How to Study for the CFA® Level I Exam in 6 Months

By: Kaplan Schweser
October 3, 2022
How to study for the CFA Level I Exam in 6 months

Starting your Level I CFA exam prep early will give you enough time to develop an effective study plan and find enough time to study regardless of your situation. In this guide, we will share some of our insights with you on the study practices that can give you the best chance for success on the Level I exam.

Key Takeaways

  1. You need to start early and be consistent by putting in the time and effort each week.
  2. Once you create your plan, you need to be disciplined and stick to your schedule.   
  3. You need to cover all of the material in the curriculum as all learning outcome statements are fair game.
  4. You should follow the three key stages of learning: Prepare, Practice, and Perform®.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Understand CFA Level I Topics and Weights

As you begin to prepare for the Level I exam, you should familiarize yourself with the topics and associated weights for each area. Keeping these weights in mind when developing your study plan may help you prioritize and move on, especially when feeling overwhelmed or stuck on a particular topic.  

CFA Level I Topic Weights

Topic

Topic Weight

Approximate Question Allocation

Ethical and Professional Standards

15-20%27-36

Quantitative Methods

8-12%15-21

Economics

8-12%15-21

Financial Statement Analysis

13-17%24-30

Corporate Issuers

8-12%15-21

Equity Investments

10-12%18-21

Fixed Income

10-12%18-21

Derivatives

5-8%9-14

Alternative Investments

5-8%9-14

Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

5-8%9-14
As we have told our candidates for many years, “There are NO shortcuts.” With that said, where should you start? The key is having a plan. Before you pick up a book or practice a few questions, you need to develop a personalized study plan. 

For the majority of candidates, we recommend a 6-month study plan. This would break down to about 12 hours per week or two hours per day for 6 days per week. Skipping one day each week would allow you to relax and prepare for the next week’s activities.

We understand that each candidate starts the program with a different knowledge base. This study plan assumes that you are new to the curriculum and will need to dedicate ample time across each topic area.  However, some candidates may be able to reduce their study time in one or more topic areas depending on their expertise.  

For example, a candidate with a strong accounting background may be able to shorten the amount of time dedicated to Financial Statement Analysis. Simply use the sample calendar below as a guide and feel free to make adjustments to suit your individual situation.  

What Should You Focus on During the First Month of CFA Prep?

We recommend following the Prepare > Practice > Perform® method of studying. First, you should consider spending about 50% of your time preparing for the exam. This would include reading, watching video and studying the curriculum to gain technical knowledge.  You should read the content in order as future topics build on previous topics. In other words, avoid skipping certain topics in the curriculum when beginning your studies. 

Next, you should devote about 50% of your time practicing by taking multiple choice questions. Make sure to review each rationale, even for those questions you answered correctly. Pay careful attention to those questions that you guessed or answered incorrectly. You may wish to go back and review your curriculum to clarify those topics that you are finding more challenging. 

At this point in your studies, you will not need to devote any time to performing. For the CFA program, we define performing as simulating exam conditions to assess your level of readiness. This would encompass taking multiple mock exams, but you should not start taking these until about the fourth month into your study plan. 


Month 1 Sample Calendar

 

Hours

%Prepare / %Practice

Topics 

Week 1

1250/50Quantitative Methods

Week 2

1250/50Quantitative Methods

Week 3

1250/50Economics

Week 4

1250/50Economics

 

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CFA 6-Month Study Guide: Months 2-4

As you enter the second month, keep in mind the Prepare > Practice > Perform® method of studying.  Over the course of the next three months, you should continue spending about 50% of your time preparing for the exam.  This would include completing all of the readings in the curriculum.  

Also, you should keep practicing about 50% of the time by taking a significant amount of multiple choice questions across various topics including those you have already completed. Constructing tests that cover all of the topics you have previously reviewed is critical in preventing your knowledge from fading over time. As always, review each rationale, especially for those questions that you guessed or answered incorrectly. 

By the end of the fourth month, you should take your first Mock Exam. As you see, this is the time to incorporate the perform stage into your study plan. Treat this first mock exam as an assessment. Don’t worry too much about your score at this point in your studies. Focus your attention on what topics you find most difficult (e.g., deferred taxes) and go back and briefly review your curriculum for clarification, but more importantly, take additional multiple choice questions.  

