All About the CFA® Exam
A CFA Charter Beginners Guide

Passing the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) exam is the critical first step on your journey to becoming a respected professional in the finance and investment industry. The CFA Institute requires that candidates pass a series of increasingly complex exams and complete a combination of 4,000 hours of professional work experience and higher education before earning the coveted title of Chartered Financial Analyst.

Every successful CFA charterholder has at least one thing in common—their exam preparation was strategic and comprehensive. The following article will not only furnish you with optimal study materials but also with detailed information regarding the CFA exam format, scoring, requirements, fees, and more.

CFA Exam Levels

The CFA Program is a globally recognized professional certification for investment management and financial analysis. The program is divided into three levels, with each level building on the knowledge and skills developed in the previous level.

Each level has specific learning objectives that are designed to assess a candidate's knowledge and understanding of various investment concepts, principles, and practices. These objectives are carefully crafted to ensure that successful candidates possess the necessary knowledge and skills required to be competent investment professionals.

  • The CFA Level 1 exam assesses a candidate's fundamental knowledge of the topics tested and their analytical abilities. The test assumes no prior understanding of finance and introduces candidates to various terms and ideas.
  • The CFA Level 2 exam expands on the foundation of the CFA Level 1 exam, emphasizing asset appraisal and the proper application of investment techniques. As part of the procedure, candidates must read a case study and respond to questions based on the research.
  • The CFA Level 3 exam tests the candidates' practical abilities. The test also aims to assess the test taker's portfolio management and planning abilities.

Overall, the CFA Program is a rigorous and demanding course of study that requires a significant investment of time and effort. However, successful completion of the program provides a strong foundation for a career in investment management and financial analysis.

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CFA Exam Format and Structure

Staying up to date is critical as you prepare for the CFA exam. The only difference between each level is the topic weight and type of questions. Each level is administered for approximately 4 hours and 24 minutes.

  • Level 1 format: The Level 1 exam has 180 multiple-choice questions, divided into two 2-hour and 15 minute sessions (session times are approximate). The questions assess the candidate’s basic understanding of finance and wealth management.
  • Level 2 format: With about 88 multiple-choice questions, the CFA level 2 exam is administered in two 2-hour and 12 minute sessions, consisting of item sets that test candidates on the application of investment valuation concepts.
  • Level 3 format: The final CFA level 3 exam consists of 44 item-set multiple-choice-questions, again split into two 2-hour and 12 minute sessions with an optional break. This level focuses on wealth planning and portfolio management, with many questions posed in an essay format.

Please note that candidates must attend both sessions at each level to receive an exam result.

CFA Eligibility/Registration and Fees

Once you have decided to proceed, here are the requirements for the CFA exam you need to keep in mind: 

  1. Must have a US bachelor's (or equivalent) degree or 2 years remaining in a bachelor’s program.You must complete your degree before sitting for Level 2


    Must have 4,000 hours of work experience, or a combination of professional work experience and education totaling 4,000 hours. You should fulfill the criteria by the time of your Level 1 registration

  2. Must be comfortable taking exams in English
  3. Must have a valid international travel passport that will be required both for enrollment and registration

Candidates can choose from two payment windows depending on when they register for the CFA test: A $350 one-time enrollment cost (paid once), plus a $940-$1,250 registration charge (for each level or retake). If you need to reschedule your exam within the same exam window, you will be charged an additional $250 fee.

2024 CFA Exam  Early Registration Standard Registration
Exam Window Fee $940 $1,250
One-Time Enrollment Fee $350 $350
Total $1,290 $1,600
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Current CFA Exam Dates

The CFA exam dates and frequencies will remain the same as when it was changed last time by the CFAI. While the Level 1 CFA exam will have four different test windows, Level 2 and Level 3 CFA exams will have three and two test windows, respectively. The exams will be computer-based, and candidates can choose their exam date within their chosen window.

Updated schedule of Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 exams as per CFA institute.

The CFA Exam Difficulty and Pass Rates

The CFA charter has set a high standard over the years, and as a result, the qualifying tests are expected to be challenging. To pass, you must prepare for a minimum of 300 hours of studying, regardless of how many attempts you make. The CFAI adjusts the exam format annually, and difficulty levels are determined based on CFA exam scores and pass rates for that year.

As of 2023, the average pass rates for the previous ten years were 40% for Level 1, 45% for Level 2, and 52 % for Level 3. .

Year Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
2014 43% 46% 49%
2015 42.5% 46% 53%
2016 43% 46% 54%
2017 43% 47% 54%
2018 44% 45% 56%
2019 41.5% 44% 56%
2020 49% 55% 56%
2021 29% 41% 42%
2022 36.75% 42.6% 49%
2023 37.25% 46.6% 47.5%
Average 40% 45% 52%

As candidates progress through each level of the CFA exam, the passing percentage typically increases. This is due to the fact that only those who have successfully passed the previous level are eligible to take the next one. As a result, a higher proportion of candidates are able to pass the subsequent levels in comparison to the first.

Therefore, candidates who develop a solid strategy for passing Level 1 will have a greater chance of ultimately earning the CFA charter. Experts recommend that in addition to a clear understanding of the CFA exam content, proper study materials, and a well-defined plan are also crucial for achieving success on the exams.

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Why Should You Consider Taking the CFA Exam?

