When should I Start Studying for the December CFA Exam

While the June CFA exams are just behind us, I’m already getting emails from Level I CFA Program candidates asking when they should start studying for the December CFA exam. It’s a common question, whether ahead of the December or June exam, and really depends on your own schedule and study style.
The easiest (and probably best) answer I can give you is…start studying right now! I have been a big advocate on the blog of making your CFA study schedule a part of continuous and life-long professional development. As a professional, you don’t get summer break or extended vacations. You need to constantly be learning and building your skills as an analyst, or face the chopping block the next time job cuts hit the office. The CFA curriculum is the best in the industry and it doesn’t hurt to start early and really master the material.
But if you’ve already got other projects on your schedule then it’s a relevant question to ask when you need to start studying for the December CFA exam.

How much time do you need to study for the December CFA exam

The average of 300 hours spent by most successful candidates to pass a CFA exam is a pretty good metric from which to start. Your own experience of how quickly you learn new material might guide you higher or lower but I would caution candidates against thinking they need less than 200 hours of study time. This will be your first CFA exam and most are surprised at the level of difficulty. Looking at the 10-year average pass rate of just 39% for the level one exam should give you an indication of how many are caught off-guard by its difficulty.
Most candidates for the June CFA exam start mid-February which leaves about three and a half months to study. That still means about 20 hours of studying each week over 15 weeks to reach 300 hours, a pace that most probably would have trouble keeping. For the December CFA exam, I have heard a lot of candidates wait until sometime in August to start their study schedule.
Realistically though, can you really fit more than 10 to 15 hours of studying into your weekly schedule? Even full-time students have to contend with their university exam schedule. Adult CFA candidates have to balance family-life, work and everything else with studying for the CFA. Budgeting 15 hours a week for studying means you’ll need to start in a few weeks to get 20 weeks of studying in before the exam.
You might be able to make up some lost time with a few days or even a week of intense studying. Taking off work the last week before the exam can net you upwards of 50 hours or more for studying. A lot of candidates plan on studying large blocks of time over the weekends but who wants to work all week and then study all weekend?
I would say plan on starting your December CFA study schedule by the second or third week of July, at the latest. That will give you 20 weeks before the exam. You may not need all the time but it’s far better to overstudy than to not study enough.
As for How to Pass the Level I CFA Program Exam, check out some of the posts here on the blog. The first exam is extremely broad-based but you do not need much detail in each topic area. Make sure you read the curriculum and supplement it with a quick reference guide like the FinQuiz Notes. This strikes a balance between getting the detail you need and the ability to cover the material multiple times through notes.
We’ll start covering topics specific to the Level I CFA Program exam in the coming weeks. Let me know if you have any questions on how to prepare for the exam or what to study.
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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