How I Passed the CFA Level 1 Exam on the First Attempt

If you are reading this post, there is a high chance that you are a level 1 candidate just like I was a few years back. You are also probably a fast learner and an ambitious young professional like most of the candidates. The thing is, as you might already know, only about 45% of your study colleagues will succeed on the battlefield that is the CFA level 1 exam day. And yes, you want to be part of it. Here are a few useful tips on how I managed to succeed while having a full-time occupation.

Let’s begin with the most important point; there is no magic trick here. In order to increase your likelihood of success, you need to work! Hard! Of course, we all start at a different step on the ladder and you need to know your strengths and weaknesses even before opening the books. Some of you have a business background while others are engineers or even lawyers. I personally have an accounting background and that, I believe, made the study process A LOT easier. On the other hand, I barely remembered undergrad concepts of macroeconomics or fixed income, English is not my native language and I had never worked with US GAAP.  Therefore, I knew in advance that some chapters like ethics or economics would be a challenge for me and I knew I had to get those chapters done first. This is why I prioritized the chapters as followed:

Ethics – CFAI Books

I think Ethics is the only chapter that you HAVE to read carefully, especially if you are not a native speaker. It is known for a fact that it’s really hard to pass the exam when failing the Ethics portion of it. You definitely don’t want to begin with two strikes! Plus, and this is not negligible, these are the first questions you have to answer when you sit. You really don’t want to lose a fight at the beginning of the day. Don’t forget the mind game here; you need to start the day as a warrior. For these reasons, I suggest a whole week of reading and practice for this chapter. Don’t stop until you are comfortable with the questions.

Financial Reporting and Analysis – Practice

Without a doubt, Financial Reporting and Analysis is the “final boss” of the curriculum. You don’t want to keep this chapter for the end or you might end up not being able to sleep before the exam. In my opinion, there are no hard concepts but only an impossible amount of small details to remember. This is why I suggest another strategy here; start right away with practice questions and adjust the method based on your results. Get an idea of what you need to learn or improve and read only the chapters that are necessary for you. This will save you a lot of time and I believe this is the most efficient manner to learn many concepts in a short period of time.

Economics – Visualize

Here, don’t hesitate to draw while practicing. Many of the concepts covered are a lot easier with an image next to the definition and the key in this chapter is to UNDERSTAND what you are doing. If you do, they can’t trick you. Don’t hesitate to Google the LOS and find a Website that fits your learning habits. You can easily find a good explanation of every concept here on AnalystPrep, on Investopedia, and on different university pages. Again, you will save a lot of time by following this simple trick.

Quantitative Methods – A Useful Tool

The reason why I suggest to go through the quant section so early is that you will need the tools discussed in the chapter. If you understand and master the concepts and examples provided here, the job is half done for the next chapters.

Before continuing, let’s do some basic quant:

18 + 24 + 12 + 14 = 68; 68/120 = 57%

You already studied 57% of the exam, mastered the tools to understand a major portion of the remaining chapters, and cleared the 4 first sections of the exam. If you reach this point and still have a few weeks to go, you’re in a really good position to nail the exam. Congrats! If not, don’t worry, just apply these simple tricks and fight until the end.

Then what?

Spend a few days per chapter and perform A LOT of practice questions. As soon as possible, try some mock exams and don’t forget to time your performance. Learn how to use your calculator and try to understand the formulas you need. Most of them shouldn’t have to be learned by heart when the concept is mastered properly. Practice, practice, practice! After work, after dinner, during the weekends.

Any questions or comments about the exam or your study plan, don’t hesitate to contact me:



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