10 Key Tips Every Level I CFA Candidate Should Know at the Start

Want to pass your exams? Start preparing the right way.
My email is and I'm preparing for
By Mike

For today, we’ll focus on Level I, which is the first major step for all CFA candidates. As each CFA veteran will know, there are many myths and misconceptions about the CFA exams. Wading through all the rumours and half-truths, I would have benefited a lot from a list of helpful tips at the start of my Level I exam from someone that’s been through it before.

So that’s what I’ve compiled here: a list of proven, tested tips from me to set you on the right path to CFA success right from the start.

#1: Study and know your foe
It was shocking how little I knew about the CFA exams and format up to the week before my first CFA exam. I didn’t know where to go, where to print off my exam ticket, what items I had to bring. These articles will definitely help the first-timer out:

#2: December exam? Have you thought about Level II?
This may be presumptuous, but if you’re a December Level I candidate, you should think about your plan for Level II if you pass in December. Do you take the Level II exams straightaway, in 6 months’ time? Or do you wait 18 months? There are pros and cons to both decisions, but this article will help you decide:

#3: Decide between CFA Institute and third party materials
One of the most common questions from candidates is which material to go with. In general I found third-party materials more useful, and I think for many candidates this is the case. But this is a highly personal preference, so read this before you make your own decision:

#4: If you do decide to go third-party, read the reviews
To help you decide between third-party materials, there are detailed reviews on 300 Hours that you can referred to. These reviews are by fully-qualified CFA charterholders who’ve gone through the entire process – their experienced reviews will help you decide which one is best for you.

#5: Know your key dates
If you’ve yet to register for the exam, or want to know what seminars (be it paid or free) are available in your area, or even when the actual exam will be, make sure you have these dates saved in your calendar. You can always view the latest key CFA dates in our CFA Calendar page:

#6: Choose your calculators
I used (and am still using) a TI BA II Plus, but if you’re having difficulty deciding, you can get all the details on what calculators are allowed by the CFA Institute, plus all differences here:

#7: Plan. Schedule. Win.
I am naturally not a planner – I was lucky enough to be able to bumble through exams in my haphazard way so far. Not so for the CFA exams – you NEED to plan and schedule accordingly to be able to adequately cover all material by exam day. Sophie’s guide helped me loads, and it will help you:

#8: Remember to set time to practice mock exams.

Really, really, really important point here: remember that you are assessed on an exam, so practice taking mock exams! A general rule of thumb for Level I is that you want to be taking at least 4 exams. The CFA Insights guide goes into more detail, and you can also read these articles:

#9: Don’t discount Ethics
It could be tempting for the first-time candidate to write Ethics off as the usual ‘do-good’ section of some qualifications they’ve encountered before. I know: I made that exact same mistake.

Don’t. Ethics is not only going to kick your ass, but it’s repeated in similar form across all levels, so it’s highly important to master it now, in Level I. 

#10: Have CFA Insights at the start
The CFA Analysis Report takes understanding the CFA exams a lot deeper. You’ll get insight into how many exams are being attempted by the average candidate, which topics are going to be important and/or problematic, and even what scores you should be aiming for. It’s one of those things that I wished I had with me at the start of my CFA journey, so I’m passing this on to you.

You can get CFA Insights in ebook and print formats.

What are your tips?
These are my top tips for a killer start on your CFA exams, but if you think there are more you’d like to add, let me know in the comments below!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


Leave a Comment