I honestly didn’t think I would be able to write this post. Because I honestly didn’t think I would pass the Canadian Securities Course (CSC®) my first try. But here we are and thank god for it!
Let me give you some context. I’ve been in the personal finance world for almost a decade now, starting out as a hobby personal finance blogger in 2011. That hobby blog evolved, and 4 years ago I left my corporate job to work for myself as a content creator, speaker, money expert in the media, and financial counselor.
After I became an Accredited Financial Counsellor Canada (AFCC®) at the start of 2018, I thought I was done with formal financial education. It took me a year to get those credentials and I felt wiped out by the end of it.
Cut to 6 months later and I got a bit restless. Although I really enjoyed the AFCC program (maybe I’ll write about that in a future post), it didn’t go in-depth on topics like investing. Moreover, although I’ve been able to bring more awareness to the program with my platform, most people have still never heard the term “financial counselor” before.
You know how annoying it is when someone asks you about your credentials, you tell them, and they look at you blankly because they have no idea what an Accredited Financial Counsellor Canada is or if it’s even “legitimate”. It is by the way. It’s just not as popular a program in Canada compared to the U.S. where it originated. Typically most people who do the program pursue a career as a credit counselor for a credit counseling agency. But I digress.
The Canadian Securities Course through the Canadian Securities Institute, on the other hand, people have heard. Almost every other Canadian personal finance expert I know, not to mention journalists and financial planners, have taken it.
So to me, it was the natural next step to take. However, now that I’ve checked it off my list, I’ve set my sights even higher. I’m slowly pursuing the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation. I’ve even signed up for Financial Planning 1 through the Canadian Securities Institute to continue down that path. But I’m not here to talk about the CFP or the AFCC. I want to share with you my experience and my study tips for passing the Canadian Securities Course.
How Long It Took Me to Pass the Canadian Securities Course
From cracking open Volume 1 of the CSC coursebook to passing the Volume 2 exam, it took me 3 months to complete. Would I suggest this as a reasonable timeframe for doing the Canadian Securities Course? Absolutely not! My heart starts to race just thinking of the stress and pressure I put on myself to do it so quickly.
In the course, it does provide a study planner for 3, 6, 9, and 12-month windows. To me, 3 months isn’t really enough time to let all the content truly soak in and for you to do all the interactive quizzes, watch all the videos, and take all the practice exams.
So…why on Earth did I try to do it in only 3 months? Money. That’s why. I signed up for the course in 2018. I paid to renew it in 2019. And in 2020, I had to take it otherwise be forced to pay the full fee once again (you can only renew it once). Thankfully, because of the pandemic, my course license was extended. It was set to expire in July 2020, but it was extended to the end of October. This little saving grace motivated me to get serious about studying. Still, I didn’t leave myself much time. I started studying in mid-July, and had my first exam on Sept. 23, and my second exam on Oct. 14.
Although the course provides a study planner, since I was in a time crunch, I just did my own thing. If I was smart and left myself more time, I probably would have opted for the 6-month plan. Instead, here’s what I did:
- 2 Weeks: Volume 1 has 12 chapters, so I studied a new chapter every day, which also included me watching all the accompanying videos and doing the interactive quizzes.
- 2 Weeks: Volume 2 has 13 chapters, so I studied a new chapter every day to replicate my process for Volume 1.
- 3 Weeks: I went back to Volume 1 to study since that was the first exam I booked to take. I re-read the entire textbook, highlighted sections, wrote notes and terms on flashcards, re-watched a few of the videos, then did both practice exams. I passed both practice exams, which gave me confidence that I’d pass the real exam.
- 1 Week: I needed a break from studying (and my mental health!), so I took one week off from studying.
- 3 Weeks: In the final 3 weeks, I studied Volume 2 again, which included re-reading the entire textbook, highlighting sections, and making flashcards. I only did one of the practice exams because I felt a bit burnt out from all the studying, but I passed it, and thankfully I passed the real thing too!
So yes, I read both textbooks twice! And I can honestly say I have never studied so hard for anything in my life! But I’m glad I did. Not just because I passed, but also because that information is very much ingrained in my mind now and for the future.
