CFA Review Program
Share |

CFA Society San Francisco Welcomes 2016 Candidates!

Congratulations on taking the big step of registering for the December Level I CFA Exam. The board, officers, and members of CFA Society San Francisco (CFASF) welcome you to the program and offer our support. 

CFASF holds candidate education and support as important goals. On this page you’ll find valuable exam information, tips to successfully prepare for the exam, as well as some details about self-study tool and classes available to CFASF candidates.


Top 10 Things to Know About the Level I CFA Exam

1) There are 10 topic areas for the Level I Exam (% of Exam questions):

  • Ethical and Professional Standards (15%)
  • Quantitative Methods (12%)
  • Economics (10%)
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis (20%)
  • Corporate Finance (7%)
  • Equity Investments (10%)
  • Fixed Income (10%)
  • Derivatives (5%)
  • Alternative Investments (4%)
  • Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning (7%)


2) In the 2016 CFA Institute Curriculum:

  • Ten topic areas cover 18 Study Sessions
  • Study Sessions include 61 readings (an average of less than four readings each)
  • Each LOS begins with one or more Command Word (e.g. calculate, explain, compare)
  • Your preparation should focus on gaining the knowledge required by each LOS, because material not required by an LOS will not be tested.


3)  The Level I exam:

  • Will be on December 3, is given on paper, and has an answer sheet to fill in
  • Has multiple-choice questions with 3 answer choices
  • Has 240 questions, 120 in a 3-hour morning session and 120 in a 3-hour afternoon session
  • Will identify questions by their topic areas
  • Covers all topics both the morning session and the afternoon session


4) At the exam candidates:

  • Must bring their CFA Institute exam ticket
  • Must show a currently valid passport with the same passport number that is on their exam ticket
  • Can use either of two approved calculators, the TI BAII  or the HP12c
  • Cannot have scratch paper, notes, audible timers, phones, etc.
  • Must stop writing immediately when the proctor calls “time” (many are disqualified each exam)
  • Cannot allow their eyes to roam around the room (many are disqualified for this each exam)
  • Can do questions in any order


5) The math for the exam is not difficult; arithmetic, a bit of simple algebra, and use of exponents is generally sufficient (no calculus, matrix algebra, or differential equations), although there is a bit of statistics.


6)  The exam is not very quantitative. Candidates report that they use their calculators about 10 or 15 times during the exam. Quantitative topics are often tested with qualitative questions that emphasize candidates’ understanding of the principles involved, for example, asking how a change in one variable will affect the overall result or about the strength and limitations of a particular measure or statistic.


7) Pass rates, the percentage of candidates who actually sit for the Level I Exam and pass, are low.  Over the past five exams they have been:

  • June 2014 – 42%
  • December 2014 – 44%
  • June 2015 – 42%
  • December 2015 – 43%


There are no short cuts; learning the curriculum, understanding the LOS, and significant practice at taking long multiple choice tests on the material are a must.


8) Top reason for failing the exam is some combination of ”not enough time spent preparing” and “started too late.”


9) Level I Candidates should re-read the Standards of Practice Handbook including all examples on the Friday before the exam.  Ethics and a bit of GIPS (Global Investment Performance Standards) will be 15% of the exam, i.e. 36 questions, and having the requirements fresh in your mind on exam day can really help your score.


10) On exam day, you should do everything possible to remain calm:


Visit the exam center prior to the exam date if possible

  • Arrive early the day of the exam
  • Take your lunch, eat light, avoid sugar, and find a calm spot
  • Use the break to relax and review some of your hand-written notes. Listening to music can help you stay calm and focused
  • Don’t get caught up reviewing hard or confusing morning-session questions with others during the break
  • Keep your focus and drive in the afternoon when you will be physically and mentally fatigued


Effective Study and Long-term Memory

Much of the challenge of the Level I CFA exam is the quantity of material that must be learned, rather than the difficulty of any particular concept, technique, or definition.  Successful candidates must learn and be able to recall a great amount of newly learned information.  The ability to learn and retain all this information can, therefore, be the key to exam success. 

While there is much recent research by educational psychologist types about effective and efficient learning, results from this field seem to take a long time to find their way into the classroom.  Some important results relevant to preparing for the Level I Exam are:

  • Tests and quizzes are not just tools to measure learning, they can be important tools in the learning process as well. 
  • Retention is greatly improved by taking quizzes or performing open-ended recall exercises within 24 hours of initial study.
  • Recall is improved when a student relates new information to things he or she already knows. 
  • Review of previously learned material is important for maintain learning and recall abilities.


The implications for your study are that you should:

  • Study the material for each reading with strong focus on learning what you need to satisfy the LOS
  • As you read work hard to understand the intuition of the concept or relationships
  • As you read try to relate the new information to things you already know
  • Do the Concept Checkers at the end of each Schweser reading
  • Within a day or two, quiz yourself on the material by doing quizzes or simply writing out some notes about each LOS as if you were trying to briefly explain it to someone else.
  • Take the self-tests in the Schweser books if you have them
  • Do all the end-of-reading problems in the CFA Institute Curriculum books
  •  Do quiz questions for review of previously covered material periodically to retain what you have learned


For 20 tips on how to remember more when you study, click here.


Discounts from CFASF and Kaplan/Schweser:

CFA candidates in North California can also get a CFASF discount on Schweser study packages (and benefit the Society) by visiting Use the portal code BACC to see the discounts available.  Detailed information about all Schweser study materials is available at


Best of luck in your studies,

Dave Bolt
Education Director