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CFA® Exam Guide

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What is the CFA exam?

For those brave few who want to set themselves apart from the competition by achieving the highest distinction in the investment management profession, you have an option. As a finance professional, you are constantly looking to maximize your value to your clients; your career should be no different. One significant way to advance your career is by becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®). To attain this prestigious distinction, you must first pass the CFA exam. The CFA exam is a finance certification comprising three levels (I, II, and III) that evolve in complexity from one to the next. The CFA Institute offers the exams twice a year in June and December. There are several requirements to sit for the CFA exam and a CFA candidate must pass all three levels to become a CFA charterholder. The CFA Institute recommends spending about 300 hours of study time per exam to successfully pass the CFA exam. Each CFA candidate has up to four years to pass all three levels. 

What is on the CFA exam?

The CFA exam tests a broad range of finance subjects. The curriculum consists of 10 topics that are grouped into four areas, specifically: ethical and professional standards, investment tools, asset classes, and portfolio management and wealth planning 

  • Level I exam is a broad array of topics that cover relevant areas needed in the finance industry including financial accounting, ethics, statistics, corporate finance, fixed income, and alternative investments.
  • With Level II, the exam expands the curriculum into more detail and is more specialized in finance topics.
  • By Level III, the exam is even further specialized in the areas of portfolio and wealth management. It also introduces essay questions that require you to combine many topic areas and apply them to real-world scenarios..

Want to learn more about the CFA exam? Check out the following blog posts:

  1. Level I CFA® Exam: Here’s What to Expect
  2. Level I CFA® Exam Day: Here’s What to Expect
  3. The Requirements to Sit for the CFA® Exam
  4. Top 5 Pointers for the Level I CFA® Exam
  5. CFA® Exam Questions: What They Look Like

How many questions are on the CFA exam?

The CFA Level I Exam consists of 240 multiple-choice questions and is divided into two sessions, with 120 questions asked in the three-hour morning session and 120 in the three-hour afternoon session.  

Is the CFA Level I Exam difficult?

The CFA Level I Exam is difficult because of the endurance required and the breadth of financial concepts candidates must learn and retain. The CFA Institute recommends at least 300 hours of study time to be successful on the exam. The challenge most candidates face is juggling working full-time in the financial industry with studying intensely for the CFA exam.  

When should I take the CFA Level I Exam?

Passing the CFA exam is one requirement for becoming a CFA charterholder. If you’re a financial professional and are interested in sitting for the CFA exam, you must meet certain other requirements. Sitting for the CFA exam involves you meeting one of the following criteria:

  1. Have a bachelor’s degree or be in the final year of obtaining a bachelor’s degree;
  2. Possess four years of relevant work experience;
  3. Have a combination of four years of education and work experience. 

When should I start studying for the CFA exam?

When you meet one of the above requirements, you may enroll in the CFA Program. The enrollment fee is USD $450 to register for the Level I exam. All CFA candidates who plan to sit for the CFA exam must take the exam in English. You must also have an international travel passport available to take to the testing centers on exam day. 

Check out the resources below courtesy of the CFA Institute for quick start guides for each exam:

  1. Level I CFA® Exam Quick Start Guide
  2. Level II CFA® Exam Quick Start Guide
  3. Level III CFA® Exam Quick Start Guide 

How is the CFA exam scored?

CFA Institute declares the results in three tiers: <=50%, 51%-70%, >70%. CFA Institute uses a combination of measures to determine these score brackets.  

What is the CFA exam passing score?

The Minimum Passing Score (MPS) set by the CFA Institute will never surpass 70%. This means that 70%-100% is the highest score bracket for passing a specific topic. 

How soon do I get my CFA exam results?

According to CFA Institute, the results for the CFA Level I and II exams are available within 60 days of the exam date and within 90 days for the CFA Level III exam.  

How many times can you take the CFA exam?

The CFA level I Exam is offered twice a year, in June and December, whereas the levels II and III exams are offered once a year, in June. You must first pass level I to take level II, and pass level II to take level III. The CFA Institute allows candidates to take as much time as they need to complete all three levels of the CFA program. How long it will take a candidate to pass all three levels and how many times a candidate may take the CFA exam will vary from one individual to another. 

How much does it cost to take the CFA exam?

When you register for the Level I CFA Exam, you will pay a one-time enrollment fee of $450 USD. That gets you into the CFA Program. You will pay an additional registration fee to sit for the exam at each of the three levels. For a detailed breakdown of the CFA exam costs, visit our blog post on the topic: How Much the CFA® Exam Costs.  

What calculators can I use on the CFA exam?

The CFA Institute has a very short list of approved calculators allowed in the CFA exams. They are not lenient on this so it’s important to get the right calculator. If you don’t have the exact model of the approved calculator, you will not be allowed to use your calculator in the actual exam. The two models (and some variations) approved by CFA Institute for the exams are the Texas Instruments BA II Plus and the Hewlett-Packard 12C. It’s up to you which one to choose.

CFA Institute does not endorse, promote, or warrant the accuracy or quality of the products or services offered by UWorld Finance. CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst® are registered trademarks owned by CFA Institute.

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