Don’t Cheap Out on Study Materials
One thing I was worried about was that my textbooks were a few years old since I’d signed up for the course 2 years prior. I have no idea what’s different in the updated textbooks, but if I were you, I wouldn’t try to save money by buying someone’s used textbooks. Just play it safe and get the new ones.
Moreover, there are a few different options for enrollment. I opted for the most expensive package because if you’re going to cheap out on something, maybe it shouldn’t be on study materials for an exam you hope to pass. I bought the Canadian Securities Course (CSC®) Value Pack Combo and I’m so glad I did.
I found the videos super helpful and the practice tests invaluable. But, the package also included a Financial Investment Calculations Toolkit with a calculator, Financial Statement and Ratios e-Tutorial, and Macro and Microeconomics e-Tutorial which I didn’t use at all. Also, the free calculator you get isn’t great. Instead, I bought the Texas Instruments BA-II-Plus BAII Plus Financial Calculator since I wanted a calculator I could find YouTube tutorials on how to use it. It’s also the calculator used in course videos.
What Sections You Should Focus On When Studying the CSC
The course gives you the breakdown of the exams, and they are pretty on-point for what you should focus on.
As you can see for Volume 1, 23% of the exam focuses on a fixed income. The exam made it feel like it was closer to 35%, but maybe that’s because I hate doing bond calculations. Fixed income was definitely my weak point, so I spent more time studying those sections. And yes, you do unfortunately have to memorize mathematical formulas. They don’t provide them for you. So make some flashcards and memorize them.
For me, my strong points were the Canadian Marketplace and, to my surprise, Derivatives. As you study and take the practice exams, you’ll find your strong and weak points too. What fun!
For Volume 2, overall I found the study material easier to digest and generally more interesting. But if you were to look at my test marks, you would have no idea! No joke, I marked 1% higher on the Volume 2 exam compared to Volume 1.
Although fixed income was the big focus of Volume 1, with Volume 2 I didn’t really feel like one section took over. Looking at the exam section weightings, Investment Analysis and Portfolio Analysis are the heaviest weighted, but when taking the exam it really feels like it. I personally struggled with Investment Analysis. Although I enjoyed the content, I found it difficult to memorize, but it could have been because of study fatigue or a number of other factors.
What the Exam Is Like During Covid
I never thought I would take an in-person exam during a pandemic, but now I can say I’ve done two! I thought it was weird that the Canadian Securities Institute didn’t offer the CSC exams online using a virtual proctor. That was the setup for my financial counseling exams and I really appreciated the convenience of being able to do the exam from home.
I’m not sure if that’s something the CSI is working on for the future, but hopefully, they are, considering how long you now have to wait to find an open slot to book your exam (the backlog is insane!). I booked both my September and October exams in late July, and they were the last slots available. I also recently looked to see when was the soonest I could book my exam for Financial Planning 1, but it’s booked solid for the rest of 2020.
For my exams, I opted for computer-based exams instead of paper-based. I prefer doing exams on a computer, plus the big benefit is once you finish you find out instantly if you passed or failed. You just have to wait a day or two to find out the exact percentage you got. But keep in mind it does cost $75 to do the computer-based exam, whereas paper-based is free.
In terms of what to expect at the exam centre, I mean, we are in a pandemic. But the CSI gives you clear instructions on safety protocols, and here’s what that looks like:
- You must have a mask on the entire time upon entering the exam room and taking the exam.
- Your temperature will be checked before being allowed to enter the exam room.
- You must bring your own pencils, eraser, non-programmable calculators, and government-issued photo identification. If you do not have any of the above, you will not be permitted to write your exam. If you’re doing a computer-based exam, you are allowed to use a pen, but for paper-based exams, you must have pencils.
- You must take off the cover of your calculator for the exam, as some covers have programming instructions on them that are not allowed.
- You must arrive at the exam centre 30 minutes in advance of your exam. If you arrive earlier, you’ll be turned away because they cannot offer a waiting area.
- Upon entering the building where the exam centre is located, follow signage, social distancing protocols, and instructions that the exam proctor will provide.
- Washroom breaks and food are not permitted during the exam. You can however use the bathroom before and after the exam with permission.
