Level 1 CFA® Exam Study Plan, 4 Months to Go

CFA exam / Study plans / Level 1 FEB 2021, 4-month

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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.

Feb 2021 level 1 CFA exam is the first computer-based exam. You can register until 28 October 2020 (currently, the standard registration fee of $1000 applies). As soon as you decide you're gonna take your CFA exam in February, 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 3.0 with different study tools and 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).

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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.

Why? Read on >>

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 October, 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.

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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 19 October 2020 and end it on 19 February 2021. 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. 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 19 October 2020

1st Study Block (19 Oct – 16 Nov)

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

2nd Study Block (17 Nov – 17 Dec)

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

3rd Study Block (18 Dec – 10 Jan)

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

4th Study Block (11 Jan – 31 Jan)

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

FINAL REVIEW (1 – 19 Feb)

END on 19 February 2021

The Feb 2021 exam window has been extended >> it now lasts from 16 Feb to 1 March 2021.

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Feb 2021 4-Month Level 1 CFA Exam Study Plan

Topic (Level 1) Deadline (Feb 2021)
Ethics 23 Oct 2020
Quantitative Methods 3 Nov 2020
Portfolio Management 13 Nov 2020
QM+PM Review 16 Nov 2020
Financial Reporting and Analysis 6 Dec 2020
Corporate Finance 13 Dec 2020
FRA+CF Review 17 Dec 2020
QM+PM Review 17 Dec 2020
Fixed Income 27 Dec 2020
Equity Investments 5 Jan 2021
FI+EI Review 10 Jan 2021
QM+PM+FRA+CF Review 10 Jan 2021
Derivative Investments 15 Jan 2021
Alternative Investments 17 Jan 2021
Economics 27 Jan 2021
DI+AI+ECO Review 31 Jan 2021
Ethics Summary 31 Jan 2021
Final Review 19 Feb 2021

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

Below you can see both All Weeks and Current Week views of your 4-month level 1 study plan:

CFA Level 1 Study Plan: All Weeks View

Level 1 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.

Level 1 CFA Exam Study Plan: Current Week View

Level 1 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).

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: Oct 13, 2020

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

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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.