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CFA difficulty

what is the degree of diffficulty of the level 1 CFA one should expect

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You can find detailed information at this website (top secret and not well known) regarding the exam format and the type of questions you can expect:

The matter of difficulty is in the eye of the beholder as always, if you are familiar with the topic, the questions are typically straightforward (at Level 1 that is), otherwise…

It’s not easy. 30-40% pass rate, at level 1. Even with a finance background you’ll likely have to spend some time familiarizing yourself with definitions and topics specifics, not to mention get accustomed to the exam format (back to back three-hour exams with an hour in between; roughly 1.5 mins per question).

Without a finance background…well let’s pray you have at least six months to grind through the material.

Even with an accounting/finance background, I feel L1 is a real tester. You got to go through a lot of content. If you dont have an accounting background, you might want to start early and get a head start. At the end of the day, they will test your basic understanding in L1. The challenge is to retain the content.

You can always borrow some material from a friend who has taken the L1 exam and see the topics and the overall structure of the curriculum.

Background - bachelor’s and master’s in engineering.

Financial background -  The day i started to study for the exam, i did not know what is equity or dividend.

Begining of self-study - Early January 2016.

Numbers of hours studied - 600+ (I am being very conservative in counting hours)

Employment Status - Unemployed so i was able to put 600+ hours. No family. No life.

Books Used -

1) Scheweser Notes,

2) Principles of Economics by Dirk Mateer & Lee Coppock (i love this book),

3) Financial & Managerial Accounting by Warren-Duchac (another good book),

4) Understandable Statistics by Brase & Brase (my long time companion) and

5) An online video course.

Most Difficult Part - In the begining of the preparation, i struggled with Financial Reporting as i did not know even the most basic terms like equity, preferred shares, dividend etc. But, once i got a hang of it, it was not so bad.

Difficulty of the Course Material - The mathematics and complexity of concept used in CFA level 1 is similar to complexity in high school (9th and 10th standard). So, the material is not dificult in itself but it is hugeeeee…

Exam Difficulty - PM session was very easy. I was done 30 minutes before time. AM was little complex and i did not know the answer of 12 question as i got little confused.

Shortcomings - I did not study from the CFAI books. I did not solve any CFAI books chapter end problem. I did not use QBank even though i had purchased it. I did not solve the free sample exam available on the CFAI website. However, i did solve most of the Scheweser Notes chapter end problem and the questions given in my online video course.

Lessons Learned -

1) If you are staying in a hotel the night before, make sure you take your luggage with you to the examination hall. After you are done with your AM session, you may realize that couple of formulas are mixed up in your head. You may desire to go through those formulas in your break. I left my luggage in the hotel lobby at the counter. Fortunately, my hotel was very close to the examination center and i was able to go back to the hotel to check on few fundamentals.

2) Make sure that you are in your seat in the examination room 30 minutes before the start of the exam. The staff closes the door before 9 AM and 2 PM for instruction. And if you are outside, they will not let you come in even if you are ahead of time. It does not damage a whole lot but you may come in the panicky mode if you are outside and they close the door.

Good Luck to everyone on their exam results….



L1 is of course the easiest of the three exams but is a bit underrated in my opinion.  As others have stated, the material is not difficult to comprehend but there is just so much of it.  As well, a good portion of the questions are designed to trick you or misdirect you.  L2 and L3 contain a lot more of that type of trickery but it’s present in L1 as well.

Point being, even if you know the material, it’s still a tough exam and you’ll leave most likely thinking: maybe I passed, but maybe not.  With lots of study though, it should be manageable to anyone assuming your at least of reasonable intelligence.

There’s kind of two types of hard:

  • Understanding-quantim-mechanics hard
  • Drywalling-a-basement hard 

L1 is like drywalling 100 basements. There are some difficult concepts, but you don’t need to get 100% to pass; in fact, basically no one does. You just need to pick up enough knowledge to score 70% or so. If you have a degree and are drawn to reading serious newspapers or the Economist, etc., passing L1 becomes basically automatic with two inputs:

  • 200-400 serious, high quality hours, total.
  • Of those hours, a complete focus on writing and deeply revising 3-5 mock exams the final 6-8 weeks. Drilling to perfection.

If you do those two things with intensity, the exam will feel like a walk in the park.

(My background: apx. 15 years in a totally unrelated marketing role with zero math, prior to passing L1).

Is that the best way to study? I’m taking Level 1 after just finalizing my MBA. I am assuming I’ll study all July-Sep, put in 2 hours a day M-F, and 4 on sat and sunday. Then spend all of October and November doing mock exams and practice problems.

What are the best mock exams to purchase? I really want to nail this exam.

StarkofWallStreet wrote:

What are the best mock exams to purchase? I really want to nail this exam.

For Level I, mock exams aren’t as important as they are for Levels II and III. I think just grinding practice questions is more important, and the Schweser QBank is pretty good for that. Doing all of those along with the mock exams the CFA Institute provides should be enough for most candidates. Doing all the blue box examples and EOC practice questions in the curriculum is also recommended.

The primary shortcoming of mock/practice exams and question banks is that they tend to overemphasize computational questions, and underemphasize conceptual questions.

This is understandable: it’s easy to write a question that says, “calculate this number”; it’s much harder to write a (good) question that says, “think about the relationships you know and extrapolate those relationships to this scenario.”

Simplify the complicated side; don't complify the simplicated side.

Financial Exam Help 123: The place to get help for the CFA® exams

Very true… Strongly agree with S2000

Perseverance and consistency all it takes to get there

I have recently passed ACCA. I am going to attempt level 1 in June 2018. I have completed Financial Reporting and Analysis. Do I have enough time to prepare rest of syllabus? 

Please reply

Depends on time you spend preparing, but definitely possible. Also ACCA charterholder here, started preparing in October 2016 for December exam, passed all >70%, but as recommended put c. 300 hours in preparation. If it helps, the scope of the CFA exams is similar to 3-4 ACCA exams at the same time. Financial reporting and Ethics have huge weights, so if you have ACCA and are ready with FR you already have a great start.   

L1 pass rates hover 40%.

For simplicity let’s say that the population is 100.

On test day roughly 10 people are clueless and they’re out before the exam even starts. 

This leaves 90 people fighting for the 40 spots.  

Basically you just come in slightly above the average of the people taking the exam and you will PASS.

To give you more confidence, in what race or competition do you get awarded for coming in 40th place out of 100 participants? Very few…Don’t hype yourself out.  

Be yourself. The world worships the original.

 Similar to EOC questions from curriculum.not like  self testing or mock from curriculum and even not like schweser mocks.