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 level 1 CFA exam study plan should look like.
Looking for a specific study schedule?
Choose your 2021 CFA Exam Study Plan:
Looking for a specific study schedule? Chooseyour 2021 CFA Exam Study Plan:
- 8-month L1 Study Plan
- 7-month L1 Study Plan
- 6-month L1 Study Plan
- 5-month L1 Study Plan
- 5-month L2 Study Plan
- 4.5-month L1 Study+Review Plan
- 4-month L1 Study Plan
- 4-month L2 Study Plan
- 3-month L1 Study Plan
- 2-month L1 Study Plan
May 2021 level 1 CFA exam takes place from 18 to 24 May – this is the exam window when you can schedule your exam appointment. You can register until 23 February 2021 (currently, the standard registration fee of $1000 applies) and you should schedule your exam before 10 March 2021.
As soon as you decide you're gonna take your CFA exam in May, you'll probably be looking for some extra study materials to match your Curriculum and to get ready for the hardships of your study time. Our new CFA Exam Study Planner 4.0 with study lessons and various study resources inside can definitely be of great help to you here:
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 40ish% 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 Level 1 CFA Exam So Low?
Possible causes of the low CFA exam 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.
Level 1 CFA Exam Study Plan & Bulky CFA Program Curriculum
So far, we failed to mention the voluminous study material that every level 1 candidate has to go through.
Just have a look at your CFA Program Curriculum. This is 6 books, hundreds of pages each. To read it all from cover to cover – and don't even mention understanding what you’ve read – you need a lot of time. To make good use of your study time, you need it to be organized into a study plan. And remember: a successful level 1 study plan should both respond to your needs and keep you on your toes!
But one more word about study content. I would call 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 CFA Exam – How Much Time Do I Need?
It is said that an average candidate needs around 300 hours to get well prepared for the level 1 CFA 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 per month, week and day you should spend studying.
This is where our study planner comes in handy. If you set up your personalized level 1 study plan beginning February, you'll get around 300 study hours divided into roughly 4 months. This time is arranged so as to factor in 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 daily, weekly, and even monthly.
My advice is that you treat these estimations as a benchmark to lead you through your exam prep but also 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 4-month level 1 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 study planner app:
Before we move on to a sample 4-month level 1 CFA exam study plan, there is one more piece of advice:
Have a look at the concepts of forgetting curve and learning curve – they may actually give you some idea about what your CFA exam prep should look like in order to be fully successful.
How a Good Level 1 CFA Exam Study Plan Should Look Like?
We begin our sample 4-month level 1 CFA exam study plan on 1 February 2021 and end it on 14 May 2021. The last two-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. More challenging topics are coupled with more easy ones allowing you to take a sort of break meanwhile. Also, where possible, topics are coupled based on the similarity of concepts. Last but not least, the most important topics – i.e. Ethics and FRA – are scheduled relatively upfront to ensure they are thoroughly studied. 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 (for possible number of level 1 questions, go here >>):
START on 1 February 2021
1st Study Block (1 Feb – 24 Feb)
- Quantitative Methods
- Portfolio Management
- QM+PM Review
2nd Study Block (25 Feb – 24 March)
- Financial Reporting & Analysis
- Corporate Finance
- FRA+CF Review
- QM+PM Review
3rd Study Block (25 March – 13 Apr)
- Fixed Income
- Equity Investments
- FI+EI Review
- QM+PM+FRA+CF Review
4th Study Block (14 Apr – 2 May)
- Derivative Investments
- Alternative Investments
- DI+AI+ECO Review
- Ethics Review
FINAL REVIEW (3-14 May)
END on 14 May 2021
The May 2021 level 1 exam window lasts from 18 to 24 May 2021. If you manage to finish everything as planned on 14 May, you'll still have some time to relax before your exam, as well as to do some final touches and reviews.
Level 1 CFA Exam Study Schedule in 4 Months
|Level 1 Topics||May 2021 Exam Deadlines|
|Ethics||4 Feb 2021|
|Quantitative Methods||14 Feb 2021|
|Portfolio Management||22 Feb 2021|
|QM+PM Review||24 Feb 2021|
|Financial Reporting and Analysis||14 March 2021|
|Corporate Finance||21 March 2021|
|FRA+CF Review||24 March 2021|
|QM+PM Review||24 March 2021|
|Fixed Income||2 Apr 2021|
|Equity Investments||10 Apr 2021|
|FI+EI Review||13 Apr 2021|
|QM+PM+FRA+CF Review||13 Apr 2021|
|Derivative Investments||18 Apr 2021|
|Alternative Investments||21 Apr 2021|
|Economics||30 Apr 2021|
|DI+AI+ECO Review||2 May 2021|
|Ethics Summary||2 May 2021|
|Final Review||14 May 2021|
If you set up your personalized study plan,
the deadlines will get adjusted.
Here’s a sample 4-month level 1 CFA exam study schedule for the May 2021 level 1 exam as displayed in our new Study Planner 4.0:
You will find your Study Plan in the PLAN tab View all the weeks of your CFA exam prep, see how much you’ve done and how much is still ahead of you, as well as customize your plan using the DRAG & DROP feature.
In the STUDY view of your Study Plan Find study lessons listed for CFA Program readings and various study materials and tools, including to-the-point videos, printable PDF notes, exam-type questions, progress bars, or benchmark study times.
About the Author:
Bart Mankowski has been helping candidates from around the world to pass their CFA exams for 10 years now. He’s the initiator of Soleadea and its CEO. His ideal job is to find solutions to problems and potentials for innovation. That is why Soleadea and its unique CFA Exam Study Planner are being improved all the time ;).
Last Update: Jan 11, 2021
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2012 and has been regularly updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness ever since.