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How to Prepare for the CFA Exam and Avoid Mistakes



Passing the CFA finance exam is the last step in the process of becoming a fully-fledged CFA. The trouble, of course, is that the CFA exam is fairly rigorous, requiring you to understand–and know how to apply–all the skills you learned in the CFA program.


Don’t fear if you’re unsure how to start preparing for the CFA Level 1 exam! In this article, we’ll break down all the CFA preparations you need to pass the test with flying colors, even if you think you need a guide to the CFA for dummies!

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When you’re preparing for your CFA, it’s essential to keep to a rigorous study routine

Make a clear plan

The first piece of advice on how to prepare for the CFA is true for almost any test: make a clear study plan. There’s plenty of content that you’ll need to go over for your CFA exam, and it’s essential to manage all of that information by making a plan of attack.


Maybe you’re someone who’s good at cramming a lot of information into your head at once. If that’s the case, you can plan to study on fewer days and cover a large cluster of related content. 


On the other hand, if you need more time to soak up content, make a plan to study at least once or twice a week all the way up to the exam. In either case, make sure you study regularly for at least six months in advance of your exam.


If you need help making a plan to study for the CPA exam, consult online lessons or a CFA exam study guide–their structure can help you get a sense of how to build your own study plan.


Take a Prep Class

Next on our list of CFA tips: If you feel like you need a little extra support in preparing for your CFA exam, there’s no shame in taking a class to make your CFA preparations.


Besides going through the most important content on the exam, a prep class can be a great way to get away from the distractions and force yourself to spend time studying. If you’re completely new to the test, it can be a great way of making a CFA Level 1 study plan, learning how many hours it takes to study for the CFA Level 1 exam, and getting a vetted CFA study guide.


There are many options for prep classes, from self-paced classes like those by the Princeton Review to independent classes. Consider a virtual class if you want to study for the CFA without leaving your house!

Study Hard, Study Humanely

When you’re preparing for your CFA, it’s essential to keep to a rigorous study routine. But it’s also crucial to make sure that you’re being gentle to yourself throughout the process. 


To begin with, it’s essential to be good to yourself in general–is a CFA really worth it if it makes you miserable for the year leading up to it? More practically, you simply won’t study as well or do as well on the exam if you’re not taking care of yourself during your CFA prep time.


So when you’re in your CFA Level 1 study time, make sure to take regular breaks to have healthy snacks, get fresh air, and get seven or eight hours of sleep each night after you finish with your CFA readings. 

Mind over Math

It’s a common misconception that you pass the CFA exam by knowing all of the involved math. But the truth is that the exams–especially the Level 1 exam, the first in the CFA order–are very conceptual and are only getting more so. 


That means that the best way to study for CFA isn’t to memorize every single formula–it’s more important to know the key formulas and their applications. To figure out which formulas are best to study, refer to lessons, a prep book, or a CFA Level 1 study guide.


Additionally, as with any test that involves math, the CFA exam is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll want to quickly determine which problems are worth doing and which are so convoluted or obscure that it would be more efficient to skip them, or at least save them for last. Make sure to get acquainted with how many questions it takes to pass the CFA Level 1.


Become friends with your calculator

One of the most critical CFA preparations is to know your calculator inside and out. For the test, you’ll only be able to use either a Texas Instruments BA II Plus or a Hewlett Packard 12C as your calculator–so be sure to select your favorite calculator way in advance and get to know it really well. 


Figure out the ins and outs, learning not just what it does but how to quickly use it. That way, you won’t waste time on the mechanics of your calculator and can get more work done–not to mention questions that are simply about plugging in numbers to a given formula.


The best way to get familiar with the calculator is to read up on it online, watch videos about it, and, above all, use it. Getting your hands on it is probably the most important of all–simply having the machine feel familiar in your hands will take a big load off of your mind, making it an essential part of any CFA study plan.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Nothing is more valuable for CFA preparation than simply practicing. Make sure you can quickly bring information to mind and determine how to apply it on the exam, and practicing helps hone this skill.


On top of that, being mindful of your CFA study hours will keep you adept at time management. If you’re wondering how long to study for CFA Level 1 exam, Remember, each takes six hours–and since most of us aren’t used to working on a test for six hours at a time, it’ll take plenty of practice to get good at managing your time.


Thankfully, the CFA Institute offers several practice sessions, CFA test examples, and tips for how to study for the CFA exam, which can help you refine your ability to handle a barrage of questions at once and develop a good CFA timetable.


Have faith in yourself

Even bigger than these CFA exam tips is the most important lesson of all: Believe in yourself! As cheesy as it might sound, you have to remember that you’re an incredibly competent person just for trying at the CFA exam–you can do it!


Also, carrying a positive attitude into the test can help you in concrete ways. Suppose you walk into the test incessantly worrying about how to pass the CFA exam. In that case, you’ll be so distracted by your worries that you probably won’t do well–but if you have confidence in your abilities, you’ll free yourself to function at full capacity.


Although it’s challenging to prepare for the CFA exam, it’s far from impossible! With the proper degree of preparation, test-taking know-how, and study habits, you’re sure to pass the exam and become a fully-fledged CFA.

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