GUEST COMMENT: My strategy for achieving a more than 70% pass rate in all subject areas of CFA Level 1

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In May 2008, I began preparing for the CFA Exam Level 1. In September 2010, I achieved the full CFA Charter – in a mere 18 months.

I will explain how I achieved the full charter in so short a period of time in subsequent articles. Right now, let me elaborate on my success strategy for level 1. In total, I spent 300-350 hours preparing. I also built a small tracking tool in Excel to ensure I was on schedule.

PHASE ONE: Preparation and orientation (3-6 weeks at the start)

For this stage, you will need to acquire some study notes (eg. Schweser).  As soon as you register for the exam, you’ll receive a lot of textbooks. However, I advise ignoring until you have identified the gas in your knowledge. Instead, gain access to a bank of multiple choice questions (Qbank is excellent in my experience). Only by answering these questions, will you establish what you don't know. Bear in mind that you will need to score 70-73% to be successful.

PHASE 2: The learning phase (until 6 weeks before the exam)

This phase is all about filling in those gaps in your knowledge. At a minimum, you should be spending half an hour a day on this phase. Ideally, you should be spending one to two hours.

Based upon the gaps you’ve unearthed in phase one, note down all the important formulae and relationships you need to know and ensure you go over them repetitively during the day (even if you’re on a train or in a bath).

Don’t get too lost in the textbooks. Keep using Qbank to unearth the gaps in your knowledge and refer to its footnotes when you need help. There is no need to do a great deal more than this. Personally, I never attended a preparatory seminar as I thought it was a waste of money.

PHASE 3: The home run – the last 4 to 6 weeks

You should now have answered 100s of multiple choice questions and know where the gaps in your knowledge are. However, the focus should still be on the points you haven’t fully understood.

Try a full three hour practice exam. Don't rush this. Note that going through an exam and thoroughly understanding where you went wrong can take another three hours. Try to pull back on the amount of work you’re doing professionally and to get enough sleep.

With this preparation, you'll be in good shape. A level 1 pass should be within your grasp. It doesn't take much, you just need to be systematic.

The author is anonymous individual who passed every CFA exam first time.