Congratulations. You made a serious decision to take the CFA Level I exam. In short, preparation for CFA exams requires a serious commitment and following a structured study plan is one of the key factors that will enable you to perform well. Statistics indicate that the pass rate for the CFA Level I exam is about 37-40%. This shows that only dedicated candidates are likely to pass the exam, so be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices and put in the required effort. Your biggest investment in the CFA is your time, so spend it efficiently. According to the CFA Institute successful candidates on average report that they spent approximately 300 hours preparing for the CFA exam in total. The required preparation time can be greater for those with a poor background in the subject matter and less for those who have a strong background in the subjects that the CFA curriculum covers. As a guide for a study plan, let's use this estimate of  300 hours of reading and practice hours, as a benchmark. 

Readings

The CFA Level I exam covers 10 topics, 18 study sessions, and 60 readings. Each subject carries a different weight in the exam. A good way to manage your study time is by allocating study time based on each topic's weight. The table below summarizes the distribution of 300 hours of reading on the different exam topic areas. 

On average it is better not to allocate less than four months for readings and leave the last month for revision and practicing. If you read two hours per day on weekdays and eight hours on the weekends, it will take about 17 weeks (four months) to complete all of the readings.

Weekends and non-working days are the best time to study for the CFA. During the week, you will barely have time for practice questions, in addition to end-of-chapter questions. Therefore, plan to spend an additional two to four hours during the weekend on practice questions. Do not forget—the more you practice, the higher your chances of being successful on the exam. (See also: How Hard are the CFA Exams?)

End of the Chapter Questions

Do not defer solving end of the chapter questions and always write down your results to track your progress. End-of-chapter questions will give you an overview of what areas are tested on the exam, so you can be more focused on these areas. Additionally, these questions will reveal the weaker areas that you must focus on to improve. The following table summarizes how to allocate best your study time for the various CFA exam topics if you were to give yourself 300 hours and four months (120 days) to study. Use this table as a benchmark and customize your study routine to suit your circumstances. 

Topic Area

Weight

Hours based on 300-Hour schedule

Days to allocate

Ethical and Professional Standards

15

45

20 days

Quantitative Methods

12

36

14 days

Economics

10

30

12 days

Financial Reporting and Analysis

20

60

23 days

Corporate Finance

7

21

8 days

Portfolio Management

7

21

8 days

Equity

10

30

12 days

Fixed Income

10

30

12 days

Derivatives

5

15

6 days

Alternative Investments

4

12

5 days

Total

100

300

120 days

The Last Four Weeks 

CFA exams are held on the first Saturday of June (all levels) and the first Saturday of December (only Level I). Taking these dates into account, allow yourself four weeks prior to the exam date to review questions and have practice sessions. During this period, you should practice more intensively than in previous periods. The CFA Institute will give you one mock exam. It's recommended that you set aside at least one day to simulate exam conditions at home with the mock test: a three-hour morning session, two hours of break and a three-hour afternoon session. The mock exam will help you to be well-prepared for the exam physiologically.

It would also be worthwhile to take a two to four-week study leave or annual leave for the final phase of your preparation. 

The Bottom Line

The key to preparing for the CFA Level 1 exam is to study in a structured way over a period of at least 300 hours. Hopefully, after studying in a structured way for the CFA level 1 exam, you will be ready to ace the exam, and 2 months after taking the test, you will receive an e-mail from the CFA Institute which starts with the word "Congratulations!". 

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.