When is the Best Time to Start Your CFA Exam Studies?

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By Christine

[This article is based on tips from CFA Insights, our all-in-one guide. You can get more tips like this by getting the book either in ebook or print.]

Do you know when should you start studying for your CFA exams?

If you start too late, you end up not having enough time. (Although sometimes it does work out, but we certainly don’t recommend it!) Start too early, and you run the risk of burning out.

So what is the sweet spot? Read on to learn more about our conclusions on start dates. We cover the main points here – you can always get more detail (and more tips on how to prepare) by checking out CFA Insights.

If I’m taking my CFA exam in June, when should I start studying?

The chart below is taken from our CFA Exam Insights book. This shows the distribution of CFA candidates by the month they started their CFA preparation for the past four years, split out June and December exam candidates.

You can see that the majority of Level I candidates in the June exam cycle tend to start in January, after the holiday season, others mostly starting in February and March. At 300 Hours we recommend that at the very latest, you should start studying at the second exam registration deadline, which is around February. Ideally though, January is the best start date.

What about if I’m taking the CFA exam in December?

The December start months are a lot more widely distributed, with the majority of the candidates starting anytime between June to September. We think that this is because of the summer holiday season – candidates with holiday plans would find it more difficult to start in June/July.

Correlating this with performance (more on that in the next section), we recommend that if you’re taking the exam in December, start as early as you can, ideally in June. However if you have holiday plans, the latest we recommend you should start is in August.

Do passing candidates generally start earlier?

Correlating exam performance with start dates, we’ve observed that there is no strong evidence to suggest that candidates starting earlier perform better in the CFA exam.

Start as early as you possibly can. If circumstances force you to work with a later start date, make sure you put in extra effort and time. 

Should I start at different times at Levels II and III?

No…and yes.

Candidates at Levels II and III also generally follow the same start patterns as June Level I. However, what differs is that the distribution is a lot more tightly concentrated around January. In other words, there is significantly less people that start in the later months (February and March), with most of them starting in January right after the holiday season. 

You can see what we mean in the chart below:

This is especially evident in Level III, indicating that Level III candidates are the strictest of the lot when it comes to start dates (and many other aspects of studying as well).

Get more study tips with the CFA Insights all-in-one guide, available now

Hopefully the tips we’ve shared above help you better prepare for your own CFA exam. If you’d like to know more, read about other useful tips, and help support development of this website (and future editions of the book), check out CFA Insights.

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

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