The best way to study for Level I of the CFA® exam


This blog post has been updated and was originally authored by Kaplan Schweser.


While everyone hears about the difficulty of the Level I CFA® exam very few believe it until they experience it for themselves. To pass the exam, you’ll need to achieve at least the minimum passing score (MPS) set by the Board of Governors of the CFA Institute after each exam. The June 2019 Level I pass rate was only 41% and the December 2019 pass rate was only slightly higher at 42%. This means it’s crucial you have a study plan in place and adhere to it.



Former CFA Program students, who are now charterholders, were asked what advice they have for candidates just getting started in their studies. Here’s some of their advice to help you figure out the best way to study for the Level I exam.


Get into a study routine early

Many successful CFA charterholders credit their study routine for their success in the CFA exams. Not only do you need to study the material, but you need to be able to apply what you learned to scenarios in the exam. This level of understanding and practical application takes time to develop. Therefore, it’s crucial you get into a study routine early and stick to it.

It’s recommended you follow the Prepare > Practice > Perform® method of studying. In the Prepare stage, you absorb information through reading and listening to lectures. In the Practice stage, you start working through practice problems. In the Perform stage, you simulate exam conditions to assess your level of readiness.

As you develop your study plan, it’s suggested you spend:

  • 30–40% of your time preparing
  • 40–50% practising
  • 20% performing


Focus on the exam weights and Learning Outcome Statements

You should have a solid understanding of the CFA Program curriculum and how each topic is weighted for the Level I exam. The curriculum is updated every exam cycle and all three levels of the exam focus on the same core topic areas. Exam weights vary by level and can change slightly from year to year, so it’s good to be clear on what the weights are for the exam you’re taking.

The Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) and core concepts are built from the Candidate Body of Knowledge, developed by the CFA Institute. They’ve devised study sessions and LOS to help candidates determine what should be gained from each reading. Be sure to develop your study plan around these, as they’ll help you focus on the right topics for the exam.


Apply concepts to real situations

Just knowing the material isn’t enough to pass the CFA exam. You must be able to take the knowledge and apply it to realistic situations. Most questions are not asking you to regurgitate memorised material. They’re asking you to use problem-solving skills and apply knowledge to situations you may encounter on the job.

Many CFA charterholders recommend you relate what you’re learning to the real world. Saqib Baig, CFA, recommends, “as you’re going through the learning outcomes, keep asking yourself questions as to why you are learning this and how you are going to use this in your work.” The more you can make the study material relevant to you, the easier it will be to remember it.


Learn how to take the exam

There’s a difference between learning the material and learning how to take the exam. Be sure to practise taking the exam in realistic simulated exam conditions in the last four weeks of your studies. The CFA Institute provide one mock exam and you can purchase others with exam prep providers like Kaplan Schweser. You can also do a six hour live mock exam offered through CFA Societies in over 120 locations worldwide or online.


Following these tips will ensure you’re as prepared as possible for the Level I CFA exam. Now you know the best way to study, learn how to prepare an effective CFA Program study plan.


Prepare for the Level I CFA exam. Purchase one of our CFA Level I Premium or PremiumPlus™ study packages to receive expert instruction, CFA Program study materials and more. Give yourself the best chance to prepare, practice and perform on the CFA exam.

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