Curious how you’ll do on Level 1 of the CFA exam? Take our free practice exam and find out!

Make a Plan to Pass the CFA Exam the First Time

Do not underestimate the importance of a good plan! You do NOT want to spend so much time, money, and effort on exam preparation and then fail and have to retake the exam because you didn’t plan well enough and had to cram or didn’t have the right study materials.

A good plan will involve:

  • Investing in robust study materials (like Wiley CFA).
  • Telling your friends and family about your plans to study for the CFA exam.
  • Reverse engineering your study plan (Is your Level I exam date 6 months away? Are you budgeting 300 hours to study? That means you will need to plan for over 13 study hours per week).
  • Using CFA Exam Prep Supplements
  • Knowing exactly when and where you are going to study.
  • Knowing which topic areas you are going to study when.
  • Dividing your study time between learning (reading and videos), practice (practice questions and flashcards), and application (practice exams).
  • Time management practice to make sure you are getting through questions fast enough.
  • Planning for continuous review of previously studied topics.
  • Planning for exam day.

Invest in the Right Resources

You have two main resource options when it comes to studying for the CFA exam: CFA Institute-provided study materials or a CFA exam review course. CFA Institute materials include reading materials with end-of-chapter questions, and CFA prep courses provide extra study support like video lectures, adaptive review, and even professional mentoring.

Start studying today with expert instructors!

11th Hour Mock Exams, video lectures, 24/7 customer service, and much more with our popular CFA Review Courses.

Using only the resources provided by CFA Institute means you’re on your own as you try to digest the dense reading material. This strategy puts CFA candidates at risk of getting stuck, losing motivation, and burning out.

The easier and more effective way to study is by using a CFA Approved Prep Provider (APP) like Wiley CFA. With tools like Score Predictor, when you study with Wiley you always know how well you’re doing and if you’re staying on track to pass. This means you save yourself time and money by increasing your chances of passing the first time.

Wiley CFA resources include:

  • Video lectures hosted by expert instructors;
  • Bite-sized 30–45-minute lessons;
  • Adaptive Review to adjust your study plan based on your strengths and weaknesses;
  • Score Predictor tool that reliably estimates how you’ll do on the exam based on course performance; and
  • More!

If you want to pull out all the stops by getting professional online mentoring and an 11th Hour Final Review and Mock Exam, check out the Wiley CFA Platinum Course.

Give Yourself 6 Months to Study

Giving yourself enough time to study is one of the most important factors in passing the CFA exam the first time (in conjunction with being consistent with your studies along the way). However, you also don’t want to study for longer than needed because then you run the risk of burning out.

Equally important to the length of time you study is the number of hours you plan to study within that timeframe. Each exam has a different recommended number of minimum study hours, and you should plan to spend more time studying for each subsequent exam.

CFA Level 1

Months of Study: 6 months
Hours of Study: 303 hours

CFA Level 2

Months of Study: 6 – 9 months
Hours of Study: 328 hours

CFA Level 3

Months of Study: 6 – 9 months
Hours of Study: 344 hours

Join a Study Group

Joining a study group might also be part of your CFA exam study plan. Study group study sessions provide many benefits including increased accountability and motivation, help with tough topic areas or concepts, learning about new study techniques, hearing new perspectives, reviewing the learning outcome statements with other test-takers, and mental and emotional support.

For more information about study groups, view our Platinum CFA Review Course, which includes an exclusive CFA Study Group.

Strategize: Taking the CFA Exam to Pass

Each level of the CFA exam will require a slightly different strategy to pass. Overall study strategy will remain the same (stay consistent over a set number of months), but each level will introduce new topic weights, question types, answer formats, and skill level evaluation.

CFA Level 1

For the CFA Level I exam, be prepared to:

  • Get through 180 free-standing multiple-choice questions in 4.5 hours (90 seconds per question).
  • Answer every question, even if it’s an educated guess (there is no penalty for wrong answers).
  • Complete lots of practice questions and practice tests.
  • Spend extra time on Ethics and Professional Standards and Financial Statement Analysis.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of tested concepts.
  • Memorize small details.
  • Spend over 300 hours studying.

