How to Study for the CFA® Level 2 Exam

Before we get started, congratulations on passing the CFA® Level 1 exam! With a pass rate of approximately 40%, getting to this stage is no small feat. Even so, you still have a long way to go to become a CFA® charterholder. The CFA Level 2 exam is often considered the most difficult of the three because it requires a deeper understanding of the concepts covered in the CFA Level 1 exam. To best prepare for this second stage, the CFA® Institute (CFAI®) suggests studying for at least 300 hours. Our goal is to help you make the most of your CFA Level 2 study time through our data-driven CFA Level 2 study plan.

CFA Level 2 Study Guide

The CFA Level 2 exam covers many of the same topics as the CFA Level 1 exam but is more practical, so you can expect to have to apply these concepts in real-world situations represented by vignettes and illustrated by tables, financial statements, and data sets. Instead of memorizing definitions and formulas, you will be asked to analyze a situation or piece of information and answer four multiple-choice questions. Here is one example of the L2 exam question:

A CFAI example of CFA level 2 exam vignette question format

The Level 2 exam format allows for 12 minutes per item set, which includes answering the four questions and, of course, reading the vignette. The item set’s case-study format also means that candidates must be more familiar with every concept that may appear on the exam, since misunderstanding a topic that appears as a vignette can result in multiple missed questions.

Topics & Suggested Study Hours

The exam is offered twice per year and tests 10 CFA Level 2 topics. CFA Institute notes that successful candidates study for at least 300 hours. We’ve mapped out a plan for those 300 hours, stretched over six months (25 weeks), which allows you to study about 12 hours per week. You could compress the study plan, but this also allows time for mock exams, revisiting tough topics, and for things not going entirely according to plan.

CFA Level 2 Core Curriculum Topics Exam Weight Suggested
study hours
study weeks
Equity Investments 10% to 15% 36 3
Ethical and Professional Standards 10% to 15% 24 2
Financial Statement Analysis 10% to 15% 36 3
Fixed Income 10% to 15% 36 3
Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning 10% to 15% 36 3
Alternative Investments 5% to 10% 18 1.5
Corporate Issuers 5% to 10% 24 2
Derivatives 5% to 10% 18 1.5
Economics 5% to 10% 24 2
Quantitative Methods 5% to 10% 24 2
Mock exams and review 24 2
Total 300 25

We offer a nice refresher on what each section entails on the CFA Level 2 exam.

Of course, the plan should be tailored to your background and CFA Program progress so far. You have passed Level 1, but you also know you have strengths and weaknesses across topics, so you can take that into account. Our plan is simply a place for you to start, based on the number of readings for each topic and its exam weight. We also assume that the Ethics topic should need a bit less study time than its weight implies, as most of the material should be familiar from Level 1 (but it still requires some attention: to practice the item set format and to review).

Level 2 Study and Preparation Tips

Now that you know what to study, we’ll turn our attention to how to study it. When it comes to the CFA Level 2 exam, knowing the content is half the battle. The other half is learning how to best prepare for the format of the exam. Below are our CFA Level 2 study tips:

  • Begin early: Because of the natural delay in receiving your Level 1 results, there are sometimes only a handful of months remaining before you take your Level 2 exam. Start your preparation early and stay at it consistently.
  • Avoid burnout: While it’s important to begin early, it’s just as essential to avoid burnout. Studying for the CFA Level 2 exam is a marathon, and many choose to take a short breather after the Level 1 exam. When you start back up again, remember to make a plan and pace yourself.
  • Remain humble: The CFA Level 2 exam is a different beast than the Level 1 exam, as we’ve discussed. Overconfidence has been the downfall of many candidates, contributing to the roughly 45% pass rate. Success at Level 1 does not guarantee success at Level 2.
  • All curriculum topics matter: A mistake that many candidates make is that they think they can skip certain materials. Past exams show that anything and everything can appear on the Level 2 exam and can trip you up. Just because certain topics were thin on one exam doesn’t mean they will be on the next.
  • Learn the why: It’s one thing to understand what a term or formula means, but it’s entirely another to know why it exists and when to use it. The CFA Level 2 exam will test your understanding of the “why” behind the content.
  • Take multiple practice mock exams: The format change from CFA Level 1 to CFA Level 2 cannot be understated. The case-study style of the CFA Level 2 exam is an adjustment that should be practiced multiple times, and not only at the last minute.
  • Consider third-party services: The sheer volume of knowledge needed to pass the CFA Level 2 exam leads many candidates to seek third-party CFA exam preparation services. UWorld offers an all-digital approach that leverages data from past CFA charterholders, up-to-date question banks, interactive study tools, mock exams, and more.

What Is UWorld’s Study Methodology and How Do You Benefit From It?

At the core of all UWorld products are customizable learning tools that feature an active-learning methodology and industry-leading experience. Active learning is a simple concept that has been shown to help students prepare for high-stakes exams. It involves three simple tenets:

  1. Learn by Doing
  2. Focused Learning
  3. Simplified Learning

The benefits of active learning include improved student outcomes and higher information retention rates. These benefits, paired with cutting-edge user interfaces and digital study tools, have helped millions of students learn important material and be better prepared for their exams.

When you choose UWorld for your CFA Level 2 study guide and planner, you leverage the knowledge of CFA charterholders with decades of experience in CFA-specific teaching, content creation, and financial training. Some of our professionals even have exam-development experience with the CFA Institute. We can help you know what to expect from the CFA Level 2 exam and what you need to do to achieve success.

CFA Level 2 Study Schedule and Preparation Plan

Remember, starting early, staying consistent, and practicing regularly are all keys to success. In more detail, these are our CFA Level 2 preparation tips designed to help you stay on track during your studies.

6-Month Plan

To give yourself enough time to prepare, begin with a 6-month CFA Level 2 study plan. Review the CFA Institute’s material and corresponding UWorld content and tools. Some students will ease into their studies after completing the CFA Level 1 exam, but plan accordingly for the suggested minimum of 300 study hours. As we mapped out in detail in this article, 300 hours, stretched over six months (25 weeks), allows you to study about 12 hours per week. You could compress the study plan, but this also allows time for mock exams, revisiting tough topics, and things not going entirely according to plan.

2-Month Plan

It would be difficult to cover the entire Level 2 curriculum in only two months. However, if you have good professional and/or academic experience in these topics and/or are taking the exam for the second time, you may have enough of a headstart to make it work.

If you are two months away from your exam date, start with a mock exam to find your weak and strong spots. This allows you to really focus on where you need to work, not to cover or re-cover ground you do not need to review. Try out the CFA Institute’s mock exams and UWorld’s mock exams. If you’ve been using UWorld’s question bank, you are already familiar with the item set format. If not, dive in. As you do, continue to review custom flashcards and complex concepts to refine your knowledge further.

1-Month Plan

Your 1-month CFA Level 2 study plan should shift even more toward mock exams, as you should have a good grasp of the material by this point. Take advantage of as many mock exams the CFA Institute provides as possible. Complete UWorld’s mock exams as well, and use our QBank to drill down on your weaker subjects. A tremendous benefit of our interactive CFA Level 2 preparation platform is that we show you which subject areas you could improve in. Capitalizing on as many resources as possible is the best way to maximize your odds of success.

Read More About the CFA Level 2 Exam

Learn all the basics behind the CFA Level 2 exam, from eligibility requirements and the registration process to exam topics and format.
Take a deep dive into the CFA Level 2 exam’s core curriculum topics. Learn how they’re weighted, how they’ve changed, and everything else you need to know.
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