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Practical Tips for Learning the CFA Level 1 Material



The CFA Level 1 exam is about the ability to quickly grasp the outlines of the curriculum and then answer a barrage of multiple questions that ask you to apply formulas and intuit concepts across a vast array of financial topics. On average, each multiple choice question should not take you more than 90 seconds.

The sheer amount of material can be daunting (see our overview post), and mastering this volume is the first challenge you must overcome. Start by consciously focusing on not getting bogged down in your first pass through the material. This is especially challenging for Candidates when getting through Quantitative methods and Economics, especially if you have less background here. Keep in mind that these sections account for a way higher percentage of the material than they do points on the exam itself.

How to read the CFA Level 1 curriculum

As you read the notes for the first time then remember that perfect understanding is not the goal. Keep moving. The end goal is the ability to apply concepts to answer 240 multiple choice questions, each with three possible answers. On the L1 exam you will have 90 seconds per questions with no penalty for incorrect guesses. The math behind being able to correctly eliminate even one option is quite powerful, especially when you realize that a 70% is all you need to pass (see our post on how to get this to work for you on exam day)

While many Candidates view Level 1 as a “plug and play” style exam, you shouldn’t be resorting exclusively to memorization. Understanding the outline of the course and how material ties together is vital to building a framework to pass this test, and the two subsequent exams as well. If you use the GoStudy notes (and many chapters are free when you log on) pay particular attention to itacilized text pointing out how concepts are tested and where else in the Curriculum the same material shows up again. Don’t be afraid to “jump” ahead to get a sense of what’s coming next. This will save you a lot of time connecting the dots later.

In summary:

  • Keep moving during your first pass
  • Actively understand where you are strong and where you are weak so you can focus later
  • Don't be afraid to jump around the material - build a picture of the forest (our flashcards can help here)

It's a test stupid

Finally, it helps to develop a sense of how the CFA Institute actually asks exam questions. For example, many questions hide as “calculation” questions, when in fact you can identify the correct answer without resorting to your calculator if you simply understand the concept. If you can spot these questions it will help you save a lot of time during the Level 1 exam itself.

The best way to develop this intuition is through practice problems. Use the EOC questions in the Curriculum and the mock exams given to you. I recommend you write down the page and problem numbers of questions you get wrong as well as any obviously important questions. As you continue to study you can then more easily return to these questions to make sure your knowledge stays fresh.

Ultimately you need to combine knowledge of the subject areas with the ability to perform on the exam. Our notes and flashcards will help you drill down on the knowledge side, while our blog, newsletter and slack channel are there for immediate feedback and guidance on your study system. But make no mistake, you need to develop your own habits and system to cover the material in a timely manner. There is no substitute for discipline and practice.