4-Month CFA Level 1 Study Plan

CFA exam / Study plans / Level 1 Dec 2018, 4-month


After reading this post, you’ll learn:

  • why the Level 1 exam passing rate is so low,
  • how much time you need to prepare yourself for the exam,
  • what is strategic vs. tactical study planning,
  • how a good study plan should look like.

The upcoming CFA Level 1 exam is on 1 December. Most likely, you have already registered for the exam if you’re about to sit it (if not, make sure you do not miss the standard registration fee deadline passing on 15 August). Now you are probably looking for some extra study materials to match your Curriculum and to get ready for the hardships of your study time. Our new study planner with different study resources inside can definitely be of great help to you here:

Your Personalized Study Plan: Free & Advanced
Your Personalized Study Plan


Before you get down to work, however, stop for a while and ask yourself one fundamental question, which is: “How do I overcome the low 40% or so passing rate?”. To be very specific, we should also add here that this 40-ish% passing rate is a real value calculated for those who actually took the exam (i.e. it excludes no-shows usually accounting for as much as 20-25% of all registered candidates).

Why Is the Passing Rate for CFA Level 1 Exam So Low?

Possible causes of the low CFA Level 1 passing rate can be many. Difficult financial concepts, some complicated or tricky exam questions, limited time you can approximately spend on one exam question, the minimum passing score set at a high level, or even the advanced English (being often an obstacle to non-natives).

Undoubtedly, all these count but the real culprit here may be still at large.


We failed to mention the bulk of study material that every CFA candidate has to go through.

Just have a look at the CFA Curriculum. These are 6 books, hundreds of pages each. To read it all from cover to cover, you need a lot of time. Don't even mention understanding what you’ve read.

Arrange Your Study Time For Free
Arrange Your Study Time


I would call CFA level 1 exam conceptual ‘cos it verifies your general knowledge and understanding of finance. It may be a good idea to focus on particular concepts required in the exam and to make sure you get them right. To reach this goal, you may consider taking advantage of numerous study materials available online that will naturally facilitate your uptake of the obligatory dose of knowledge.

Studying For the Exam – How Much Time Do I Need?

It is said that an average candidate needs around 300 hours to get well prepared for the CFA Level 1 exam. Of course, it is a mean value and it need not apply to you. From my own observation, I can tell that some candidates will be fine with only 150 hours of preparation (which is extremely rare), but there will be those who will need to spend even 600 hours before they pass their exam.

For example, if you work in finance, you studied finance at university and you like to test yourself, you will probably find 300 hours just enough. If, however, you define yourself as a finance greenhorn, you barely fancy poring over the books or you wish to change your field of specialization (of which taking the CFA exam is only a step), you should allow for more than 300 hours of preparation.

It is very important for you to be able to estimate the number of hours you’re going to need for your exam prep. This estimation would allow you to see what’s the average time you should spend studying per month, week and day.

This is where our study planner comes in handy. If you set up your personalized study plan now, you'll get around 300 study hours divided into roughly 4 months. This time is so arranged as to allow for all 10 topics and a proper revision before your exam. You'll be given the average study time per week plus an estimated time for every reading. With this knowledge, it is easier to see how much time you need to study on a daily, weekly, and even monthly basis.

My advice is that you treat these estimations as a benchmark to lead you through your exam prep but allow for some extra hours in excess of your staple preparation time. What I mean is that I haven’t met a person who would say they are fully prepared for the exam or that the exam is just in time for them.

What Is Strategic Study Planning?
How About My Tactics?

When preparing for the CFA exam, you have to tackle the issue both holistically and atomistically. What it means is that, on the one hand, you need to establish how much time overall you’re going to devote to different topics, mock exams, revision, etc. and when. On the other hand, you should be able to systematically adapt your schedule and make plans for shorter periods, usually for the upcoming week. The former, I call general planning strategy and the later – detailed tactics.

Below, you will find a hint at how to handle strategic study planning (in the form of CFA level 1 4-month study plan). As for tactical planning, you'll be in better control of your every study week if you opt for your own personalized study plan using our app:

Be In Control With Free Study Planner
Free Study Planner


Before we move on to a sample 4-month study plan, there is one more piece of advice:

Remember that getting ready for the CFA exam is a long-lasting process. Every such a process requires good planning, execution, and supervision. Such planning strategy and tactics account just for the first step. But to keep moving on you also need your overall Exam Strategy and Tactics. We talk about it in our Free CFA Workshops held to help you identify possible distractions and equip you with the right tools to focus on your goal.

Study Plan Assumptions and Timing

We begin our sample 4-month level 1 study plan on 6 August and end it on 30 November, i.e. the day before the exam. The last three weeks are devoted to Final Revision, when you should try to do as many mock exams as possible.

