Last updated: September 09, 2021

CFA exam / Study Planning / When to Start Preparing

CFA Exam – when to start & how to prepare?

  1. Most candidates start their CFA exam prep 4 to 5 months before they take the exam.
  2. Even if you start your prep sooner – you may not be able to use it to your advantage.
  3. When you prepare for your CFA exam, you must get into your study routine and aim at quality learning.

The sooner you start, the better. That’s a worn-out cliché but the majority of CFA exam candidates still start their preparation 4 months before the exam even though CFA exam pass rates have always been quite low. For the last few years, it was around 43% for level 1 and 46% for level 2 but for the May 2021 CFA exam the pass rate was even as low as 25% or 40%, respectively.

Doesn’t it make you think? The majority must be doing something wrong!

We advocate the CFA exam prep that lasts even as long as 8 months. It can positively affect the quality of your private life, study routine, and hopefully also your exam result!

So start preparing in September if you take your level 1 CFA exam in May 2022. And if you take your level 1 exam in Feb 2022 – hopefully your CFA exam prep is already in progress :)

In this post, you can learn about:

PART I: 4 Benefits of Starting CFA Exam Prep Early

No regrets

study-work-family/friends balance

No regrets

study-work-family/friends balance

Take it easy

nicely paced
study routine

Take it easy

nicely paced study routine

Time to tweak

study routine improvements

Time to tweak

study routine improvements

Quality learning

regular review that makes a difference

Quality learning

regular review that makes a difference

Enjoy the 4 Benefits of Early CFA Exam Prep

Achieve your study-work-family/friends balance

With still even as many as 8 months to go, you'll need around 9-10 study hours per week. That’s not many! No damage to your private life needs to be done .
Be careful though not to spoil your study plans either. While creating your study schedule, it’s best if you know how much time each reading can take to hold yourself accountable. To help you out, we’ve estimated study times for readings.

Have a nicely paced study routine

You can study at your own speed. There’s no pressure!
Each week, arrange what readings to do.
When the week ends, assess your progress and reschedule your study plan if for a reason you fail to follow it. To help you easily achieve both, there’s the ‘Sum Up’ button and intuitive DRAG&DROP edition inside our CFA Exam Study Planner.

Improve your study routine

Be careful especially if you postpone your study sessions too often. Motivation always fades. Ask someone to help you stay motivated and to brainstorm with you some ideas to improve your learning process.
Two heads are better than one :)
On our end, you can count on motivational messages that keep you going and help you develop a successful study routine.

Get quality learning

1st step – plan regular review sessions!
That’s what guarantees your knowledge retention. Our CFA Exam Study Planner schedules both study lessons with many study materials at hand and review sessions for quality learning.
2nd step – use different review resources, brief and plain in language.
The evergreen revision tools are notes.
Make them and use them to get your knowledge from short-span to long-span memory. Inside our CFA Exam Study Planner, you'll find our notes in the form of short printable e-books with dedicated space for your own notes. Finally, you'll have all notes for one reading in one place. So far, we've prepared 50+ Readings Notes for level 1 and 15+ for level 2 (and we're still adding).


Undertaking the CFA exam is a grown-up decision. Goal? A successful professional life.
So, the study-to-forget strategy can never be the right choice. Yet, too many opt for that (often for the lack of time). By starting your CFA exam prep well in advance, you can do better.

PART II: The Threats of Early CFA Exam Prep

It may sound a bit odd but the threats of beginning your CFA exam prep even 8 months before your CFA exam stem directly from the benefits of starting your preparation early.

What poses a real threat is the wrong proportion of your study – work – family/friends lives and a random learning strategy leading to all the mistakes people tend to make when they have too little time to prepare.

The problem starts with putting off studying too often. Then, one thing leads to another:

you take it too easy
due to procrastination & low motivation

not enough ‘study’
in the study-work-family/friends balance

random study routine
if there’s hardly time for studying, there’s even less time to improve learning techniques and habits

low-quality learning
high speed + traditional review before the exam only = no real knowledge retention can happen

8-month exam prep gets like 4-month exam prep

you unconsciously apply the study-to-forget strategy ‘cos you have no other choice

8-Month Exam Prep VS 4-Month Exam Prep

4-month CFA exam prep 8-month CFA exam prep
learning pace ca. 18 study hrs/week (e.g. 3 hours 6 days a week or 2 times 9 hrs) ca. 9 study hrs/week (e.g. 3 hrs 3 days a week)
study-work-family/friends balance frequently give up private life to get 18 study hrs a week no damage to your private life needs to be done
study routine either like intensive course or chaotic and random lots of time for improvements even if at first chaotic
knowledge retention usually only traditional pre-exam revision regular review is possible

What To Avoid VS What To Do

To mitigate the threats, here’s what you need to do:


postpone study sessions without control


reschedule the postponed sessions ASAP

assess your progress every Sunday

react if too many readings are overdue


be all satisfied with yourself – there’s always something to improve!


think of ways to improve your study routine


underestimate the power of review


learn from different sources to get different perspectives

get your CFA Program curriculum briefer and easier to digest (e.g. make notes to review)

make studying a habit =
X hours Y days a week

PART III: 7 Must-Know Facts about CFA Exam Formulas

One of the things you should study regularly over your whole CFA exam prep is formulas. It is a daunting challenge for all candidates. However, many realize that too late. Here’s why formulas are so special:

1. There are no formulas only in 1 out of 10 topics. It’s Ethics.

2. More than 400 formulas are included in your CFA Program curriculum. With 8 months to your exam, it’s a dozen of formulas a week. In other words, you need to acquire 1 or 2 formulas each day!

