To pass CFA Level 1 first time, you don’t need to be super smart or amazingly knowledgeable. CFA Level 1 is an endurance test, not an IQ test. What you do need to do is be savvy. Savvy about leaving plenty of time. Savvy about making sure that time is efficient. Savvy about the learning techniques you use.

In fact, earning a first-time CFA Level 1 pass can be broken into three simple elements…

How to pass CFA Level 1 First Time


Pass CFA Level 1 First Time

There’s no way around it: you’re more likely to pass CFA Level 1 first time if you leave yourself plenty of time. It’s become cliché to note that you should study for 300 hours – but that’s the minimum. Colloquially, many CFA Level 1 students have noted that they needed more, with some even allowing up to 600 hours.

It’s human nature to assume you’re going to get more done than you actually will. If you schedule 300 hours, I’d put good money on you not actually studying for 300 hours. With that in mind, the best advice I can give you is to build in a cushion of time – more than you think you’re going to need.  Hey, what’s the worst that could happen? You’re not going to know the CFA too well.

Build in a cushion of time – more than you think you’re going to need.

We get asked a lot, ‘when should I start studying if I’m sitting the June/December exams?’ There’s no simple formula, but err on the side of caution. We recommend you leave 6 months. If you wanted to study for 600 hours, that’s only 100 hours a month, or roughly 25 hours a week.

If you’re studying while working, you could study for, say, 1.5 hours before work each day and 2 hours after and only have 7.5 hours to do over the whole weekend. Or you could do 2 hours each weekday and then do 7.5 hours on both Saturday and Sunday. That’s a really achievable goal, especially if you look at the ‘dead’ times you could be using to study during the week – your commute, for instance.

What if you’re already left it too late? Check out our piece on damage limitation: Studying for the CFA if you’re tight on time.

The Right Materials

CFA Materials

CFA Level 1 isn’t massively difficult, but it is very broad. Add in that you’re only going to have around 1.5 minutes to answer each question (240 questions divided by 6 hours), so you’re going to have to know the information inside-out in order to answer quickly. There’s not much room for prolonged thinking on the CFA Level 1.

For CFA students, this means the right materials are critical. The first port of call is the curriculum. The big advantage of this is that you know it includes everything you need to know. The big downside is that it’s incredibly dense and by itself, isn’t the most efficient way to learn. Information overload isn’t an effective way to absorb knowledge.

Instead, we recommend you use a condensed study guide or course in addition to reading through the syllabus. The act of condensing information distils it more clearly in your mind, making it a more efficient study technique than simply re-reading the materials.

If you theoretically had time to study the curriculum 3 times over, that still wouldn’t be as effective as working through the curriculum once and then using a condensed course.

At LearnSignal, we’ve created condensed online revision courses to help you pass the CFA Level 1 first time. Existing packages such as Schweser are fine, but they’re ludicrously expensive because they’re been operating in a captive market for so long.

You get complete access to our online learning library for less than $40/month, and our courses are designed by a team of top CFA professionals to give you the best chances of passing. You can read more about how we create our online learning materials here, or get a free 7-day trial here.


Pass the CFA

Endlessly reading material isn’t going to be enough to pass CFA Level 1 first time. Research has repeatedly shown that ‘self-testing’ is more effective because it forces you to recall information, which embeds it in your memory.

To get the benefits of self-testing, you should focus on methods that force you to work from memory. If you can incorporate these methods into your daily study, you’ll likely know the material much better than someone who’s studied for the same amount of time but isn’t self-testing.

Good methods include flashcards, mnemonics, quizzes and practice questions. If you’re using our online CFA revision courses, you’ll notice that we embed quizzes throughout our material for this reason.

You also need to practice because a successful result comes down to how well you perform in the exam. That sounds obvious, but it’s not all about your knowledge. Even if you know the curriculum inside out, you can still let yourself down by messing up your timing or by succumbing to exam-day stress.

You can prepare for both of these things by doing mock exams in exam conditions. You need to know what it feels like to try and do 240 questions in 6 hours. Coping with pressure could be an entire post of its own, but a brief word of advice: if you know you’re particularly susceptible to exam-day stress, you could do worse than practising calming techniques such as meditation. You’d be surprised how much a weekly yoga class could help when it comes to your final CFA Level 1 exams.

Time. The Right Materials. Practice. Three elements that you need to pass the CFA Level 1 first time. Honestly, it really is that simple. CFA Level 1 isn’t particularly difficult, but it’s an endurance test. It’s testing your time management and organisation skills as much as anything else – and anyone can earn a pass if they’re committed. That’s not to say you should just put in time for the sake of it. Be savvy about using the most effective study techniques, so you’re using your time in the most efficient way.

And do yourself a favour and check out LearnSignal online revision courses. We’ve put a huge amount of time, effort and expertise into creating a comprehensive online learning library that will help you pass the CFA Level 1 first time – and all for hundreds of pounds less than the other major learning providers. You can get your 7-day free trial here.