For more tips, view our article on how to pass CFA Level 1 on the first attempt.

CFA Level 2

As you craft your CFA Level II exam strategy, be ready to:

  • Answer 88 vignette-supported multiple-choice questions in 4 hours and 24 minutes.
  • Read short, descriptive scenarios (vignettes) and answer “item sets” of 4-6 questions related to the scenario.
  • Answer every question (wrong answers do not count against you).
  • Complete lots of practice questions and practice exams.
  • Focus on Asset Valuation.
  • Spend extra time on Financial Statement Analysis, Equity Investments, Fixed Income Investments,
  • Ethics, and Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning.
  • Be tested on your application and analysis skills.
  • Spend at least 328 hours studying.

For more tips, view our article on how to study for the Level II CFA exam.

CFA Level 3

Prepare for the CFA Level III exam by expecting to:

  • Only be tested on 7 of the 10 CFA exam topic areas (Level 3 does not test Quantitative Methods, Financial Statement Analysis, or Corporate Issuers).
  • Focus the most time on Fixed Income Investments and Portfolio Management.
  • Focus the least time on Economics, Derivatives, and Alternative Investments.
  • Encounter vignette-supported multiple-choice questions and constructed response questions.
  • Have experience answering open-ended questions with essay responses and numerical information.
  • Make educated guesses for questions you are unsure how to answer (you will not be penalized for getting an answer wrong).
  • Complete lots of practice questions and practice exams.
  • Demonstrate your ability to make good judgment calls and analyze, synthesize, and evaluate facts and concepts.
  • Spend at least 344 hours studying.
  • Pass and become a Chartered Financial Analyst!

For more tips, view our article on how to study for the Level III CFA exam.

Don’t Forget Logistics

A couple of weeks before the exam, make sure to review your logistics plan for the day of. This means looking up your exam location (if you’re testing in person) and planning enough time to travel there and arrive early. If you’re using ProProctor to test remotely, double-check all of the equipment, connection, and environment requirements to make sure you won’t have any trouble meeting them on exam day.

Don’t bring any unapproved items to your exam and be incredibly respectful to the exam proctors. The CFA Institute is very strict when it comes to exam procedures, so don’t break any rules, take any unapproved photos, or post specific exam questions on social media.

Wiley’s CFA Platinum Review Courses will help you understand, retain, and pass the exam to help you earn your CFA charter.

Passing the CFA Exam the First Time – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about how to pass the CFA exam the first time.

  • The key to passing the CFA Program exam on your first try is working hard, using the right study materials, and having a consistent study plan with over 300 hours of studying per exam level.
  • With a 44% average pass rate, it’s safe to say the CFA exam is very difficult. But with the right study plan, the right study materials, and consistency, you can pass the CFA exam.
  • The Level 3 CFA exam is generally considered the hardest level because it takes the longest to study for, introduces open-ended answer formats, and evaluates higher-level skills like the ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information.
  • It takes an average of 325 hours to study for each level of the CFA exam, so if you have a 6-month study plan, you should be studying between 1.5 – 2 hours per day (if you study for the same amount of time each day).
  • Yes. You can study for the CFA exam on your own by using the CFA study materials provided to you or by enlisting the help of a self-study CFA exam prep course like Wiley CFA.
  • The CFA exam pass rate is low because it covers a vast amount of information and takes a long time to study for (around 1,000 hours if you pass each level of the exam on your first try). If you create a consistent study plan and study for over 300 hours for each exam, you increase your chances of passing.
  • To pass the CFA exam, you must demonstrate that you have basic competence in the subject matter tested.
  • The CFA exam passing score, or Minimum Passing Score (MPS), is not released by CFA Institute, but if you score 75% or higher on your practice exams, you should be adequately prepared.