3. Formulas are a nuisance to learn. To handle them, you must study actively, e.g. write formulas down on a piece of paper or use flashcards.

4. In your exam, as many as 35% are computing questions! If you don’t know the right formula, you won’t be able to give the correct answer...

5. Answers to computing questions often include the most common mistakes. If you know your formulas just so-so, you’re likely to fall for the trap. Sorry :/

6. One thing is closely related to formulas in your exam – it’s calculator literacy! You should be using the approved calculator and solve exam-type questions from the very beginning of your CFA exam prep. However, many candidates use their calculators too seldom and practice next to nothing.

7. Not all CFA exam formulas are equal. To distinguish the important ones just focus on the formulas that relate to LOSes with the ‘calculate’ word inside.

If you want to take your formulas seriously, learn them regularly and practice with questions requiring calculations. To help you with that we’ve got:


in the form of flashcards
you can filter e.g. by topic and check off as memorized


include most common mistakes & explanations


with examples showing how to use TIBA II PLUS PROFESSIONAL calculator

PART IV: 5 Steps of CFA Exam Prep Algorithm for Quality Learning

Our CFA Exam Prep Algorithm for Quality Learning has 5 steps:

CFA Exam Prep Algorithm - 5 Steps for Quality Learning

These 5 steps should be applied to every CFA exam Reading you study. Moreover, the steps should be repeated if your level of confidence for a Reading is unsatisfactory.


That’s where you open your CFA Program curriculum and go through the LOSes (at the beginning of the Reading) and read the summary (at the end of the Reading). To help you grasp the most important concepts before you get down to details, we also prepared some Readings Notes in a form of short e-books – print them out and read twice before you move on.

Also, a look at the intro to the Reading in your CFA Program curriculum is a good idea. It all gives you the background you need to feel confident while trying to make sense out of your study content.


That’s where you read your CFA Program curriculum and prep providers’ books and watch video lectures. The videos we offer are bite-sized and give you a quick reference to the main ideas of the Reading. Remember, though, it’s just passive learning. All the definitions, formulas, examples, etc. are now in your short-term memory. But short-term memory is susceptible to forgetting (it is said that we forget even up to 65% of what we study today by tomorrow’s evening).


That’s where real learning happens. It takes some time and action to get things from your short-term to your long-term memory. To give yourself a chance to truly understand what you’ve watched or read, it’s best if you take notes while watching or reading and then review them regularly. If you print out and bind the Readings Notes we’ve got for you, in dedicated blank spaces you can add your own notes and finally have all your notes in one place (so much better than separate sheets of paper).

Formulas need some extra attention and revision to sink in. That’s why we encourage you to use our Formulas APP on a daily basis. You can also get the lists of formulas for Readings where available.


Find out how well you know all the theory and how well you can put it to practice! Do end-of-reading questions in your CFA Program curriculum + more questions that apply the exam format and test you against the most common mistakes >> our questions reflect the new 2021 CFA exam format .

Testing your knowledge is – in a sense – also active learning. Practice tests provide you with a chance for revision and show you the areas you still need to improve. So, basically, they are invaluable for your quality learning.

One word on formulas – an easy way to test your knowledge of formulas is to have them all in a form of flashcards, like in our app.


Last but not least!

That’s where you ask yourself how well you know your Reading. Feeling confident? Mark the Reading as DONE in your CFA exam study plan . Not so confident? Mark the Reading as PARTIALLY DONE and repeat all 5 steps. This time focus mainly on problematic areas. You may want to browse our blog and the Internet for answers.

Side note: If after repeating this algorithm, you still feel unconfident – leave this Reading as PARTIALLY DONE. There are plenty of other Readings to get to know and you have to keep up the pace. If you find the time, you’ll get back to this Reading later on. If not – don’t worry, you don’t have to master each bit of CFA Program curriculum to pass your exam.

Sample Algorithm Application: Reading 7, Quantitative Methods

CFA Exam Prep Algorithm - Sample

This is a sure-fire 90% pass strategy if you follow it thoroughly. Just get the Big Picture first, then dive into the topic and don’t be just passive – learn actively. Test yourself oftentimes and apply the level of confidence to each Reading you study.

If you get most of your Readings DONE and your tests and formulas mastered, your Chance-to-Pass inside your study plan will show that you’re bound to pass your exam – which is hopefully what happens in your real CFA exam!

Choose our CFA Exam Study Plan and Tools

Our CFA Exam Study Planner 4.0:

1/ organizes your CFA exam readings to weeks + allots benchmark study times,

2/ has 3 main views: PLAN, STUDY, and PROGRESS,

CFA Exam Study Planner: PLAN VIEW
CFA Exam Study Planner: STUDY VIEW

3/ PLAN view: allows you to personalize your study plan bigtime (incl. your Exam Date, topic sequence or difficulty) and provides you with easy drag & drop edition of your study weeks,

4/ STUDY view: schedules both study lessons and regular review sessions + includes study resources such as videos, questions, formulas or Readings Notes (see below )

CFA Exam Study Planner, Chance-to-Pass-Score

5/ PROGRESS view: shows your progress in topics and estimates your Chance to Pass Score based on your self-assessment (DONE , PARTIALLY DONE , OVERDUE Readings),

6/ gives ideas how to improve your study routine thanks to a series of motivational messages sent to your e-mail.

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Level 1 & Level 2: test generator app, formulas app, notes app, topic app, video app

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