6-Month Level 1 CFA® Exam Study Plan: Safe and Sufficient

CFA exam / Study plans / Level 1 May 2021, 6-month


Candidates often ask if 6 months are sufficient to prepare for level 1 CFA exam. Well, it’s just enough. Especially if you apply the 'Safety-First Rule for CFA Exam Prep'. This studying strategy factors in more than 300 study hours and assumes a regular review of study content.

Here it goes:


"Plan your preparation safely to MINIMIZE the risk of FAILING to achieve your GOAL. 300 study hours – it’s just a benchmark, not a guarantee of success. Aim for more than that, say 400 hours. Then, devote like 100 hours to regular revision. Even if it means you’ll need to forgo some of your free time. You give up this luxury to MAXIMIZE the chances of PASSING your EXAM!"

300 Study Hours:
a Benchmark, not a Guarantee

Level 1 candidates usually begin their preparation 4 or 5 months before their CFA exam. The average number of hours they spend studying amounts to roughly 300. But what if 300 hours is simply not enough? What if it’s a prerequisite that cannot guarantee your success? Objectively speaking, it is hard to arrange more than 300 hours within a period of 4 or 5 months, especially if you have a regular job, family, and your daily duties to take care of. And while it’s surely true that an average level 1 candidate spends about 300 hours studying before the exam, the level 1 passing rate of just above 40% is also a fact.

And you want to do better than that!

The solution is simple:

respect the CFA exam plan to do better than an average candidate arrange ca. 400 study (and review!) hours to successfully prepare for your exam start your prep NOW, i.e. even 6 months before your exam.

This precautionary approach is what it takes to apply the 'Safety-First Rule for CFA Exam Prep'. So, join now and capitalize on the time you invest in your preparation:

Regular Review:
Who Does It?

That’s the problem! Hardly anybody reviews study content regularly – on a weekly, or even daily, basis.

I don't know why.

Is it ill-defined self-confidence? Unawareness of how to best learn for such a huge exam? Or simply laziness? No matter the reason – regular review is what makes a difference!

Control Your Forgetting Curve

Forgetting curve is always present, whether you study for 6, 4 or 3 months before your exam. But if you start your preparation now, you will be able to plan some spaced review sessions. You should definitely use this possibility and make revision a part of your regular studying cycle to prevent the bad effects of the so-called forgetting curve:

CFA Exam and Forgetting Curve

As you can see – without reviewing – after one day, we remember only around 35% of what we read yesterday. To learn things and store them in our memories, we need to repeat them now and again. Spaced repetition gradually flattens your forgetting curve.

This simple rule is the reason why I tell my students to review parts of the study content systematically, at least once a week. That’s also why – when creating our CFA Exam Study Planner – I insisted on adding review sessions alongside study sessions. Because I strongly believe that frequent revision is the key to success and the topics review or the pre-exam revision, while important, are simply insufficient. The option of Proper Review-ON SystemTM is available in the paid version of the planner, either in the form of a monthly subscription or a one-time payment. In the free version, Topics Review and Final Review are scheduled, as you'll see below.

Are 6 Months Sufficient to Prepare for Level 1 CFA Exam?

6 months are definitely sufficient to prepare for your level 1 CFA exam. With 6 months, you can easily plan for roughly 400 hours of studying during your exam prep. You'll find lots of time for regular review sessions + you'll be secured against any unexpected events like busy periods at work, ill child or whatever else can make you give up your planned study hours.

I think it’s reasonable to say that even 60-70% of those who opt for 400-hour prep are likely to pass their exam. Bearing in mind that the average pass rate for level 1 is around 43%, I guess it’s worth a try. Therefore, if you can start your preparation now, go on and follow this safe study schedule:

Be careful, though!

Even if you decide to adopt the plan, there are 2 major threats that can seriously impede your preparation. The steep forgetting curve is one of them. The other is about inefficiently used study time.

Be Serious about Studying all Way Through

Be wary of ideas that would come to your head to tell you that since you started your preparation earlier than others, you have already gained an advantage that will surely pay off in the end. The thing is – it should, but it may as well not. To make this advantage work to your benefit, you have to study as diligently and efficiently as you can from the very beginning.

If you are too lenient with yourself instead of being competent and productive, your advantage will melt away. Even worse, your inefficiency may surprise you and leave you empty-handed.

So: you better fix your mind on your ultimate goal, which is to pass your CFA exam, and keep this goal in front of your eyes while studying!

Your 6-Month CFA Exam Study Plan Detailed

This is a sample 6-months level 1 study schedule. What you need to do is to customize it to your needs and expectations. One of the basic things you should decide is how difficult all the level 1 topics are to you. This will tell you exactly how many study hours from the range of 300 to 400 you actually need to prepare well. Also – to get your number of hours – you should decide if you want to follow the Proper Review-ON SystemTM and revise on a weekly, or even daily, basis. You know where I stand on this issue.

START on 16 November 2020

1st Study Block (16 Nov – 26 Dec)

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

2nd Study Block (27 Dec – 7 Feb)

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

3rd Study Block (8 Feb – 11 March)

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

4th Study Block (12 March – 11 Apr)

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

FINAL REVIEW (12 Apr – 14 May 2021)

END on 14 May 2021

The May 2021 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 .

In this sample level 1 study plan, all 10 topics are divided into 4 Study Blocks. Every block always ends with topics revision. Ethics is treated exceptionally. It’s scheduled at the beginning and at the end plus you’ll be asked to study Ethics Standards also in between other topics to learn them thoroughly. As soon as you opt in for your 6-month study plan, you’ll find out what I mean .

After you study & revise all the topics, there’s the Final Review. With all mocks and other practice tests, it’s usually the most intensive of all the study time. But this Final Review will be just a cherry on top if you review regularly not only after each quality-time Study Block but also as you move from one CFA exam reading to the other.

Below’s a timetable for this 6-month level 1 study plan. Upon creating your own study schedule, the dates will get adjusted allowing for the starting date of your study plan and your preferences (e.g. topics difficulty, review sessions).

6-Month Level 1 CFA Exam Study Plan Timetabled

Level 1 Topics Topic & Review Deadlines
Ethics 23 Nov 2020
Quantitative Methods 7 Dec 2020
Portfolio Management 22 Dec 2020
QM+PM Review 26 Dec 2020
Financial Reporting and Analysis 22 Jan 2021
Corporate Finance 2 Feb 2021
FRA+CF Review 7 Feb 2021
QM+PM Review 7 Feb 2021
Fixed Income 21 Feb 2021
Equity Investments 5 March 2021
FI+EI Review 11 March 2021
QM+PM+FRA+CF Review 11 March 2021
Derivative Investments 19 March 2021
Alternative Investments 21 March 2021
Economics 5 Apr 2021
DI+AI+ECO Review 11 Apr 2021
Ethics Summary 11 Apr 2021
Final Review 14 May 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 6-month level 1 CFA exam study plan:

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. 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 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 8, 2020

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