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A Study Plan for Passing the CFA Level 1 Exam



The ideal CFA study plans that you find on the internet stress 5-6 months of studying and 300-350 hours as a minimum. 

But life isn't ideal (we've even written about how the hardest part of the CFA process is getting started). So what we wanted to do here is talk about what to do if you're getting a late start. In this post we assume a three month window to study, but you can easily ratchet the plan up or down. We'll cover:

  • What we think "studying" or covering a session really means
  • Outline the schedule of readings to cover
  • End by presenting some alternatives in terms of the order to read the CFA Curriculum

But before we get into the details, it's worth stressing that if you're just starting to study or are behind with < 15 weeks until the exam then you need to embrace (1) being uncomfortable, and (2) stealing time and maximizing how many hours you study each week (see our studying tips and tricks post). There's no alternative to this because you have to get through thousands of pages of material with enough time to review and do multiple mock exams. 

But you've probably beat yourself up enough about not being far enough along in the process already. We're not here to do that. We're here to present an ambitious but feasible schedule to get you through the material while doing enough practice problems and building in enough review to pass this test. 

How to Cover the CFA Material

We think there are some best practices for reviewing the CFA material in a way that maintains your speed without sacrificing retention. The list is below, but what it boils down to is (1) priming your brain before you read with a quick summary of what's coming, (2) understanding how this material fits into the overall structure of the CFA curriculum (here's a post on topic weighting and a comprehensive L1 overview), (3) getting a sense for the types of questions/problems you are likely to see, (4) drilling those problems, and (5) maintaining your working knowledge of past material even as you read the new stuff. 

Here's what we tell the folks we tutor to do (although we give them the exact schedule and tools for each step):

  • Read our Summary Notes for the given chapter
  • Read (or skim) the Curriculum. The idea here is to only spend more time on sections you're weak in
  • Create notecards as you read OR use our notecards/app to sneak in study time while commuting or during coffee breaks at work
  • Complete all End of Chapter Questions in the CFA-I curriculum
  • Review your answers immediately afterwards. Make a note of the page numbers for these questions and the questions you got wrong as well as those that seem to cover key topics (even if you got it right)
  • The following week while advancing on new material use your notes, our summary notes, or notecards to hammer the previous week's concepts during your marginal study time. Indicate the notecards you are confident/not confident in (which our free mobile app lets you do)
  • Continue to move notecards into the 'confident' pile
  • Take a mock exam before you are ready. Follow the same practice of circling important or incorrect problems
  • Every 2-3 weeks re-do all of the problems you circled

Schedule of L1 Readings to Cover

 

 

GoStudy's CFA Level 1 - Suggested Order of Topics

 

Week

Readings

Study Session

Topics

1

1,2,3,4

Ethics & GIPS (can also be read last)

Time Value of Money, Discounted Cash Flows, Statistical Concepts and Market Returns, Probability Concepts

2

5,6,7,8

Quantitative Methods

Common Probability Distributions, Sampling & Estimation, Hypothesis Testing, Technical Analysis

3

9,10,11,12

Quantitative Methods

 

4

22,23,24,25

Financial Statement Analysis

Financial Statement Analysis: An Introduction, Financial Reporting Mechanics, Financial Reporting Standards, Understanding Income Statements

5

26,27,28,29,30

Financial Statement Analysis

Understanding Balance Sheets, Understanding Cash Flow Statements, Financial Analysis Techniques, Inventories, Long-lived Assets, Income Taxes

6

31,32,33,34,35,36

Financial Statement Analysis, Corporate Finance

Income Taxes, Non-current (Long-term Liabilities), Financial Reporting Quality, Financial Statement Analysis: Applications, Capital Budgeting, Cost of Capital

7

37,38,39,40,41

Corporate Finance, Portfolio Management

Measures of Leverage, Dividends and Share Repurchases, Basics Working Capital Management, Corporate Governance, Portfolio Management: An Overview

8

42, 43, 44, 45, 46

Portfolio Management

Portfolio Risk and Return: Part I/Part II, Basics of Portfolio Planning and Construction, Market Organization and Structure, Security Market Indices

9

47,48,49,50,51

Equity Investments

Market Efficiency, Overview of Equity Securities, Introduction to Industry and Company Analysis, Equity Valuation: Concepts and Basic Tools, Fixed-Income Securities: Defining Elements

10

52,53,54,55,56

Fixed-Income Securities

Fixed-Income Markets: Issuance, Trading, and Funding, Introduction to Fixed-Income Valuation, An Introduction to Asset-Backed Securities, Understanding Fixed-Income Risk and Return, Fundamentals of Credit Analysis

11

57,58,59,60

Derivatives, Alternatives

Derivative Markets and Instruments, Basics of Derivative Pricing and Valuation, Risk Management Applications of Option Strategies, Introduction to Alternative Investments

12

13,14,15

(Micro)Economics

Demand & Supply Analysis: Introduction, Demand & Supply Analysis: Consumer Demand, Demand and Supply Analysis: The Firm

13

17,18,19,20,21

(Macro)Economics, Ethics repeat

Aggregate Output, Prices, and Economic Growth, Understanding Business Cycles, Monetary and Fiscal Policy, International Trade and Capital Flows, Currency Exchange Rates

 

Things to Consider with the Above Study Plan

In no particular order here are some potential modifications to consider:

  • Cover the material faster so you have more cram time at the end. This schedule almost assumes the ability to dedicate 10-12 hours of study time per day for those last few days so you cram in enough mock exams
  • Skip Ethics and GIPS and save it for the end.
  • You can also skip Economics and save it for the end, especially if you have had some background before. Economics, while tested thoroughly, doesn't bleed into other topic areas much
  • Because Financial Statement Analysis is such a lengthy section there is a risk of encountering core concepts like Equity Valuation, Fixed Income, and even Derivatives and the newly increased-in-weight Portfolio Management section relatively late in the game
  • If you have a finance background consider starting with fixed-income
  • Consider relying more on third party notes (like ours) instead of the original CFA-I curriculum
  • Start mock exams earlier to cover material. Even if you are unfamiliar you'll see problems ahead of encountering the section and be primed to learn them more efficiently