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The Best CFA Level 1 Study Guides

Article by Jane Newsom. Last Updated: Saturday, Sep 2, 2023.

Overview Of The CFA Level 1 Exam

The Chartered Financial Analyst is among the most coveted designations in finance, and indicates a mastery of the field of investment analytics. It covers a broad scope of topics, and is extremely challenging, with pass rates for each of the 3 levels near 50%. Given the limited number of opportunities to sit for the exam (2 per year), and the massive testing costs, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to prepare ahead of time.

We’ll cover the exam in detail, and give you our picks for the best CFA Level 1 study guides, review guides, and flashcards below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:

CFA Level 1 Exam Details

The CFA Level 1 Exam is composed of 240 multiple choice questions, administered during 2 sessions, each lasting 3 hours. Each of the questions consists of a question, statement, or table, along with 3 possible answer choices.

Exam Topics

The 10 different topics which make up the full CFA Level 1 Exam are as follows:

  • Alternative investments
  • Corporate finance
  • Derivatives
  • Economics
  • Equity investments
  • Ethical and professional standards
  • Financial reporting and analysis
  • Fixed income
  • Portfolio management and wealth planning
  • Quantitative methods

There is no predetermined ratio of questions for each section, and you should be equally prepared to deal with all topics.

Exam Scoring

The CFA Exams are scored on a pass / fail basis, with a complete performance breakdown that can be used to guide study efforts if you need to retake the exam.

The minimum score required to pass is determined after the test has been administered, in order to ensure fairness across different administrations of the exam.

In order to pass the Level 1 exam, you will typically need to be in the top 43% of test takers.

Best CFA Level 1 Study Guides

Wiley Level I CFA Study Guide

Wiley Level I CFA Study Guide
by Wiley

Pros: Concise, well organized, and easy to follow format.
Cons: Limited number of practice tests makes supplementing a good idea.
Our Rating: 5.0 / 5

Wiley Level I CFA Study Guide comes in at the top of our list, and is our #1 pick for best CFA Level 1 study guide. It features over 1300 pages of review notes spanning 5 volumes. The full list of features include:

  • Highly effective and proven study aid filled with exam tips, fundamental concepts, and in-depth examples
  • Practical and helpful tips and test-taking advice throughout the text
  • Color-coded Study Guides and coverage of every Learning Outcome Statement on the exam

Compared to the official CFA study guides, the Wily review notes set is more concise and easier to follow. This can be a huge help when you’re going through the review process, speeding up your studies and giving you leg up. The only drawback is the limited number of practice tests. Consider supplementing with the question bank or 11th hour guide below.

CFA Program Curriculum Level I

CFA Program Curriculum Level I
by CFA Institute

Pros: Complete and comprehensive review of all exam topics.
Cons: Can be hard to digest some materials.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

CFA Program Curriculum 2019 Level I is our runner up choice for comprehensive exam review materials. It’s the official study materials you get with the program registration, and covers the complete Candidate Body of Knowledge with expert instruction on all 10 topic areas of the CFA Program

The full list of features include:

  • Learning Outcome Statement checklists guide readers to important concepts to derive from the readings
  • Embedded case studies and examples throughout demonstrate practical application of concepts
  • Figures, diagrams, and additional commentary make difficult concepts accessible
  • Practice problems support learning and retention

The official study materials provided by the CFA Institute are a must-have resource for test preparation. We don’t typically recommend them as our Editor’s Choice, only because we assume most people looking for supplemental materials are looking for something in addition to this. If for some reason you didn’t get a copy of these materials, you should definitely pick them up!

CFA Program Level 1 Question Bank

CFA Program Level 1 Question Bank
by Havels Learning System

Pros: Massive number of relevant practice questions for CFA Level 1.
Cons: Some questions aren't representative of the difficulty on the actual exam.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

CFA Program Level 1 Question Bank contains over 2400 relevant questions that can be a tremendous help when you’re preparing for the exam. Repetitive drilling on exam topics is a great way to increase information retention. Both of the study guides listed above come with a limited amount of practice materials, so supplementing with this awesome bank of questions is a great idea.

11th Hour Guide Level I CFA Exam

11th Hour Guide Level I CFA Exam
by Wiley

Pros: Complete and comprehensive review of all exam topics.
Cons: Can be hard to digest some materials.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

11th Hour Guide Level I CFA Exam is the perfect way to spend the days leading up to the test. It distills each of the 60 readings down to 2-5 pages of highly focused material that’s perfect for study in the ‘11th Hour’.

The full list of features include:

  • Access a large amount of information in a condensed, efficient format.
  • Reinforce your understanding of key ideas with supplemental notes and tips from trusted instructors.
  • Complements Wiley’s CFA Study Guides sold separately but may be used with any review course

While the guide isn’t comprehensive enough to serve as your only review material, it can be very beneficial to transition to more focused and compact guides like this as you get closer to test day. Since you need to score higher than 57% of your fellow test takers (in a typical year), it really pays to be as prepared as possible. We definitely recommend picking up this guide, either at the last minute or early on in your studies.

CFA Level 1 Exam Frequent Questions

How do I start preparing for CFA Level 1?

There’s no set way to prepare for the CFA Level 1, but general tips include:

  1. Review all material and identify topics where you need more focus.
  2. Start studying early.
  3. Rely on practice questions and tests to assess your progress.

How long does it take to prepare for CFA Level 1?

Most people aim for 5-6 months of preparation time for the CFA Level 1, with an average of 1-2 hours of study time per day.

What is the passing score for CFA Level 1?

There’s no set score, but for the last 3 exam administrations, you would have needed to be in the top 43% of test takers to pass.

Is CFA difficult to pass?

The CFA is extremely difficult to pass. For the level 1 exam, only 43% of test takers pass. It’s common for people to require 2 or 3 sittings for the exam before they reach a passing score.

How much does a CFA cost?

The CFA is not cheap! There’s a one time $450 program registration fee, and then a test registration fee that varies based on how early you register:

  • $650 Early Registration (ends 8 months before the exam)
  • $950 Standard Registration (ends 4 months before the exam)
  • $1350 Late Registration (ends 3 months before the exam)

Wrapping Up

With a 43% pass rate, going in fully prepared is critical to passing on your first try (and saving some serious cash). Study manuals, flashcards, and practice tests are a huge help to many people, and if you’ve read this far you’re probably one of them.

We’ve rounded up the best CFA Level 1 Exam study materials out there, and presented them above. To recap our recommendations:

Top Study Guide Recommendation:Wiley Level I CFA Study Guide
Top Question Bank Recommendation:CFA Program Level 1 Question Bank
Top Last Minute Study Guide:11th Hour Guide Level I CFA Exam

Our top pick for best CFA Level 1 Study Guide is Wiley CFA Level 1 Exam Review. It’s the most comprehensive and accurate guide on our list, and presents the material in an easy to consume form.

For top question bank pick, we recommend CFA Program Level 1 Question Bank. It’s got over 2400 highly relevant questions covering all topics from the exam.

Finally, if you’re in the final days and weeks leading up to the test, we suggest focusing on the 11th Hour Guide Level I CFA Exam. It condenses down the materials to the most critical concepts and topics you’ll need to know going in.

Whatever your circumstance, supplemental study and review materials are a key part of ensuring success on the exam. We’ve listed some of the best CFA Level 1 resources available. Good luck, and study hard!

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