[ RELATED: CFA Mock Exams

What To Do If You’re Falling Behind

Don’t worry, just add a few more hours per week to your study plan over the next few months.  At this point, you should be able to make up the time.  Remember the commitment. Nobody said this would be easy. 

Months 2-4 Sample Calendar

 

Hours

%Prepare / %Practice

Topics / Activities

Week 5

1250/50Financial Statement Analysis

Week 6

1250/50Financial Statement Analysis

Week 7

1250/50Financial Statement Analysis

Week 8

1250/50Corporate Issuers

Week 9

1250/50Corporate Issuers

Week 10

1250/50Equity Investments

Week 11

1250/50Equity Investments

Week 12

1250/50Fixed Income

Week 13

1250/50Fixed Income

Week 14

1250/50Derivatives

Week 15

1250/50Alternative Investments

Week 16

1250/50Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

Week 17

1250/50Ethical and Professional Standards

Week 18

1250/50Ethical and Professional Standards, practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics, complete first mock exam (Perform)

 

CFA Study Guide: Months 5-6

You are entering the home stretch. With only two months left before your exam, you should assess where you are in your studies. At a minimum, you should have:

  • finished reading the entire Level I curriculum,
  • completed and reviewed multiple choice questions covering all topics, and
  • completed and reviewed your first mock exam.

If you have not completed these tasks, they should be your top priority. Also, you are probably asking yourself what are some of the best strategies you can use to wrap up your preparation for exam day.  

First and foremost, relax and do not try to cram too much into your memory. Yes, you need to stay laser-focused, but you also need to take time for yourself. Put down the books, turn off the computer, and go for a well-deserved walk.

Now that you are rejuvenated, recall our Prepare > Practice > Perform® study method. We highly stress that you should be primarily focusing on practice and perform. We recommend you dedicate upwards of 90% of your study time getting ready for the exam experience. This would mean doing as many practice questions as possible and completing the remaining mock exams. 

You should complete one mock exam every two to three weeks, but save one for about one week before your exam date. Once again, pay careful attention to those questions that you missed or guessed incorrectly. However, rereading the curriculum should not encompass more than about 10% of your study time and should be directed by knowledge gaps identified from question practice.  

[ RELATED: CFA Mock Exams

Months 5-6 Sample Calendar

 

Hours

%Prepare / %Practice

Activities

Week 19

1210/90Practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics

Week 20

1210/90Practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics

Week 21

1210/90Practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics, complete second mock exam (Perform)

Week 22

1210/90Practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics

Week 23

1210/90Practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics, complete third mock exam (Perform)

Week 24

1210/90Practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics

Week 25

1210/90Practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics, complete final mock exam (Perform)

 

CFA 6-Month Study Guide: Final Week

We recommend you go back and take a look at Ethical and Professional Standards and Financial Statement Analysis as these two topics comprise about one-third of the Level I exam.  Pick up the Standards of Practice Handbook and skim through each standard, corresponding guidance, recommended procedures for compliance, and application of the standard. 

This activity is especially important on the day before your exam. Along with these two topics, you should go back and briefly review any others that are giving you trouble. Also, you can review terminology, if needed. For example, the Economics topic has many memorizable terms that could help you grab a few points on the exam.

Lastly, try to get a good night's sleep the night before the exam. Wake up refreshed, eat a sensible breakfast, and head off to the testing center. Good luck!

[ RELATED: CFA Program Review Workshops

Final Week Sample Calendar

 

Hours

%Prepare / %Practice

Activities

Week 26 - Final Week

1210/90Practice multiple choice questions, review selected topics, Ethical and Professional Standards

 

CFA Level I Study Progress Tracker

Keep track of your progress by downloading our free 6-Month Level I CFA study progress tracker that can be customized to fit your needs.  

Free 6 month Level 1 CFA study planner

 

CFA Level I Exam Study Planner Calendar

Get a downloadable calendar file for the Level I May 2023 exam window of the CFA Program. This calendar can be added to common calendars like iCal, Google Calendar, and Outlook.  This calendar comes with important dates, reminders, and details for studying for each curriculum topic that can be customized to fit your needs.   

