December 2020 Level 1 CFA® Exam Study Plan & Tips

CFA exam / Study plans / Level 1 DEC 2020, 8-month


It's still 8 months to go before your December 2020 CFA exam. Since you're reading this post – you must have already registered or you're thinking about it. You're about to start your preparation soon. But before you get down to books, you need to arrange your own level 1 CFA exam study schedule which would factor in:

  • your strengths,
  • your weaknesses,
  • your learning pace,
  • your finance background.

Your strengths and weaknesses may relate to things such as time management, motivation to study, diligence, and determination. But also to the previous knowledge of topics you gained as a student or at work. You will need to take all this into account when making your study plan. Just take a moment to think about it before you get down to books.

Honestly, you know best what your strong and weak points are but here we'd like to draw your attention to some key aspects including the ability to prioritize, ability to plan, ability to act as planned, and ability to focus. Why? Because CFA exam candidates:

  • are often very busy,
  • find it hard to fit their study hours into their full calendar,
  • do not differ that much from the rest of us and procrastinate at times,
  • struggle with efficient learning.

Are You Like Billy, Danna, Larry or Umber?

CFA Exam: Develop Your Soft Skills

Remember that even with 8 months to go it is important to study systematically and at a suitable pace. The exam day will come sooner than you think and you want to be prepared for this day and then satisfied when the exam is over.

CFA Exam Tips for Organized and Focused Learning

KEY CFA EXAM TIP: It's no mistake to start your level 1 exam preparation so soon. On the contrary, it may be a very prudent and responsible decision as long as you can manage your study time reasonably and use it to your advantage.

Here’s some advice on how to do it:

  1. Develop both hard and soft skills
  2. It means that apart from studying your CFA Program curriculum (hard skills), you should also learn about the specifics of the CFA exam and exam prep. So, read as much as you can to get familiar with the exam format, requirements, policies, etc. Also, get to know how much time you should prepare for your exam and how to prepare to pass (soft skills).

  3. Manage your distractions
  4. If you stay busy with everything else but your CFA exam prep, you won't be able to organize your prep successfully and study productively. Plus, you'll be tempted to put your study sessions off, which is not a good idea if you want to be among the 43% of candidates who pass their exam.

  5. Devise a clear CFA exam studying strategy
  6. Treat learning as a process, not an event – a good strategy drives every efficient process! The strategy we recommend can be put into 4 words: PLAN – STUDY – REVIEW – ASSESS. We implemented this strategy into our CFA Exam Study Planner and it is intended to help those who feel busy, disorganized, lazy or unproductive.

  7. Get yourself a good CFA exam study plan
  8. Plans make things happen! Plan for the big picture but focus on your everyday tasks. The level 1 study plan you will find below is a good basis for your own 8-month study schedule. If you use our CFA Exam Study Planner, you'll be able to adjust it to your needs, e.g. you’ll be able to allocate fewer study hours to those topics you are good at by marking them as ‘easy’. We say more about it at the end of this post.

  9. Study regularly, then simply relax
  10. Study hard, then rest once in a while – a good student is a relaxed student. When you study, best go to your study space where nobody disturbs you. When you relax, don't think about the exam. It's the only healthy approach.

  11. Review and practice a lot
  12. Be careful! I’ve studied ≠ I’ve learned. It's because of the forgetting curve that makes us forget even up to 60% of what we study. To learn, you need to regularly review what you study. Also, practice systematically by doing lots of exam-type questions to get familiar with the exam format.

  13. Assess your study progress
  14. Each week you should check if you follow your study plan. Reward yourself if you’re making progress, try harder if you don’t. Remember that it's ok to make some reasonable adjustments to your study schedule as long as do not postpone too much and too often.

Warning Against
8-Month Prep Threats

The worst you can do is spend these 8 months ineffectively! Grrr…
Only the responsible attitude of regular and productive work leads to success.
Let the time slip through your fingers and you’re in for real trouble – make sure you don't wake up too late to a great deal of work ahead of you!