The study plan is divided into topics (4 Study Blocks) and I believe that the sequence is just optimal. It is designed to help you focus on the most important topics first. Also, more challenging topics are coupled with more easy ones allowing you to take a sort of a break. The time scheduled for each topic depends on its difficulty, the number of pages in the Curriculum and the number of questions devoted to the topic on the exam:

START on 6 August

1st Study Block (6 Aug – 2 Sept)

  • Ethics
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Portfolio Management
  • QM+PM Review

2nd Study Block (3 Sept – 7 Oct)

  • Financial Reporting & Analysis
  • Corporate Finance
  • FRA+CF Review
  • QM+PM Review

3rd Study Block (8 Oct – 28 Oct)

  • Fixed Income
  • Equity Investments
  • FI+EI Review
  • QM+PM+FRA+CF Review

4th Study Block (29 Oct – 11 Nov)

  • Derivative Investments
  • Alternative Investments
  • Economics
  • DI+AI+ECO Review
  • Ethics Review

FINAL REVIEW (12 – 30 Nov)

END on 30 Nov

December 2018 CFA Level 1 4-Month Schedule

I’m In For A 4-Month Exam Prep
4-Month Exam Prep


NOTE: If you create your study plan as of 6 August 2018, your deadlines will be as stated in the table. If you set up a study plan at a later date, the deadlines will get adjusted.

Below you can see both calendar and weekly view of your 4-month study plan:

Study Plan: Calendar View

Study Plan: Calendar View That’s where you can view all the weeks of your CFA exam prep to see how much you’ve done and how much is still ahead of you.

Study Plan: Week View

Your Current Week View You will be asked to focus on your current week of studying. You will know what to study, when to study, and how much to study. At the end of the week, your hard work will be evaluated (hit the ‘Sum Up Current Week’ button).



Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Posted in: 


My name is Miguel and I started a couple of months studying for Level 1. The reason is that I work full-time and thus I have to prepare in advance.

Greetings for your blog, I think it is a very good idea worth sharing.

I have taken a look to the study plan and I want to give some opinion about it.
First of all I think it makes sense ordering the topics as you did excepto for one, Ethics. Don´t you think that Ethics should be in another position, not the first one? Take into account this is the first contact you have with CFA and Ethics is the most important part of the exam, at least is the one that makes the difference, plus it is theoretical at all, worth memorizing and maybe a student will forget it sooner than other topics.

In my opinion, one should start with the topic that he/she thinks can at least have some knowledge about, so to start positively thinking that you have some background in CFA. What do you think?

Regards, I will defenitalety follow and try to colaborate as much as possible in the blog.

Hello Miguel, thank you for your opinion. You made a good point concerning the sequence of topics. Surely starting with the most favourite topic is to be encouraged. As for ethics, because it is so important at the Level I exam, we think it should be read early enough to be reviewed now and again between other topics. We are happy that you found our portal useful and we are looking forward to hearing from you again.

Excellent and most simple way to pass CFA.......thanks a lot for making it simple....


What is the "Number of Pages to Cover" referring to? the curriculum or only the Schewsar Notes? E.g for Ethics it says 237 Pages, which pages is this referring to?

"Number of Pages to Cover" is referring to the CFA Curriculum.

Thanks for all the useful information on the Soledea blog. I like this study plan a lot. I am preparing now for Level 1 in Dec. I have already done Quantitative Methods and have started on Corporate F/Portfolio. However, it took me quite awhile to get thru QM due to time constraints. Would a reasonable plan be to just cut all the above in half, in other words, 28 study days and 8-9 pages per day on Ethics, etc? Thanks!!

Good website, will you be posting a Decmber 2013 study plan too?


Yes, next week we will post a study plan for December 2013 candidates.

Hello, Thanks a lot for this very valuable resource. I have a question regarding the 5 month study schedule. In your notes regarding topic sequence, you mention that Derivatives should be completed prior to Equity and Fixed Income. This isn't reflected in the study order in the table, but only in the dates. Is there a reason for this? Thanks again. Regards, Yehia
You are right the order in the table has mixed somehow. This study plan was prepared for June 2013 candidates. We are preparing a new one and we will release it next week. Keep in touch!
I am considering taking the CFA Level 1 Exam this June. I missed the first registration. I have some questions that I will be glad if you could answer for me. 1. I read it cost between $2500-$8500. Why the range. Can you please break it down for me. 2. I applied to pursue MSc and deferred it last year because of financial reasons. If I start the CFA Level 1, can I take time off to pursue the MSc and later come back and continue with Levels 2 and 3 3. If I dont continue to Levels 2 and 3 and come back later to complete, do I have to start from Level 1 again? I would be glad to hear from you on the above.