RELATED: CFA Candidate Guide

Can you study for the CFA Level I Exam in 1, 2, or 3 months?

No, studying for any CFA exam in less than 6 months will not give you enough time to adequately prepare unless you have a relevant background in the curriculum.  According to CFA Institute, candidates study on average 348 hours for the Level I exam, 364 hours for the Level II exam, and 365 hours for the Level III exam.  

Studying for 6 months is the industry standard and is actually why CFA Institute implemented the requirement that candidates cannot sit for an exam within 6 months of a previous attempt. CFA candidates can certainly try to study in less time, but the best way to prepare for the Level I exam comes down to giving yourself ample time to study.

Study Tips for CFA Level I with a Job

Obviously, one of the biggest challenges when preparing for the CFA Level I exam is the time commitment. This becomes an even bigger issue when trying to balance your job demands and your study time. Here are some tips that can help you overcome the stress of studying for the exam.  

Manage Your Time

If you start studying 6 months before your exam, you will need to study about 12 hours per week.  However, as time passes and your initial enthusiasm starts to wane, you could be in danger of falling behind.  Then, when you factor in your family life, social life, and your job pressures, you can see why candidates can struggle with the time commitment. 

Stay Motivated

Studying for the CFA Level I exam is a long process and candidates may find it difficult to stay motivated when they do not have a clear picture of their progress.  If you let your studies drift, the backlog of material to cover soon increases, and the number of study hours per week starts to climb.  This could make studying too much of a burden.

Be Efficient

You must cover all areas of the curriculum, however, you must factor in your strengths, your weaknesses, and exam weights when developing your study plan.  Given the breadth of the material, you must develop a study plan that maximizes your time.  One fatal error is attempting to reproduce the curriculum into your own notes.  That exercise is a massive misuse of time and could cause you to skip practicing multiple choice questions and/or mock exams.  

Practice Concepts 

Even if you have the technical knowledge, you still need to practice a significant amount of multiple choice questions in order to apply your knowledge to exam-based questions. The more you can practice, the stronger you will become in applying your knowledge.  Answering questions incorrectly outside of the testing center, and identifying why you answered them wrong, may help prevent you from making the same mistakes on exam day.   

CFA Level I Study Guide Essentials

These comprehensive exam prep materials include some of our most popular free CFA Level I resources to help prepare you for the CFA exam.

CFA Level I QBank

Kaplan Schweser’s Level I QBank provides you with thousands of multiple choice practice questions that reflect the actual exam so you don’t get surprised or overwhelmed on exam day.  

CFA Level I Notes

Kaplan SchweserNotes™ contains 5 volumes of bite-sized segments and examples that help you break down the CFA Program curriculum and learn every Learning Outcome Statement plus questions to check your understanding. Also included is our SchweserNotes™ Videos which provide 40+ hours of recorded videos to reinforce your understanding of the material. If you are an auditory learner, consider adding Level I SchweserNotes™ Audio to your CFA prep materials.  

CFA Level I OnDemand Classes

Learn from expert instructors on your own schedule with in-depth video lectures covering every topic in the Level I CFA® Program curriculum.

CFA Level I Exam Flashcards

Kaplan Schweser Level I flashcards help you memorize CFA exam-specific content so you can study with confidence.

CFA Level I Mock Exams

Kaplan Schweser Level I mock exams allow you to practice taking computer-based exams and get feedback on your performance.  Learn how to use a CFA mock exam to sharpen your testing skills and get familiarized with the actual interface you’ll use on the actual CFA exam.  

CFA Level I Exam Secret Sauce

Kaplan Schweser's Secret Sauce® is a book for (expert reviews) of the CFA Program curriculum that provides (you) candidates with insights and tips to prepare for exam day.  

CFA Level I Review Workshops

Kaplan Schweser CFA Program review workshops give you access to expert CFA instructors to help you practice exam-taking techniques and build speed during the final weeks of preparation.  

Free eBook: Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA® Program Exam

Free eBook: CFA® Program Fundamentals, 2nd Edition

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