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My two-cents on the FRM Level 1 exam last November

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1 month ago

I know that passing level one of a professional certification is not really a remarkably significant achievement. Many of my friends completed all 3 levels of CFA or both 2 levels of FRM. Some of them even passed 2 levels of FRM on the same day. However, I believe I should be proud of myself, as the result was a payoff of all my effort during the last 4 months.

My daughter was born in the middle of June, so at the time I decided to register for the test, I wasn't sure that I would have enough time to study. For the first 3 months, she needed a lot of my attention, and she didn't have a good sleeping schedule: she used to stay until 11 p.m. and cry a lot before sleeping. So during the summer I worked full-time from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., came back home to cook and clean until 8 p.m., and then tried to comfort my baby until 11 p.m. or even later. The long working days didn't allow me to stay up late to study, so I didn't have any time to study during these days.

Fortunately, from the beginning of September, my baby started to sleep from 9 p.m., so I worked part-time, studied part-time, spent some hours with her every day, and tried to study from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. Knowing that I only had about 150 hours to prepare for the exam (a survey of GARP showed that on average a candidate needs about 240 hours to study in order to pass the level 1 exam), I developed an efficient plan that helped me to cover key topics of the exam while still have time to do some mock tests. Below is my plan, and the reason for me to write it down is just my thought of someone might find it helpful. Hence, please feel free to share it or use it as a reference plan if you are planning to take the FRM level 1 exam:

- Materials: a friend was so nice to lend me his materials after completing his level 1 exam. So I didn't purchase any other books but used his materials only:

+ FRM Handbook: this book is good at connecting required knowledge to a smooth flow so that I can develop a big picture understanding. As GARP requires a huge amount of information from multiple areas, sometimes I was overwhelmed by a sea of knowledge. The problem of the book I used is that it was published in 2011, hence several parts of it were out of date and weren't connected with the requirements of the 2017 exam. After reading about 1/3 of this book, I found out the misalignment and switched to the GARP materials. I am not sure whether any newer versions are available. In general, this book is good if you have plenty of time and want to understand the big picture.

+ GAPR Books: these are the official materials from GARP - who organizes the exam. Of course, they should be the best materials to prepare for the exam. The problem I found with these materials was that these books were mainly collections of GARP required readings and they did not do a good job in connecting relevant topics and information. Reading some chapters and getting lost, I decided to use the Schweser books.

Schweser FRM 2021 books: in my opinion, these are the best materials to prepare for the exam. Schweser not only covers all important areas but also helps me see the connection between topics. Some topics weren't clear enough that I needed to read them twice to understand. However, in general, Schweser is my top choice.

+ Bionic Turtle (BT): I did not have enough time to use BT, and to be honest I think I did not need (maybe when preparing for FRM level 2, I will try). I do not have any recommendation on BT.

- Study plan:

+ You should prepare at least 200 hours (~ 2h/day in 3 months) to study. If you have experience in math and/or risk management, you might need fewer. But if you have little or no experience in both math and risk management, I really recommend spending at least 200 hours. As I had some experience of credit risk from my previous position and learned statistic knowledge last year in the Six Sigma course, I could save time dealing with these topics.

+ Studying consistently: it's better to spend 2h/day every day than to spend 8h/day over the weekend and no study time on the weekdays. In October, I traveled to Pennsylvania to attend the National Black Career Fair for 3 days, and I could not study during these days. After coming back, I forgot some topics I learned before traveling and needed to re-learn.

+ For every topic, I read the books, summarized what I remembered on my personal notebook, then did the practice problems at the end of each chapter. After checking answer key and explanation, I identified what I had missed and re-read them. After finishing each part (FRM level 1 includes 4 parts: i. Foundations of Risk Management, ii. Quantitative Analysis, iii. Financial Markets and Products, and iv. Valuation and Risk Models), I did the mini practice test at the end of each book, setting time constraints as rigorous as the real test (2.4mins/question).

+ Reserve time for the mock exams: I saved the last two weeks before the exam day to do two mock exams and to review all that I had learned. Every year, when releasing study guide, GARP also publishes a mock exam which has the same length (but not the same difficulty) as the real exam. I downloaded the mock exams of 2017 and 2016 and finished them. Doing mock tests helped me to prepare my mind for the continuous 240 minutes of intensively functioning. As the mock tests are easier than the real tests, you shouldn't be overconfident when seeing your high scores on the mock tests. From my experience, it's safe to score at least 70% on the mock tests, as the real tests are 20% - 30% harder than the mock tests.

+ Have a good night's sleep before the real exam: I could only sleep for about 3 hours in the night before the real exam, and my brain was badly affected. I felt extremely sleepy in the third hour of the exam. I tried to wash my face, eat some candies, and drink a big cup of cold water to keep my body awake. I finished the exam with some random answers, which I would have been able to eliminate if I had had enough sleeping.

Above are what I did to pass the FRM level 1 exam. I am more than happy to share my experience and answer any questions related to what I learned. Also, I plan to take the level 2 next year, so if someone has the same plan, we can make a study group.

For the next 4 months, I will spend all my effort to finish the MBA program and prepare for the next step in my career. God, please be with me. My friends, please help me to stay strong.

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