How to pass CFA® Level 1 on the first attempt

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I FAILED level 1 of the CFA® exam the first time I took it in June of 2013. Learn from my mistakes and pass CFA® Level 1 on the first attempt!

I was an above average student in grade school but when I arrived at college I became a slacker doing only what I had to do to get by. I wasn’t a huge fan of the college experience because I thought I should be making money instead of wasting time learning about things I would never use in the “REAL WORLD”. So when I decided to begin the CFA® Program in 2013 I figured I could get by just like I did in college. WRONG! (In my best Donald Trump voice).

The CFA® Program has been described as one of the most difficult exams in the world. Here’s what you need to do if you are embarking on the journey to earn that glorious CFA® Charter and to make sure you receive the coveted e-mail that says “We are very pleased to inform you that you passed the CFA® Level 1 Exam.”

Start Preparing Early

The CFA® curriculum is a BEAST. Level 1 is special. You can take it in June or December. I usually started preparing by the end of January for the June exams. This means February, March, and April you go through the material leaving May for nothing but review and practice exams. For the December exam you should begin by the end of June. Can CFA® Level 1 be done in a couple months of prep instead? Sure, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Remember, you get one shot….well, two shots for level 1 per year. You need to make this count and give it your all on your first attempt. It will save you a lot of time, depression, and a few pounds because you won’t be tempted to eat a bunch of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups due to the sadness of failing.

You must crush Ethics and Accounting

The ethics and financial reporting and analysis (a.ka. accounting) topics are key. These two subjects account for 35% of the exam. You should focus on making at least 80% or better in these sections. If you are like me and struggle with some of the concepts in quantitative methods, you can make up points by nailing the equity and fixed income sections. Most people taking the CFA® Exam have some experience in either fixed income or equity so there should be some overlap in your day to day work. Some topics will naturally fit better with your strengths so know what those are and use them to your advantage.

Schweser CFA® Review

I should not be giving a testimonial for free, but I am going to do it anyways (Schweser has not compensated me for this). The first time I took level 1 I did not use a prep course. I did not want to spend the extra money and so I just studied solely from the CFA® curriculum. This meant I only had one mock exam to work through. That, my friends, is why I failed.


After failing level 1, I decided to give Schweser a try. I never failed a CFA® Exam after using the Schweser prep course.

I bought the package that included the live weekly instruction. This was very helped me focus on the key concepts and topics for the exam. The question bank questions tend to be pretty easy but help with memorization. Lastly, I spent every Saturday in May completing a practice exam before the real exam. I can’t say enough about how much that helped me. Do lots of practice exams if you want to pass CFA® Level 1 on the first attempt!

What to do the final week before the exam

This is somewhat controversial because some people hate to cram and find it useless. I used vacation time from work to take the final week off before the exam to cram and mapped out a plan for each day to review all of the material and do more practice questions. I spent about 8 hours each day going through areas that I had struggled with as a refresher.

The final Friday before the exam you take the day OFF! I always had a ceremonial meal because I had to travel to Houston for the exam. There were tons of nice restaurants to choose from close to my hotel. I called it “The Last Supper” because there was so much pressure the night before not to screw it up.

RELAX! Try to enjoy those last few hours and chill. I know it is hard to do and formulas are running through your mind like Neo in the matrix.

Test Day

Make sure you have all the required supplies for the exam such as your calculator, pencils, ect. I brought 2 calculators, back-up batteries, and a screwdriver to change the batteries in case I needed to.

I actually had a guy ask me to use an eraser during the exam. Bring the required supplies and do not talk to others during the exam! This should be a no brainer but apparently it is more common than you would think.

Eat a good breakfast and get your caffeine if you are an addict like me. Have a plan for lunch because there is not always a place near the testing center.

You got this!

Follow this advice and put in the required time into preparing and you will pass CFA® Level 1 on the first attempt!

If you enjoyed this article and found the advice useful I would appreciate if you like and/or share the page with others who are also preparing for CFA® Level 1. Follow me on Twitter @JoshuaCHudson