How to Pass the CFA Level II Exam

Are you studying for or about to start studying for CFA Level II and wondering what the best plan of attack is to make sure you pass on the first try?

Level II is considered the hardest level, and it’s the one that most people end up taking at least twice. So in this post, I’m sharing my 7 best tips to help you pass Level II so you can move on to Level III next year.

How I Became a CFA® Charterholder

Let’s kick things off with an overview of my 18-month certification timeline. I took CFA Level I in December of 2016 and passed. Then I took CFA Level II in June of 2017 and passed. And finally, I took CFA Level III in June of 2018, passed, and became a CFA® Charterholder shortly after. So I passed all three levels on the first try, and boy am I glad I did.

My CFA Level II Experience

So let’s talk about Level II specifically… I passed Level II with just a little over one month of studying. Seriously, just five weeks. But it was full-time, 12 to 14 hours a day of grueling studying (with just a little bit of yoga sprinkled in so I didn’t completely lose my mind).

I attempted to study for Level II just like I did for Level I, which was a BIG mistake. CFA Level II is a completely different animal. If you crushed Level 1 with just a month of studying, don’t think that you can do the same thing for Level 2. There’s a lot more reading, and a much greater focus on how to apply the concepts, not just memorize them.

Honestly, I got my ass kicked by CFA Level 2 and left the testing center thinking there was no way in hell that I passed. Luckily, I just managed to skate by the curve and was able to move on to Level 3. But if I had to do it all over again, there are a lot of things that I would do differently.

So here are my top tips to study for and pass the CFA Level II Exam:

ReisUP How to Pass CFA Level II Exam

# 1- Start Early

Start earlier than you think you need to and give yourself plenty of time for review, practice problems, and mock exams. Level II has a much greater breadth and depth of topics. You need as much time as you can get.

# 2 - Plan double the time to learn Quant, Fixed Income, and FR&A

If you don’t have an equity background, then add Equity to that list too. The rest of the topics are much easier in comparison.

If you can do well on these harder, heavier weighted sections, you’ll be a step ahead of everyone else.

# 3 - Watch videos for Quant and Fixed Income

Don’t try to read these topics, at least not to start. The readings are incredibly dry, very hard to follow, and painful to get through. I wish I would have found or purchased some videos to learn those concepts instead.

# 4 - Move from flashcards to a whiteboard

If you’re a visual learner like me, give this a shot. Writing formulas on a whiteboard, then sitting back and talking myself through them out loud really helped me understand certain concepts, especially some of the relationships between formulas in the quant section.

# 5 - Focus on specific details for FRA and alternatives

Pay close attention to things like exchange rates and operating in different countries. Don’t assume you don’t need to know seemingly obscure things like pension accounting. It could come up on exam day! You can’t be too careful. Same goes for real estate concepts, niche private equity terms and calculations, and other concepts in the alternatives section.

Nothing is off limits on Level II.

# 6 - Take a few mock exams

Knowing how to analyze and apply concepts is much more important on Level II than simple memorization, so you’ve got to get comfortable reading and answering questions. There are also a fewer number of questions on Level II versus Level I, which means you can’t afford to miss as many questions and still pass as you could before. Dedicate a lot of time to practice questions and the topic tests that the CFAI gives you.

# 7 - Think “Don’t be shady” on Ethics questions

Repeating this phrase to myself over and over again whenever I was stuck on an Ethics question helped me tremendously. I’ve always scored really high in Ethics, whereas I know a lot of other candidates struggle with this topic.

Depending on what the question is asking you, you’ll want to choose either the least shady or the most shady answer. Give it a try the next time you’re practicing Ethics questions!


That’s everything that I recommend you do in order to pass Level II this year. I didn’t do a lot of these things and almost paid the price.

Take Level II seriously. Give the exam the respect it deserves and you should be able to knock it out too.

Tell Me…

Which tip did you find most helpful? When are you taking the exam? Is this your first or nth attempt?

Leave a comment below to let me know!


Click here to learn how I passed the CFA Level III Exam, including my top tips and which prep bootcamp I attended to clear this final test.


Tara Falcone, CFA, CFP® | Instagram: @reisupllc | YouTube: reisupllc