How Long to Study for CFA exams? A Quick Sense Check

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Whether you’re considering the CFA program, or a current candidate tracking your study progress, the question of ‘how long to study for CFA Level X’ often pops up along the way.

However, if you’re one of the last minute candidates who registered late, asking whether it is feasible to study and pass CFA exams within a certain short timeframe is more challenging to answer. The trouble with this question is that it really depends on what you’d be willing to do, study-wise, in the limited time that you have left.

So we’ve come up with a handy guide to get a rough idea of how much effort and time you’ll need, depending on when you choose to start studying for the CFA exams, as well as the recommended steps you’ll need to take to maximize your pass chances.

Let’s dive in 🙂

How Long to Study for CFA Exams? Some Historical Data

how long to study for cfa

Before we start to assess this question, we need to understand the average study hours clocked by CFA candidates of various levels.

While a crude gauge of success, the amount of study time does correlate somewhat to higher chances of passing the CFA exams.

According to CFA Institute’s recent survey, here are the average study hours of CFA candidates per level:

  • CFA Level 1: 303 hours
  • CFA Level 2: 328 hours
  • CFA Level 3: 344 hours

The chart in this article details an approximate amount of daily and weekly study hours a candidate will need, depending on when they chose to start studying. We’ve calculated this daily and weekly study hour requirement based on an assumed 300 hours study time.

How Do I Use This Chart?

CFA exam results date prediction methodology
  1. Simply look along the X axis for the point when you started studying for the CFA exams (or when do you plan to).
  2. Observe the point on the blue curve where this is, and note the weekly and daily study requirements in the Y axes.
  3. For example, if I started studying 30 weeks before my CFA exams, I would be needing about 10 hours a week, or 1.4 hours a day to study.
  4. The colours correspond to approximate categories we’ve identified, where we’ve given advice for below.

After looking yourself up, identify your category and go on for our advice on what to do.

How Long to Study for CFA exams? A Quick Sense Check 1

The Smooth Slope of Assuredness

At least 4 months before CFA exam. Study ​10-20 hours a week, or 2-3 hours a day.

How Long to Study for CFA exams? A Quick Sense Check 2

Sophie recommends starting 6 months before the exam, which we wholeheartedly support.

Starting 4-6 months before the CFA exams gives you dollops of time to adequately go through the syllabus, take practice exams, iron out weak spots and tune yourself to be exam-fit.

If you’re in this category – well done on your preparedness!

Read these articles to ensure you’re getting everything right.

The Tough Hill of Caution

13-16 weeks before CFA exam. Study 20-25 hours a week, or 3-4 hours a day

How Long to Study for CFA exams? A Quick Sense Check 3

We always recommend that you register for your exam as early as possible, and not wait till the final registration deadline. Besides the large difference in registration fees, you WILL NEED the time to study.

The graph highlights our point.

If you’ve started studying around 16 weeks before exam, you’d probably need to allocate an average of 20 hours per week to studying. Which is still solidly doable even with a work schedule, although if you have exceptionally tough work demands, you may have to adjust things around a bit.

If you’re in this group, read these articles to further solidify your pass chances:

“Caffeine-Drenched Cliff of Urgency”

Less than 13 weeks before CFA exam. Study 25-55 hours a week, or 3-8 hours a day

How Long to Study for CFA exams? A Quick Sense Check 4

Although the CFA Institute does offer the final deadline, in our opinion, it’s extremely risky to leave your studies until you’ve got less than 3 months to go. 

The amount of work to be fit into your daily schedule is now rising exponentially with every postponed day.

If you fall in this group, you should study these 4 articles:

“The Near-Impossible Wall of Wild Hope”

Less than 1 month before CFA exam. Study more than 55 hours per week, or more than 8 hours a day

How Long to Study for CFA exams? A Quick Sense Check 5

This is now unchartered territory. It is definitely NOT impossible to pass at this point – we know people who have done it before.

However, either luck or pre-learned knowledge has a LOT to do with it. If you can’t rely on either, the best you can do is work hard and hope for the best. It has happened before, so I wouldn’t give up. 

In any case, regardless of your confidence, you should always show up for the exam. Getting to know the exam experience itself is a great way to ensure a future pass even if you’re sure you won’t this time.

Here are the articles you should be reading to improve your chances:

Which category do you fall into? Do you need more advice, or does your situation need more thought? Comment below or reach out to the community in the Forum.


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