2021 CFA® Exam Study Planner: Fighting against Forgetting

CFA exam / Study plans / Level 1 MAY 2021, 4.5-month


To be successful, every CFA exam candidate needs a good study plan. Setting deadlines for the topics is the first step. A conventional one.

But how about a somewhat unconventional approach which – apart from arranging your CFA exam schedule – takes care of your knowledge retention?

Intrigued? Keep on reading.

Conventional CFA Exam Study Planning

3 main assumptions of conventional CFA exam study planning are as follows:

  1. Study topics one by one according to the CFA Program Curriculum sequence.
  2. Focus on one topic at a time (go back or forth to other topics sporadically, only if needed).
  3. Revise the whole study material after dealing with all the topics (usually, it’s the last month before the exam).

Pros & cons of conventional CFA exam study planning:


As any organized study rhythm, it enables systematic learning.

It makes you focus on one topic before you move on to the next.

At the end of your exam prep, there's a lot of time planned for revision. In special circumstances, it may act as a buffer against your failure to study all the topics. You may choose to devote less time to revision, which is not an ideal situation but it reduces the risk of failing to cover the whole study material.

ONE BIG drawback:

If for a couple of months you study topic by topic and you revise the material only in the last month before your exam, you completely ignore one thing which is extremely important from the perspective of a learner. This thing is forgetting curve >> only when you resist its harmful effect can you have good CFA exam prep with all topics covered and properly reviewed.

Impact of Forgetting Curve on Knowledge Retention

The forgetting curve – which is shown in the graph below – makes us realize that the retention of information drastically decreases as time passes.

Forgetting Curve

How to improve your knowledge retention?

Develop ways to actively put yourself in touch with what you’ve already studied. Do tests, watch videos, write index cards & stick them around, use flashcards, read summaries of the study content, take notes.

All this on a regular basis!

It helps you retain the most crucial information as it systematically challenges your memory. It comes as no surprise that it is better for you to revise more often for shorter time spans than to have one long revision just before the exam.

Bearing all this in mind, we give you CFA Exam Study Planner that helps you fight against forgetting.

CFA Exam Study Planning Against Forgetting

Our CFA exam study planning approach is based on 7 assumptions:

  1. Reorganize the CFA exam topics into the optimal sequence.
  2. Plan plenty of short revision sessions all throughout your exam prep.
  3. When revising topics, accumulate the revised material by going back also to the previous topics (even if just for a while).
  4. Read and reread Ethics throughout the whole preparation period.
  5. Do many exam-type questions to get familiar with the form of your CFA exam.
  6. Secure some time for a proper pre-exam revision.
  7. Do as many mock exams as possible before your exam.

The importance of these 7 points just cannot be overstated and that's why:

  1. Some CFA exam topics are more important and/or difficult than others. You don't want to neglect the most important and the hardest level 1 topics.
  2. You best remember what you studied just after you studied it. If you review the material on a daily or weekly basis, you react against the detrimental impact of the forgetting curve.
  3. Topics are often correlated with each other. By reviewing them in groups, you can see this correlation, which enhances your learning and understanding. Plus, once again, you show some respect for the forgetting curve.
  4. Ethics is one of the top topics, not only in the level 1 exam but also as the whole CFA exam is concerned. That's why there's ethics adjustment.
  5. Getting used to the form of CFA exam makes you more confident on the exam day. It's a boost that can often decide about your success.
  6. Even if you revise on a regular basis, a proper pre-exam revision is a must! Why? See no. 7 below.
  7. It's too risky to leave mock exams for the last week before your exam. You should do as many mocks as possible over the last couple of weeks before the exam. Worried that you haven't dealt with all of the topics yet? Well, you can still fight against time and do your readings but also make sure you get enough practice.

CFA Exam Study Planner That Meets Your Needs

These 7 assumptions formed the basis for our CFA Exam Study Planner 3.0 (with the recommended topic sequence):

The topic sequence applied is not random. 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 in the first half of your prep, thus ensuring they can be thoroughly studied.

You are asked to focus on your weekly tasks, including both CFA exam readings and review sessions (to have regular review scheduled go for the full version of your study plan). To aid your revision, there are free & paid tools available inside the study planner.

There are 4 topic revision sessions, each accumulating topics into groups. This way the topics covered first are revised most often while the topics covered just before the exam are revised once (you should remember them well enough plus their exam weight is relatively low).

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.

Inside your Free Study Plan, you will find some free exam-type questions. And even more of them in the paid version of our CFA Exam Study Planner.

It all wraps up with a proper Final Review! Its length is proportional to your whole CFA exam prep.

During the Final Review, some revision tasks are suggested to you such as mocks or formulas review (use our Test App or Formulas App, respectively).

Below, you will find a sample 4.5-month level 1 CFA exam study plan that follows all the above-mentioned assumptions. Moreover, you can have your own personalized study plan, with your own deadlines but the same study planning approach.

4.5-Month L1 CFA Exam Study + Review Plan

START on 18 January 2021

1st Study Block (18 Jan – 13 Feb)

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

2nd Study Block (14 Feb - 14 March)

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

3rd Study Block (15 March – 4 Apr)

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

4th Study Block (5 Apr – 25 Apr)

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

FINAL REVIEW (26 Apr – 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.

Detailed May 2021 L1 CFA Exam Study Plan

L1 CFA Exam Topic Deadline
Ethics 22 Jan 2021
Quantitative Methods 31 Jan 2021
Portfolio Management 10 Feb 2021
QM+PM Review 13 Feb 2021
Financial Reporting and Analysis 3 March 2021
Corporate Finance 11 March 2021
FRA+CF Review 14 March 2021
QM+PM Review 14 March 2021
Fixed Income 23 March 2021
Equity Investments 1 Apr 2021
FI+EI Review 4 Apr 2021
QM+PM+FRA+CF Review 4 Apr 2021
Derivative Investments 9 Apr 2021
Alternative Investments 11 Apr 2021
Economics 21 Apr 2021
DI+AI+ECO Review 25 Apr 2021
Ethics Summary 25 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 4.5-month study plan :

CFA Exam Study Planner: All Weeks View

CFA Exam Study Planner: 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.

CFA Exam Study Planner: Current Week View

CFA Exam Study Planner: 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).

Last Update: Nov 9, 2020

Editor's Note: In June 2020, this post has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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What do you mean by revision? What should we be doing during that time?

You should review at least on 3 levels:

- weekly, when you revise what you studied over the week,

- topics review, where you review the key concepts for given topics (our materials such as videos or notes, i.e. our short printable e-books, are great for that), and

- before the exam, which we call the Final Review. Over this final pre-exam period, you should review formulas, definitions, relations between concepts, etc. Also, do mocks in limitless numbers. 

IMPORTANT! Whether it's your weekly, topics, or final revision, you should practice as much as possible doing exam-type questions! You learn the most through practice, not through theory :)