My Keys to Success

I went three for three on the CFA® exams. There was (no question) some level of luck and good fortune, I do believe there were a few things I did that aided my success, and maybe some or all can help you on your own successful path.


Build it and maintain it! I made a decision early on that I would study every day. Even if all I could squeeze out was 10 or 15 minutes, I did my best to never go a day without having my nose somewhere in the material. Momentum goes both ways; I didn’t want a day off to turn into three. I wanted positive momentum and it worked for me—although I did take a day off the day my daughter was born.

Study Smart

Have a study plan. Maybe you have experience in one or more of the areas, so you can allow yourself more time on other topic areas. Pay attention to top weights—does it make sense to spend the same amount of time studying a topic with a 4% weighting as one with 20%?  

Practice, Practice, Practice

This should go without saying, but it’s really the only way to gauge how you are doing. This can help guide you on what topic areas you need the most work.

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

I heard this early on and it really resonated with me. Start early and stay consistent. You cannot cram it all in the end; there is just too much material.

Keep Context

I remember meeting someone who had failed the Level II exam, someone with a ton of experience—a seasoned financial professional. That scared me at first, but it soon became obvious why he had failed. We were in a prep course together and he kept shooting up his hand and arguing the content with the professor. He would often say something along the lines of, “Well, that’s not really how it works” The professor kept reminding him that the exam doesn’t test on “how it really works” or what happens at his firm; it tests on the provided content. So keep this in context. It’s an exam and you are being tested on the content, not what you feel the content should be.

An Exam Day Tip

My advice on exam day (aside from bring your calculator) is to keep to yourself. When I arrived, I didn’t talk to anyone or didn’t try to make friends. I had one mission and that is all that was on my mind. I have seen it before. I have seen people start chatting about the content and asking if others studied this or that while waiting for the exam to begin. Don’t do this. It is a recipe for self-doubt and nothing good can come from it. Same goes for the lunch break. What’s done is done, if you felt confident or less than confident, keep it to yourself. The last thing you need to hear is Mr. Self-Assured yammer on about how he nailed it. The afternoon session is a fresh start, so get some nutrition and fresh air and prepare for another in the afternoon.

In the End

It will be a different experience for everyone, and thanks for listening to mine. I wish you success on the exam and in your career—enjoy it!

About the Author

Derek Dedman, M.Sc., CFA, CFP, has spent nearly a decade working in different capacities in financial services and is currently a Portfolio Manager for Watson Di Primio Steel (WDS) Investment Management, an Ottawa-based boutique investment firm. Derek joined WDS after serving as Vice President of a Montreal-based wealth management firm specializing in serving cross-border clientele. Previously, with the Financial Planning Standards Council, he was an integral part of the content development efforts for the Certified Financial Planner® national certification exams in Canada.

Derek Dedman