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

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 1/2/3’ often pops up along the way.

In this article, we look at the average range of CFA study hours clocked by past CFA candidates.

However, the feasibility of achieving those study hours also depends on when you start studying. So we also look at when to start preparing for CFA exams to ensure you have sufficient time to do the exams justice.

Let’s dive in 🙂

How long to study for CFA exams? Some historical data

how long to study for cfa

According to CFA Institute’s 2019 survey (no publication since 2020), 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

We would say the study hours above are the minimum to aim for, with 10-20% above that as an upper range.

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

Let’s take a look at how many hours you need to study per day, depending on your start date.

Start studying at least 6 months before to comfortably meet the required CFA study hours

required cfa study hours per day depending on when you start studying

The chart above details an approximate amount of daily and weekly study hours a CFA 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.

  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.

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.

slide2 2 1 orig

Sophie recommends starting 6 months before the CFA exams, 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.

2) “The Tough Hill of Caution”

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

slide3 1 4 orig

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 or family 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:

3) “Caffeine-Drenched Cliff of Urgency”

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

slide4 1 1 orig

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:

4) “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

slide5 5 orig

This is now unchartered territory. It is definitely NOT impossible to pass at this point (unless you don’t have a full time job) – 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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