How To Pass CFA Level 1 in First Attempt

As a CFA exam candidate, I’ve achieved the holy grail: I’m lucky enough as a candidate to have passed my CFA exams the first times I attempted them.

As more than half of Level 1 candidates fail their exams every year, and being a 300Hours reader myself, I thought it might be useful for me to share my experience with you guys. In this article, I’ll focus specifically on how to pass CFA Level 1 in first attempt.

Hopefully some of the tips that worked for me will help you on your way to success in the CFA exams!

Why did I sign up for the CFA exams?

Should I retake CFA exams?

Back in 2017, I was advising a friend to take the CFA exams as he had limited exposure to finance and his academic background was in the humanities field.

I highlighted the benefits of studying for such a rigorous exam and the benefits it would have in his career going forward. It was at this point when he told me that I should sign up myself, and the final deadline was fast approaching. 

Being a man who acts on instincts, I decided to sign up for the CFA Level 1 around September. I believe it was days before the official deadline – hence the start of my journey.

My preparation: Kaplan Schweser and 300Hours 


I first went on the CFA Institute website to get my official study material guides and I also ordered some hard copies for the house.

They were massive, 6 books with about 400 pages. I thought to myself how on earth am I going to complete those in 6 weeks whilst also having a job. It was not going to happen.

I decided to research online as my friends previously had mentioned some course guides by third party prep providers. My preparation was threefold:

  1. I purchased the Kaplan Schweser guides which had 5 books in total each one about 320 pages , but were quick to read and kept in all the crucial bits to the CFA exams. 
  2. I also frequented 300Hours, which was fantastic as it had so much free advice on how best to tackle the CFA exams, especially Sophie’s Level 1 experience and the Level 1 tips and advice section.
  3. Finally, I downloaded the 300Hours CFA exam study planner to make sure that I had a strategy to implement. The planner tells you how many days you should spend per Learning Outcome Statement (LOS).

Now that I had the guide and a timetable I was ready to begin the uphill challenge.

How I approached the CFA exam syllabus

how to pass cfa level 1 in first attempt

Prior to taking on the CFA exams, I had completed a Msc and Bsc in Finance. As a result, I’m familiar with some CFA exam topics from my undergraduate and masters degrees, such as equity investments and portfolio management. I was able to skim through those sections, but I made sure I had plenty of practice on questions on each of the topics in the CFA exam. 

Some parts of the CFA exams I found rather boring and sometimes badly explained, such as the Economics topics. But all are absolutely crucial for the exam. For topics like these I just did questions and watched videos.

I got through all the material in 4 weeks (focusing on the most important parts) according to my schedule and spent two weeks fully focused on practice exam questions. The most important part of my preparation was exam questions, as I found I’ve learned the most from it than passively reading.

CFA Level 1 tips to remember

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  1. Have a strategy in place, plan your revision from the start. You can get a free study planner here.
  2. Do not skip Ethics – it’s easy points and can be done everyday whilst on the train to work or when you have some free time, look through the Level 1 Ethics cheat sheet on your phone for some quick revision.
  3. Focus on the heavier weighted topics, it is especially important in Level 2 that you focus on heavy weighted topics as you cannot chose questions in the exam.
  4. Leave enough time for practice questions and mock exams! You should always give yourself enough time around 2 weeks minimum if you have background like myself to tackle questions.
  5. Do not revise the night before, the exam day is long and you will just get exhausted. Rest and recover. 

Disclaimer: As I mentioned in the article, prior to taking on the CFA exams, I had completed a Msc and Bsc in Finance. I wouldn’t assume that my particular CFA exam experience is best-practice advice for all candidates of any background. Read on and utilize what you find useful, and if you have any questions just drop them in the comments below!

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