One thing I also didn’t realize before taking the first exam is you’re allowed to bring flashcards, your phone, and textbooks with you into the exam centre before the exam. So you are allowed to do some extra studying before taking the exam. You’ll just be told to put all of your belongings away into your assigned cupboard near the entrance 5-10 minutes before the exam starts.
Also, the exam proctors can’t really help you. Unless you have a technical problem, they don’t allow you to ask any questions specifically related to the exam. Lastly, not everyone in the exam room will be doing the same exam. Some people may be taking the CSC, Wealth Management Essentials, or other exams offered by the CSI.
What I will say is I thought the CSI did a very good job in terms of safety protocols. I felt safe the entire time. There was clear social distancing and overall it was very efficiently run.
Why You May Want to Take the Canadian Securities Course
I want to end this post off with explaining why you may want to take the Canadian Securities Course. Initially, my goal was simply to pass the CSC and move on with my life. And somehow only a few days after passing, I enrolled in yet another course with the intention of now completing the CFP exam in a few years.
Is the Canadian Securities Course worth taking just on its own? In my opinion, yes. Because I think knowledge is always worth it. That being said, the CSI does offer the CSC at a lower price point called Canadian Securities Course (CSC®) for Investors. Although it’s half the price, it doesn’t include the exam or the certification after passing. So if you just want the textbooks to learn on your own, that is an option. But what’s the fun of studying without the motivation of an exam or the reward of a certificate? But that’s really up to you.
If you want to take the CSC to further your career, here are some of the different paths you can take.
Personal Financial Planner (PFP®)
You could become a Personal Financial Planner (PFP®). Not to be confused with the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation, the PFP is a designation that many people pursue working as financial advisors at financial institutions. Honestly, outside of the financial industry bubble, most people have never heard of the PFP. That’s not to say that it’s bad or not worth getting, but I would suggest doing some research to see if it makes sense for your personal career path.
Chartered Investment Manager (CIM®)
If you want to become a Portfolio Manager, Advising Representative, Associate Advising Representative or to be able to conduct discretionary portfolio management services for clients with an IIROC member firm, this might be a designation you want to pursue after passing the Canadian Securities course.
MTI® Estate and Trust Professional
If you aspire to manage estates and trusts with affluent clients, the Canadian Securities Course could lead you to earn the MTI® Estate and Trust Professional designation.
Certified Financial Planner (CFP®)
And lastly, there’s the route I plan on taking, the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation. Although there are different paths to becoming a CFP, such as through Advocis, since I already did the CSC it only makes sense to continue taking courses through the CSI instead of another institution.
I’m going to be taking Stream 1, and as you can see, I’ve got 6 courses to take before I can take the CFP exam. My estimate is that it will take me two years to get exam-ready, so wish me luck!
One thing I found helpful was going on forums like Reddit to see what other people’s experiences were like. Well, sometimes I found people’s responses helpful. What I didn’t find helpful was anyone saying that the exam was easy or it’s a beginner course. Sure, it’s a foundational course to achieve a certain designation or credential, but calling it a beginner course makes it sound like the learning material and exams are easy.
It’s not. Far from it. On the CSI website, you’ll see that it estimates that it will take you between 135-200 hours of study time depending on your background and level of comprehension. That is definitely accurate. Although I’m quite experienced when it comes to personal finance and didn’t have to much trouble with comprehension, I estimate that I spent at least 200 hours studying. And the reason for that is because there is just so much content to understand and memorize. No one can just breeze through the textbooks and expect to pass (unless you have a photographic memory or have done similar courses before).
If you want to pass, I would suggest giving yourself at least 6 months to study. I would also suggest focusing on Volume 1, then taking the exam, then cracking open Volume 2 to study. Don’t try to do both simultaneously. If I could do anything differently, it would have been to focus on one volume at a time.
Also, because I was considering doing this but am glad I didn’t, I personally don’t think it’s necessary to spend any extra money by buying practice exams or study notes from other organizations. You’ll be just fine with the resources provided directly from the CSI. But also, do what you need to do to pass! This was just my experience and worked for me.
Got any questions for me? Let me know in the comments, I’ll be happy to answer!