Study tips for the CFA level I exam

I’ve tried to come up with a coherent study method and tips that fit with my own experiences, the recommendations of others and the psychology of learning. Hopefully, it’s helpful for others. I’ve published it as a blogpost on my homepage (, but here it is as well - Hopefully, this helps you as much as putting it together helped me to figure out how to tame the CFA exam materials. – I. Importance of a regular study routine The amount of material a CFA candidate is supposed to know for each exam is staggering. It’s not the absolute difficulty of the subject material that gets to people psychologically, it’s the sheer amount of it. There are two important ways to deal with massive amounts of material, the first being a regular study routine. You just have to have enough time to actually get through it. So start learning regularly. It’s too much material to just cram in a few weeks time prior to the exam. Learn to spread your reading somewhat evenly in the months beforehand. What you don’t do on a daily basis, you don’t do. Whatever it takes to motivate yourself, it’s worth it to establish a regular routine – the CFA exam is as much a test of your discpline and stamina as it is of your intellect. II. Repeating & summarizing You absolutely will not get the best out of your time spent reading the material if you don’t repeat what you’ve already covered before. Start reading the summaries of the last few readings before you begin a new one. This is the second important way to deal with massive amounts of material. And it’s probably the most under-appreciated advice. It takes time to repeat and it seems so much easier just to get on with the next chapter. But it hurts your ability to recall the material in the long run. In order to commit the material at least to a sufficient degree to long-term memory, you need to repeat it. Not once or twice, more like five to six times, with increasing intervening periods. So start reading the EOC summaries of the last few readings before starting a new one. You will thank yourself later for this. If you want to go the extra-mile, start writing your own summaries of the readings. This helps you in multiple ways: You concentrate on the content of each reading by evaluating what’s important enough to write down; you remember much better later what you’ve written down yourself and you already repeat the material for the first time. Alas, it takes a lot of additional time so it’s not for everyone. III. Why you need to do questions and mock exams After you’ve gone through all the material and memorized as much as possible of it, you need to start memorizing it even better – by learning and applying the material in a different context and in the way it actually gets tested on the exam: Start doing questions and, later on, mock exams. It won’t be sufficient to just memorize what you’ve read. You need to be able to apply it to the style of questions the exam presents you with. Lots of people preach doing this as early as possible. I’d caution that it doesn’t make much sense to do questions if you haven’t yet adequately committed the material to memory. It’s a good combination of learning and repeating as well as doing questions and mock exams that helps the most. IV. So what does it all come down to? Besides those general strategies, there are a few more practical tips worth keeping in mind: 1. Realize the differing importance of each book and start learning accordingly: - Ethics & Quant, Equity & Fixed Income, and FRA together make up 69% of the exam - Ethics is nearly twice as important as any other subject (as per exam weighting / number of pages) 2. How to Deal with each Reading: - Review the summaries of the last three readings - Read the LOS and the summary of the reading to spot main topics - Read the reading itself and mark the important points, don’t just read - Solve each EOC question - Write your own summary of the reading 3. Finish your readings four weeks prior to exam time 4. Start doing questions about four weeks prior to exam time, review subjects you’re least sufficient in 5. Try to actually understand what each formula says, don’t just memorize it 6. As you do ever more questions, read all of your own summaries, the CFAI summaries and re-do each EOC question at least once

Great advice, thanks!

Good tips here. I keep hearing that knowing the material cold is essential, and to just keep drilling those questions over and over. I found this article helpful.