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CFA level 1 exam is a big thing for every candidate – it is hers/his first touch with the CFA program, which is demanding and time-consuming. Therefore every candidate tries to find the answer on the question from the title – when to start preparing for the CFA level 1 exam.
The thing is, there is no right answer, because there is simply too many variables that affect the calculation. For example, one candidate works in an investment bank from 9AM until 8PM, and another candidate is a student that has only 2 hours of classes per days. Of course they will not start at the same day, since the first candidate has to plan his free time months in advance, while the second one can afford himself only 2-3 months of preparing the exam.
Often people say that 300 hours should be enough, and that it marks the ideal amount of time for the CFA level 1 exam preparation process. While that can be true for the majority of candidates, the number of hours you need to prepare depends on your study materials – the curriculum, strategy elements you will use, etc. Also, it is important if the candidate is already skilled and experienced in the field, or she/he is completely new to the contents of the curriculum, as it greatly affects the number of pages candidate can read in a given time – an experienced candidate needs for example only 6 minutes to go through 1 page of the material, and a novice may need 15 minutes to read and understand a page in the curriculum.
For a successful preparation process you also need a good weekly routine that balances your free time and your preparation time – if you only work and study, that might lead you to a burnout. Of course, not every day you can follow the routine you’ve set – sometimes you have a business trip, family visit or something similar. When you add the exceptions that might happen in the future that you don’t know about (e.g. the flu), it is obvious why there is a lot of candidates with a study plan that they’ve set up in the beginning, and near the end they see they won’t make it on time.
All of these things prove that there is no universal answer on the question when to start. Of course, the sooner you start the better – it is usual for December exam candidates to start preparing early July if they have long working hours, or August if they can spare more free time.