On Saturday, some 160,000 students will gather to write Levels I, II, and III of the Chartered Financial Analyst exam.

The 6-hour exams are notoriously tough, and writing them, in the words of Kurt Schacht, a managing director at the CFA Institute, is "frustrating. Itís grueling, itís rigorous, itís confounding. Some people take it multiple times to get through the various levels."

Fewer than 50% of test takers pass the exams each year. And only 20% of people who start the CFA program actually complete it. On average, students spend some 250-300 hours preparing for each level of the exam over the course of 6 to 8 months, according to Schacht.

But here's the thing: writing the three exams is really just the first step to becoming a full CFA charterholder.

In addition to passing all three exams, you also have to:

Agree to the CFA Institute's Code of Ethics and Standards of Processional Conduct Have four years of work experience in the field (in which "at least 50% of your time is spent directly involved in the investment decision-making process") Become a regular member of CFA Institute (the annual fee is $275)

You can also choose to register with your local CFA chapter Ė there are 144 around the world Ė although that's not a requirement.

But for now you should probably focus on that last-minute cramming before the tests begin Saturday morning.

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