiences) show that it is too difficult to go against our genetics! Also, it’s obviously important to match your study hours with your job’s. You can’t slack on the job all of a sudden – we definitely don’t recommend it!

Here we will lay out some of our examples – and people in our network – as to how you can study around your work schedule.

Weekday Case Studies

Why not take advice from the people who have been there before you? Surely you will recognize some of their experiences!

Case Study: Ellen, morning person, works in Private Equity, typical hours: 9 AM to 8 PM

“I am definitely a morning person, waking up around 7 AM naturally. So, I found it quite easy to wake up at 6 AM to get some early studying done. Also – who really wants to stay late after a hard day at work to study… Not me! For me, it is easiest to study at work, because I relate the office to work and being efficient. People at my firm tend to trickle in at around 9 AM, so being in at 7 AM enabled me to get at least 2 hours of studying done. It’s a great feeling to be done with it before starting work. Because my schedule works so well for me, I managed to get in about 10 hours every weekday. “

Case Study: Michael, night owl, works in Equity Research, typical hours 8 AM to 7P M

“We start at around 8 AM, which I already find tough because I’m not a morning person AT ALL. The thought of getting up at 5 AM is an absolute dread. No way I could do that. I also don’t really like to stick around too long at work, because for sure it would lead my colleagues to ask for small favors all the time. I would go home at 7 PM, have dinner with my partner, and try to get in 2 hours of studying 2 to 3 days a week. Every time I managed to get 3 days in, we would go out for dinner the 4th night!”

Case Study: Oliver, morning person, works in a Hedge Fund, typical hours 7 AM to 6 PM

“For me, getting the hours in was quite difficult. I’m a true morning person, waking around 5 AM. However, I’ve also got my family morning duties, so can’t really get anything done before I start work at 7 AM. When I’m done from work at 6 PM, I’m usually very tired on volatile days. So I don’t have a pre-set schedule, but target 1 or 2 study sessions of 2 to 4 hours each.”

Allocating Your Study Hours: WEEKENDS

How much should you study in the weekends? That depends on your total target for the week, and your performance during weekdays. The weekend is the time to shine, but don’t go overboard. If your target is 20 hours per week for 3 months, then getting 10 hours during weekdays sees you studying a total of 10 hours during the weekend. We tend to advise a 60/40 or 70/30 ratio for allocating time across Saturday and Sunday. In this case you probably want to do 2 blocks of 3 hours on Saturday, and 1 block of 4 hours on Sunday.

Do NOT try to overcompensate for a difficult week at work. Did you have a huge project this week, and you only managed 1 or 2 hours instead of 10 (your target)? Do NOT think you have to squeeze in 18 hours during the weekend. It’s important to recharge mentally, so you can study EFFICIENTLY. There is no use in trying to study when you are exhausted, tired, and just in need of some complete relaxation.

Weekend Case Study

Example: Week Target of 20 Hours, 10 Done in Weekdays. Friday night house warming party. Gym on Saturday afternoon. Lunch with family on Sunday.

We recognize this is pretty solid weekday performance. For the 10 hours left during the weekend, try to allocate them around your other events. The Friday night is going to be late, and please don’t you bother setting up an early alarm clock. It won’t work. Do it like this:

Saturday – Making Ends Meet

  • Wake up at noon. Shower and get dressed (gets you into the right mood).
  • Have breakfast while you study. Effective study time from 1 PM to 3 PM.
  • Leave to Gym with friends at 4 PM. Back at home around 7 PM for dinner. Finish at 8 PM.
  • No Netflix for you! Effective study time 8 PM to 11 PM
  • Saturday Study Time: 5 Hours

Sunday – Prime Time!

  • Wake up at 8 AM. Shower and get dressed (gets you into the right mood).
  • Have breakfast and potter around… Ooops, it’s 10 AM!
  • Effective study time from 10 AM to 1 PM
  • Leave for lunch with family, back home around 5 PM.
  • Effective study time from 5 PM to 7 PM
  • Have dinner with friend/partner and have your evening “off”…
  • Sunday Study Time: 5 Hours

The above example leads to 10 hours of studying time. Pretty good is it? It does require you to plan ahead a bit. This method forces you to ensure time spent with friends and family is fit for purpose!

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