CFA Exam – when to start & how to prepare?
- Most candidates start their CFA exam prep 4 to 5 months before they take the exam.
- Even if you start your prep sooner – you may not be able to use it to your advantage.
- 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 many years, it was around 43% for level 1 and 46% for level 2 but for the 2021 CFA exams the pass rates were even as low as 22% or 29%, 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 March if you take your level 1 CFA exam in NOV 2023. And if you take your level 1 exam in AUG 2023 or MAY 2023 – 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
Take it easy
Time to tweak
study routine improvements
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 (module) can take to hold yourself accountable. To help you out, we’ve estimated study times for readings, now named modules in your CFA exam curriculum.
Have a nicely paced study routine
You can study at your own speed. There’s no pressure!
Each week, arrange what readings (modules) 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/module in one place. So far, we've prepared 50+ NOTES e-books 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.By starting your CFA exam prep well in advance, you can do better.So, the study-to-forget strategy can never be the right choice. Yet, too many opt for that (often for the lack of time).
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
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 (modules) 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 the LOS with the word ‘calculate’ 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:
These 5 steps should be applied to every portion of your CFA exam reading. Moreover, the steps should be repeated if your level of confidence for a reading is unsatisfactory.
CFA exam curriculum used to be divided into the so-called Readings, which were smaller portions of reading for the topics. As of 2023, Readings are called Modules but they still constitute suggested smaller readings for each topic. So, we use the term reading here to mean a manageable unit of your CFA exam curriculum.
1. BIG PICTURE
That’s where you open your CFA Program curriculum and go through the LOS (i.e., learning outcome statements specified for each portion of your reading) and read the summary (at the end of each portion of your reading). To help you grasp the most important concepts before you get down to details, we also prepared some 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 (module) 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.
2. PASSIVE LEARNING
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 each portion of your 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).
3. ACTIVE LEARNING
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 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 where available.
4. TESTING KNOWLEDGE
Find out how well you know all the theory and how well you can put it to practice! Do end-of-reading (module) 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 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.
5. LEVEL of CONFIDENCE
Last but not least!
That’s where you ask yourself how well you know the portion of 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 CFA exam 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 for Quantitative Methods Reading
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 portion of your CFA exam reading.
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 (modules) to weeks + allots benchmark study times,
2/ has 4 main views: PLAN, STUDY, PROGRESS, and REVIEW,
- 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,
- STUDY view: schedules both study lessons and regular review sessions + includes study resources such as videos, questions, formulas, or notes (see below )
- PROGRESS view: shows your progress in topics and estimates your Chance to Pass Score based on your self-assessment (i.e., the number of done, partially done, overdue readings/modules),
- REVIEW view: allows you to easily browse for the study content you want to review, e.g., Quantitative Methods videos, Derivative Investments formulas, given sections of Ethics study lessons, or even whole study lessons for your chosen topics,
3/ gives ideas how to improve your study routine thanks to a series of motivational messages sent to your e-mail.
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CFA Exam Candidates about Soleadea
I just passed the L1, and I would like to thank you guys at Soleadea - I could only structure my studies because of the materials and study plan. In retrospect, I highly doubt I would have passed without Soleadea
I have passed the November 2021 CFA exam. I would like to thank a lot to Soleadea for the excellent resources for preparing for CFA level 1 exam. I will take a rest for a while and return back to prepare level 2 CFA exam.
Soleadea helps me be committed to my weekly plan which I would have skipped had it been planned by me on a piece of paper. Most effective resource that has increased my efficiency 200% in completing and revising. I have started building up confidence to appear for CFA exam now!
I used your study planner resource. It helped me to stay on track with my study plan while also identifying review areas. For example, having to review the Ethics and Standards I-VII throughout helped me with my retention and was my highest scoring subject. It was rewarding to see my chances of passing go up as I stuck with my plan and held me accountable by going down when I was falling behind. I especially enjoyed receiving credit for memorizing formulas.
Cleared!! Level 1 near 90th percentile range :) Thank you! Soleadea your schedule helped . Please update me on L2 schedule. Thank you! Again
I have cleared my CFA level 1 exam! Soleadea helped my create a detailed study plan and track its progress. Thank you very much.
It's a PASS! I used Soleadea study plan for my CFA Level I June 2019. Thank you for the weekly emails to remind me to summarize my week and for your reviews thereafter. This kept me on my toes, am glad it paid off!
I passed yayy! Thank you so much for the motivational speech that you guys send every week and also the helpful schedule to keep me on track with my studies. I will be sure to use this planner again for my Level 2.
I primarily used Kaplan, but I did use a couple of your resources such as the IFRS vs US GAAP PDF and the must know formulas PDF. They were helpful filling gaps or when I had trouble with a specific concept. I’ll be sure to pay your site a visit again during L2!
I am delighted to tell you that I passed my level I exam, and part of this success comes from Soleadea. I used the schedule provided on your website for a guide of my reading and tried to stick to it as much as possible. Thank you for your care and please continue doing this helpful materials for the candidates.
You've been very quick, attentive and helpful so I'd love to give a little review; in my books this is 5 star customer service (especially considering I haven't paid anything as of yet)! Thank you for everything you've helped me with so far, I'll definitely be recommending this service to peers and colleagues in the future.