Let’s face it, the CFA exam is intimidating. For many candidates, clicking on the “register” button for an exam that is several months and six textbooks away is a daunting experience. Fear not, though! The ordeal can be made less stressful by developing a solid study plan. Working out the timeline to work on the material is not only essential to your readiness for the test; it can also help boost your confidence from day one all the way to exam day. Here are some suggestions to create a successful CFA study schedule.

Man studying and writing in notebook


Your study schedule should begin at least four months before the exam date to allow enough time to get through all the material. This schedule follows the Institute’s timeline, as its standard registration closes about three and a half months before the exam. Check out some of The Princeton Review’s free CFA prep resources!

The standard advice is to study a minimum of 300 hours. For a four-month timeline that comes to a little under 20 hours per week, roughly the same commitment as a part-time job. If you don’t anticipate having that much spare time, then you should recalibrate your start date to allow for the number of hours per week you can manage.


The 2024 level 1 exam has 93 learning modules. So over four months, that comes to about one module per day, with periodic days off to give yourself a break. That pace should be fluid since some modules have more material than others. For instance, modules in the Fixed Income and Derivatives topics have a shorter average length, while Ethics and Equity Investments are relatively dense.

The CFA Institute’s Learning Ecosystem (LES) is an online library of resources given to all candidates free of charge when they register for the exam. It is the main body of testable material for the exam. It consists of source textbooks, 1,600 practice questions, and 2 mock exams.

Using the LES, your daily work should consist of reading each module and then answering the practice questions provided at the end of that module. In addition, note formulas and concepts you want to memorize and write them out on flash cards. Although the LES provides electronic flashcards, writing them down yourself gives you more of a connection to the material and helps you to retain the information.

The Princeton Review offers videos and slide decks for each module, as well as over 3,000 practice questions, and 6 mock exams. Including these tools in your study regimen can greatly increase your comprehension of the material and your readiness for the exam.


If you keep up the recommended pace of one module per day and periodic rest days, then you should finish the material about two to three weeks ahead of the exam.

Those final weeks should be spent:

  • Drilling your flash cards
  • Revisiting the concepts that you find particularly challenging
  • Taking mock exams

The mock exams take a central role in this final phase. Schedule time to take the mock exams, replicating actual testing conditions (as best you can) and time limit. Reserve one to two days after each mock to review the questions you got wrong and shore up your knowledge of the harder concepts.

This last phase is the big push to the end. After four months of intense studying, you will likely be exhausted both mentally and emotionally and you may feel the urge to quit the whole thing. At this point, buckling down and giving it everything you’ve got can make a big difference in your result. At the very least, if you press hard into the finish, you’ll know when you walk out of the exam that you gave yourself every chance of success.


Keeping your mind fresh is important throughout the process. Your mind is just like your body; it needs rest to function at peak capacity. At no time is this more important than on the day before the exam itself. Experts often suggest touring the exam location, studying only topics where you feel strong, or filling your day with activities totally unrelated to the exam. Most important of all, go to bed early.


Institute data shows that about 20% of students who register for the exam don’t show up for it. A candidate who falls behind on their CFA study schedule may get discouraged and decide to forego the exam entirely. This would be a mistake. Even if you don’t feel ready and believe you can’t possibly pass, you should still have the experience of going into the test center. You have already paid for it, so you don’t have anything to lose. Even with a failing score, the experience you gain from the process can make you stronger when you come back next time.

One of the most important things to remember about the CFA exam is that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Throughout the process you’ll likely learn a great deal about yourself as a test-taker and as a professional. Be sure to take in all the lessons along the way and use them to adapt so you can come back stronger every time.