Study strategy for CFA exam – 7 tips to make the best out of your time

Strategy for CFA Exam

Successful performance in the CFA exam does not only require thorough reading and practicing. It also depends on how you plan to do these things.


CFA exam has always been a daunting challenge. And if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. An average candidate needs at least 300 hours of prep study for the CFA exam. But if you are just going to jump in cramming the textbook into your brain and try to finish all the practice problems, you are still far from passing the test. Instead, in these minimum 300 hours, it’s the best to break down the time into different phases and time slots. Also, there should be a wise strategy to take full advantage of the time. Whether you are going to sit an exam for CFA level 1, CFA level 2 or CFA level 3, having proper tactics from the start of your prep study plan is a must.

Study strategy for the CFA exam

What does it base on?

The CFA exam obviously covers all ten topics in the curriculum. But they weight differently. The difference in exam topics weights thus is a determining factor in allocating the time of study for each topic. This table below clarifies the weight of each topic in percentage. These weights are relative true on both curriculum and the exam development processes.

cfa exam

Looking at this table, you can thus figure out the relativeness among each topic’s study time. As a result, you can use your prep time in an effective way.

All the weights of the topic make up 100%, now let consider that 100% is the total amount of time remaining before the exam. By multiplying the weight of the topic with the total amount of time remaining, you will have the minimum amount of study time for that particular topic.

For example, the ethical and professional standard makes up for 15% in the CFA level 1 exam, and you plan to take a 300-hour prep study. So the minimum amount of time you need to spend on this topic is 300 x 15%, which is 45 hours.

What does it include?

Overall time plan

This time plan acts as a goal to look at and to achieve. In this plan, you should include the start date and the exam date. Also, there should be a start date for practice papers, which is ideally one month before the exam.

Now as you have the time interval between the start and ending point, it’s time to articulate on what is between them. In this section, the time plan should be able to answer these questions.

  • How many days/ weeks do you have until the exam? (days/weeks remaining)
  • How many study hours per day/per week are you going to spend? (average study hours per day/per week?

This overall time plan significantly facilitates your accomplishment of the actual detailed study plan. Also, it helps you to track your study progress with ease. Every day you will remind yourself of how many remaining hours do you have, and how many hours are you behind/before the plan.

Detailed study plan

The study plan needs to cover all topics and the deadline for each topic. Additionally, you can note the deadline on the calendar to ensure you are always on track. More importantly, for each topic, the study plan should provide the info on the hours to study, study days, the number of curriculum page to cover, and the number of pages to cover per day. In other words, the study plan will act as a task allocator. It tells you what you have to do, and when you have to complete the task.

Progress tracking

Evaluating and monitoring your performance is as important as performing itself. For progress tracking, there should be a table/chart/sheet that gives you a comparison between what you plan and what you actually completed. Specifically, a progress tracking sheet should include the hours studied, the number of pages read, the self-test score, and percentage of completion.

7 powerful tips to make the most out of the study strategy

Start early

So you all may know that the CFA Institute estimates that an average candidate needs at least 300 hours to prepare for the CFA exam. But you don’t want to cram those 300 hours into just a short period like one month or two months before the exam. In fact, you should plan to spend about 15 hours per week on studying in six months before the exam date.

Starting early means you will have more resting time, more reviewing and practicing time. However, an early start would make no sense if you always find yourself lagging behind the study plan. Again, sticking to the scheme is crucial.

Preview the material

As you register for each level, you will receive a curriculum. It has about 18 study sessions. And what you should do is thoroughly preview the structure of the curriculum. This preview will help a lot when you absorb the knowledge. You can thus memorize the knowledge in a systematic manner.

Previewing the material also helps you to work on the study plan more effectively. By looking at each topic’s structure, coverage, and its relative weight, you can determine the amount of time for each particular topic. And more importantly, you can be confident in your prep study knowing that you spend a proper time and effort for it.

Study the LOS – Learning Outcome Statements

The CFA Institute defines LOS as knowledge, skills, and abilities that you can apply after reading and practicing. Each topic has its own LOS, and to acquire it, there are indeed so many things to do. Specifically, you need to develop an outline for the topic. Then, write down all the important concept and formulas relating to it. The LOS will finally help you to memorize the knowledge in the long run.

Practice as much as you can

Many people are excellent readers; they can read and memorize the curriculum with ease. But just reading is never enough. What is more important is the ability to apply what you read into solving the practice problems. Similarly, memorizing the curriculum makes no sense if you don’t actually understand it. This is to say that practicing plays a vital role, so if you have time for it, do it.

Read – practice – review

During your prep study, this cycle should go on and on. Read to know, practice to understand, and review to further improve. If you fail to do any of these tasks, no study plan can help you out. First, study the concept, then learn by solving the practice exercises over and over again. As you are proceeding on the problem, come back to read if there is anything seems vague. Approach the material like when you are reading a good book.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Many people exhaust themselves with studying. And it is obviously not a good study strategy. Instead, ready yourself for the study plan by eating healthy meals, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and have enough sleep. With a healthy condition, you are more capable of sticking to the plan. And more importantly, it helps you to focus better on the ultimate goal of earning the CFA charter.

Finish early

It’s ideal to finish the materials at least one month before the exam. In the final month, your tactics may be different. Instead of spending a lot of time on reading, the last month should be for extensive practicing, reviewing, and doing mock tests. Also, in the last month, there may be some holes in your memory. So it’s the time to have some final fixes and reinforce your preparation for the upcoming exam.


CFA exam is a daunting challenge, but it is not something impossible. With elaborate study strategy, you should be confident in your preparation. Along with having a proper study plan, make sure that it’s feasible for you to stick to the plan. You yourself should also stay motivated for giving it 100% completion. In this way, you are ready to pass the test on your first try.

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