Creating a Level 1 CFA Exam Study Plan for Dec 2020

Basic information:

  1. Starting date: 6 April
  2. Ending date: 4 December, i.e. Friday before the exam
  3. Final revision: 1 whole month before the exam

START on 6 April

1st Study Block (6 Apr – 1 June)

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

2nd Study Block (2 June – 3 Aug)

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

3rd Study Block (4 Aug – 20 Sept)

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

4th Study Block (21 Sept – 1 Nov)

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

FINAL REVIEW (2 Nov – 4 Dec)

END on 4 December

This plan follows the optimal topic order – topics come in quite natural pairs, where one is more challenging and one a bit easier, namely QM+PM, FRA+CF, FI+EI, DI+AI. Ethics starts and Economics ends your preparation. Also, apart from the final month of revision, there are 7 topic review sessions scheduled meanwhile.

*Topic difficulty is a rather subjective criterion (here as estimated by Soleadea expert). To learn more about it, see CFA exam topics categorization.

What is great about this level 1 CFA exam study schedule is that you will be able to study every topic thoroughly. You may as well read each topic twice, which will give you a more in-depth understanding. The final revision lasts roughly 30 days. Proper revision enhances your long-term memory and allows you to better recall things in your exam. There is really a lot of time and you should try to use it as effectively as possible.

Detailed Level 1 CFA Exam Study Schedule

Here’s a table with all the topic deadlines for your 8-month Dec 2020 level 1 CFA exam study plan. You will also find the number of days devoted to each topic according to the schedule (incl. topic review). Given in the last column are also the most current CFA exam topic weights.

Level 1 Topics Schedule (Deadlines) No. of Study Days* Dec 2020 Topic Weights
Ethics 19 Apr 22 days 15%
Quantitative Methods 10 May 23 days 10%
Portfolio Management 29 May 23 days 6%
Financial Reporting and Analysis 12 July 43 days 15%
Corporate Finance 26 July 16 days 10%
Fixed Income 23 Aug 19 days 11%
Equity Investments 9 Sept 15 days 11%
Derivative Investments 27 Sept 7 days 6%
Alternative Investments 4 Oct 8 days 6%
Economics 25 Oct 26 days 10%
Final Review 4 Dec 33 days n/a

*Includes dedicated topic review sessions.

NOTE: If you set up your personalized study plan,
the deadlines will get adjusted.

Your CFA Exam Study Plan: 35 Weeks, 315 Study Hours

The topic deadlines given in the table above are based on the 35-week exam prep (8 months). The study plan allows for a total of 202 study days plus 33 days of revision. However, with still 8 months to go, you need not study every day. By studying 3 hours 3 days a week, you get yourself as many as 315 study hours, which you can easily split into study time and review time.

In the paid versions of our CFA Exam Study Planner, you can find separate blocks devoted to revision and get benchmark study times for all topics given on a weekly basis and allocated to every CFA exam reading one by one.

* * * * *
Adjust the Study Schedule to Your Needs!

Using our CFA Exam Study Planner, you can personalize your study schedule. That's what you can do:

  • choose the topic sequence,
  • choose the exact starting date of your CFA exam prep (need not be today),
  • decide for each topic if it's easy, moderate, or difficult to you (easy means you’re not new to the topic and you can cover the topic more quickly, difficult means you’ll need more time to study the topic),
  • tick off the readings you have already studied (if there are such),
  • choose if you want to take any weeks off studying and say when exactly,
  • opt in for some aids to help your motivation,
  • decide if you wish to add review sessions to your study schedule and fill in your study plan with study tools & review apps to support the productivity of your work,
  • edit each study week by adding or deleting concrete readings or simply by using drag & drop in the All Weeks view.

Below you can see both ALL WEEKS and CURRENT WEEK views of your 8-month level 1 CFA exam study schedule:

CFA Exam Study Plan: All Weeks View

CFA Exam Study Plan: All Weeks 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.

Also, here you can customize the plan to your needs using the DRAG & DROP feature (the icon) to move the readings around.

CFA Exam Study Plan: Current Week View

CFA Exam Study Plan: Current Week View You will be asked to focus on your current week of studying. Each week you will find some useful practice tools & compact study materials. At the end of the week, your hard work will be evaluated (hit the SUM UP button).

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in April 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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