What Subjects Are Tested on the CFA® Exam?

Preparing for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exam is no easy task. The CFA Institute recommends that candidates spend at least 300 hours preparing for each of the three exams. It’s no wonder the dedication and diligence necessary to complete the CFA program makes the Charter recognized as a distinguished mark of excellence in the industry.

The CFA practice and actual exams are based solely on the CFA program curriculum. We have prepared a summary of the format of each exam, along with descriptions of the different topics tested to help you develop your study plan and identify your strengths and areas for improvement.

CFA Exam Basics

  • Three exams (Levels I, II, and III)
  • Must pass one level before advancing to the next 
  • Each features two sessions on test day (morning and afternoon)
  • Question format: Multiple-choice and essay

Level 1 CFA Exam

  • First session: Two hours and 15 minutes 
  • Second session: Two hours and 15 minutes 
  • 180 total multiple-choice questions

Level 2 CFA Exam

  • First Session: Two hours and 12 minutes 
  • Second session: Two hours and 12 minutes 
  • 88 total multiple-choice questions 
  • Each question has a vignette, followed by 4 or 6 questions relating to that vignette

Level 3 CFA Exam

  • First session: Two hours and 12 minutes 
  • Most questions require short, constructed-response written answers
  • Some questions may be a numerical entry that does not permit any other type of response
  • There will be between 8 and 11 questions in the morning session
  • Second session: Two hours and 12 minutes 
  • 44 multiple-choice questions 
  • Each question has a vignette, followed by 4 or 6 questions relating to that vignette

Curriculum Covered

The CFA program is as intensive as the exams that make up a core component of its membership requirements. You will spend four years completing the requirements and over 300 hours preparing for the associated exams. Consider the following curriculum topics when planning your study sessions:


  • Professional standards
  • Code of Ethics
  • Global Investment Performance Standards

Quantitative Methods (Levels I and II only)

  • Central tendency, location, dispersion, and characters of return distributions 
  • Probability theory and application in quantifying risk for investment decision-making 
  • Linear regression
  • Times series analysis
  • Big Data

Economics (Levels I and II only)

  • Fundamental concepts of supply and demand for individual consumers and firms 
  • Market structure, macroeconomic concepts, and principles 
  • Aggregate output and income measurement, demand and supply analysis 
  • Analysis of economic growth factors 

Financial Reporting, Procedures, and Analysis (Levels I and II only)

  • Basic financial statements 
  • Alternative accounting methods
  • Framework for conducting financial statement analysis
  • Analysis of income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statements
  • Analysis of pension accounting, international operations, and corporate combinations

Corporate Issuers (Levels I and II only)

  • Corporate governance and investing and financing decisions 
  • Stakeholder management 
  • The growing impact of environmental and social considerations in investing 
  • Leveraging and managing working capital to meet short-term operational needs


  • Security markets and analysis of industries, companies, and equity securities 
  • Basic valuation models 
  • Global equities and longer-term growth and diversification objectives

Fixed Income

  • Yield measures, risk factors 
  • Valuation measurements and drivers
  • Calculating yields to maturity
  • Asset securitization
  • Principles of credit analysis 


  • Basic knowledge of options, forwards, futures, and swaps
  • Pricing and valuation
  • Pricing models
  • Risk management
  • Use within a diversified portfolio

Alternative Investments

  • Hedge funds, private equity, real estate, commodities, and infrastructure 
  • Diversification and use in multi-asset portfolios
  • Shared alternative investment characteristics 

Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

  • Fundamentals of portfolio and risk management 
  • Return and risk measurement
  • Portfolio planning and construction 
  • Needs of individual and institutional investors 
  • Range of available investment solutions 

This curriculum framework is just a guide, so go back through the materials in the program too. You can also use the question banks, flashcards, and mock exams offered in our UWorld CFA QBank to better prepare yourself for the CFA exam.

Source: https://www.cfainstitute.org/en/programs/cfa

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