The fleeting factor of 'why this?' always drives one's motivation and willpower before any significant undertaking, especially when deciding whether or not to take the CFA exam. The CFAI has graduated over 175,000 applicants into CFA charterholders in the 59 years since their commencement.

Charterholders are not only employed by almost every major investment bank, asset management firm, hedge fund, and consulting firm worldwide, but they have also set a benchmark for investment decisions and management. Here are some points to help you understand the benefits of the CFA Charter.

Preparing for the CFA exam requires serious commitment and dedication. Only those who are truly dedicated can achieve the CFA charter. However, after years of rigorous study, training, and practical application, you will develop a financial expertise that is unmatched by most and become part of an elite group of financial professionals. Don't let fear of failure, lack of funds, experience, or time hold you back from pursuing the CFA exam.

CFA Program Policies and Procedures

The CFAI has standards and procedures that candidates must follow when taking the exam. For starters, candidates may take each level (when applicable) of the CFA exam a maximum of two times per year, but not in consecutive or six-month (or fewer) intervals. To register and appear for the exam, CFAI requires that all CFA Program candidates have a valid foreign travel passport. Even though the test center does not provide calculators, the candidate is only permitted to bring two specific models of calculators to the exam. While the test-taker is granted two unscheduled breaks throughout the exam, any misbehavior may result in removal from the testing center and other consequences. The CFAI also permits complete withdrawal from all three exam levels and provides a full refund within 14 days of payment.

Additionally, as per the recent CFAI evolution changes, candidates who complete Level 1 and 2, will be given digital badges which will be unique in the market and include one-click social sharing, providing instant verification to enhance candidates' credibility and solidify their accomplishments. Furthermore, CFAI has also introduced Practical Skill Module (PSM), that uses videos, case studies, and MCQs to put theory into practice. Candidates must complete at least one PSM at each exam level to obtain their results. The topics for the PSM can be chosen at any point during the exam study period and typically take 10-15 hours to complete.

To learn more about these Program Policies and Procedures, please visit the CFAI website.

A Summary When Considering the CFA Charter

The CFA charter's popularity has made it an in-demand profession with high earning potential. And with such high stakes, the learning journey is bound to be difficult. With the right strategy, there is nothing you cannot achieve.

  • The Chartered Financial Analyst is a worldwide recognized professional qualification awarded by the CFAI, which assesses and certifies financial analysts' competence and integrity.
  • The CFA exam combines three levels: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 (arranged according to increasing passing rates and difficulty).
  • While the CFA Level 1 exam assesses a candidate's fundamental understanding of finance, the CFA Levels 2 and 3 exams further emphasize the application of theories and concepts in the real world (not to mention that the CFA Level 3 exams include essay questions).
  • Each CFA exam level has a minimum of six months between exams, allowing candidates 6-9 months between the testing windows.
  • Some official CFA exam requirements, such as a travel passport, an undergraduate degree or 4,000 hours of proven professional experience, or a bachelor's degree awarded sometime before the level 1 exam, are required for an applicant to be eligible for the exams.
  • The exams are all computer-based, and the results are announced within 60 to 70 days of the test. CFA exam candidates must clear all the levels to earn the CFA charter.
  • Proper CFA exam guides and CFA exam study materials, along with your determination, are crucial to ace the CFA exam.
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Frequently Asked Questions

The CFA exam takes about 4.5 hours per level. Considering the 30-minute break and other factors, the total testing time is nearly 5.5 hours.
Yes. If you need to change your testing location, you can request a change by logging into your CFA Institute account and selecting the “Manage Your Exam” link. You must make changes by the deadline and pay a $250 rescheduling fee.
All candidates must be seated in the testing center by 8:30 am (local time) for the morning session and 1:30 pm for the afternoon session. The Level 1 CFA exam morning session begins at 9:00 am and ends at noon. The afternoon exam begins at 2:00 pm and ends at 5:00 pm.
The CFA exam is designed for individuals who want to pursue a career in the field of finance and investment management. It is an excellent choice for financial professionals such as investment bankers, asset managers, financial advisers, research analysts, and portfolio managers who are seeking to enhance their knowledge, skills, and credibility in the industry. Additionally, the CFA Program is suitable for recent college graduates who want to kick start their career in finance and for individuals who want to switch careers and enter the finance industry.

The CFA exam primarily tests candidates on the broad topics of finance, wealth, and portfolio management.

  • Level 1 test consists of multiple-choice questions ranging from open-ended statements to data and information evaluation.
  • The CFA exam’s Level 2 introduces a real-life scenario in several paragraphs, utilizing a combination of text, tables, financial statements, and other materials.
  • The CFA Level 3 exam features an open-ended essay question assessing the candidate’s ability to apply and judge real-world scenarios. For this bit, the test-takers must write their response.


Read More About the CFA Exam

Looking to know more about the CFA Level 1 curriculum? Here’s all you need to know about important questions, formulas, topic complexity, and exam format.
Want to know more about the CFA Level 2 exam syllabus? Here’s all you need to know about important questions, formulas, topic complexity, and exam format.
Learn about CFA Level 3 topic weights, how to plan your studies, write constructed response (essay) questions, and more.
Stay informed about upcoming changes. Here’s a list of all the latest CFA curriculum changes, additions, removals, revisions, and percentage weights.
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