The Complete Study Guide and Outline to the Level I of the CFA® Exam

The Complete Study Guide and Outline to the Level I of the CFA® Exam

Getting your Chartered Financial Analyst® or CFA® designation is a great way to ensure a better career for yourself. In order to get there, however, there are a series of challenges that you must pass. The first one – and most important – is the level I exam.

How Many CFA Program Levels are There?

The CFA Program is divided into a series of three exams Level I, Level II, and Level III. The level I exam on the CFA exam series incorporates basic knowledge and an understanding of the necessary investment tools available in the investment world. The second exam comprises of rather more complex analysis of assets and manager skills, while the third one tests how to apply these investment concepts in real life. Today, we will focus on how to pass Level I of the CFA exam and what are the best tips and tricks available for students.

How Much Time Should You Spend Studying for the Level I Exam?

The time you want to spend studying for Level I of the CFA exam varies with each person. However, the pre-determined time you’d want to plan on using for your studies is no less than 300 hours total. As I mentioned before, the exam increases in difficulty with each level, so for the basic, Level I test, you want to spend some solid time practicing. As you’ll prepare for the next exams, your planned study time should increase and thus, should exceed 300 hours total. By the end of passing the third level of the exam, you should have spent about 900 hours studying. The CFA exam is intense and can be quite challenging if you are not taking enough time to study for it, as it covers quite a lot of material.

How is the CFA Exam Structured?

The CFA exam is easier to understand once you know its structure. Level I consists of two basic formats: (1) sentence completion with three choices and (2) questions with three unique choices, according to CFA Institute. The website has good examples for sentence completion and question subjects, so check out their page for more. The CFA exam topics are, as presented:

  • Ethical and professional standards, 15-20%
  • Quantitative methods, 8-12%
  • Economics, 8-12%
  • Financial reporting and analysis, 13-17%
  • Corporate finance, 8-12%
  • Equity investments, 10-12%
  • Fixed income, 10-12%
  • Derivatives, 5-8%
  • Alternative investments, 5-8%
  • Portfolio management, 5-8%.

Timing on the CFA Exam?

Level I CFA exam can be taken both on paper and computer. It consists of two sessions, a morning one and an afternoon one, each lasting three hours. The paper-based test comprises 240 multiple choice questions, 120 in the morning, and 120 in the afternoon. The computer-based test consists of 180 questions and is split into two 135-minute parts. You should prepare to spend about 90 seconds on each question of the CFA exam. However, depending on the difficulty of the question and how well you’re doing on the subject, a question might take you less or more time than that.

How to Prepare for the Level I CFA Exam

Preparing for the CFA exam is not as complicated as you might think. If you have enough determination and willpower to stay consistent, you’ll be able to ace it without worries. In the end, it’s all about your ability to prove yourself mentally strong. Do you want to pass it bad enough? Then you should follow these guidelines.

  • Understand your WHY. The first thing you should focus on is understanding the reason why you want to pass the test – and, of course, the benefits that it’ll bring you. What are some of the best career options for you once you pass it? What are the long-term gains that you’ll get out of it? Understanding the underlying reasons for which you are putting in this intense work is crucial to your success.
  • Start early. Once you know your reasons and are confident enough to start, don’t waste any more time. As I said earlier, you should put at least 300 hours into studying for the exam, so starting anywhere between 6-12 months in advance is highly recommended.
  • Create a schedule and stick to it. Having an organized plan on how and when to study is always beneficial, as it will help you keep track of your work. It will also keep you determined to continue. Then, dedicate your study time to understand each part of the test separately AND to find answers to your questions.
  • Practicing is necessary, BUT so are Preparing and Performing. CFA Institute recommends students to practice the Learning Outcome Statement system for the best results. That starts with Preparation, which consists of learning the basic concepts, reading, and listening to the given material; after that, Practice must happen – this is where you take all of the concepts learned and apply them to problems. The third stage is Performing, which means creating the necessary conditions to practice the exam as you would in a formal setting.
  • Reviewing is also important. The material that you are learning won’t stick unless you feed it regularly. Reviews are important because they remind you of what you must remember and also provide feedback on how well you’ve studied different concepts.
  • Cover everything on the test. Some students limit themselves to covering only what they do not have a basic understanding of, thinking that they already know everything else. This is a big mistake. You should cover all the material presented, regardless of how much you think you know. You must be ready to be tested on literally anything included in the CFA Program study guide.
  • Take the last one to two months to ONLY perform. Practicing and performing as you were actually taking the test helps you grasp some of the CFA exam concepts more easily but also offers you the ability to familiarize yourself with the format. You will be feeling less pressured to perform well when you are taking the actual exam if you take time to practice taking the exam You might feel less stressed and therefore, more confident in your abilities. Make it a goal to score over 75% every single time you are taking the test during the last month before your CFA exam.
  • Reward yourself at the end. Studying for the CFA exam is challenging and time-consuming, so make sure you take time for yourself to relax after the exam. Choose a reward that you are most attracted to – hiking, spending time with friends, video gaming, etc. – and do it! You’ve earned this time, so make sure you use it accordingly.

FRM Part I & Part II Complete Course


Preparing for the CFA exam by following the guidelines above should be easy now. In the end, all you must do it start early, go hard, and be consistent! Keep it up and keep going!

Author Bio

Thomas Lanigan has work experience for 4 years as a marketing specialist, paper writing service manager, writer, journalist, and editor. Also, he is a professional content writer in such topics as blogging, marketing features, progressive education programs, business.

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