Passing the CFA® exam is the critical first step on your journey to becoming a respected professional in the finance and investment industry. The CFA Institute® (CFAI) 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 (CFA).
Every successful CFA 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
To earn the charter, candidates must pass all the computer-based tests, divided into three levels of increasing difficulty:
- 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.
Why Should You Study for 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 CFA tests have graduated over 175,000 applicants into CFA charterholders in the 59 years since their commencement.
Charterholders not only work with practically every central investment bank, asset management firm, hedge fund, and consulting firm in the world, but they've also established a standard for investment decisions and management.
Still not convinced? Here are some considerations that just might help you see the value of the CFA Charter:
Preparing for the CFA is a serious undertaking. Only those who are truly dedicated will become charter holders. However, after years of intense study, training, and practical application, you will develop a financial competency that very few can match and become part of a small but elite group of financial professionals. You may have concerns keeping you from taking the CFA, but fear of failure, lack of funds, experience, or time, should not be among them.
What Is the 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 CFA 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.
What Are the CFA Eligibility/Registration and Fees?
Once you have decided to appear for the CFA exam,here are some CFA exam requirements or eligibility criteria you need to keep in mind:
Must have a US bachelor's (or equivalent) degree or select a window 11 months before your graduation month for your bachelor's degree. You must complete your degree before sitting for Level II.
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.
- Must be comfortable taking exams in English
- 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 $450 one-time enrollment cost (paid once), plus a $700-$1,000 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.
Beginning with the 2023 exam cycle, the price of the one-time enrollment fee will decrease from $450 to $350. However, the cost to register for each exam will increase from $700 to $900 for early registration and from $1000 to $1,200 for standard registration.
What Are the 2023 CFA Exam Dates?
In 2023, 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.
For 2023, the CFA Exam dates are as follows:
CFA Exam Difficulty: How Hard Is the CFA Exam?
The qualifying tests are expected to be tough, given the 'gold standard' that the CFA charter has maintained over the years. Regardless of how many times you take the test, each one demands a 300-hour preparation period and commits reading and study time. The CFAI tweaks the exam's framework with each passing year, and the level of difficulty is then assessed based on CFA exam scores and pass rates for that year.
As of 2022, the average passing rates over the previous ten years were 41.1% for Level 1, 45.7% for Level 2, and 52.3% for Level 3.
|Level 1||Level 2||Level 3|
Table showing Level 1 through Level 3 pass rates from 2013 to the current year.
With each level, the passing percentage shoots up. The low performers are automatically turfed out because the Level 2 exam is only taken by those who passed the Level 1 exam. This is also why, in comparison to Level 1, more people clear the subsequent levels.
So, if candidates maintain a dedicated strategy for passing Level 1, they have more chances to earn the CFA Charter. If experts are to be believed, having the right plan, a clear knowledge of the CFA exam and proper CFA exam study materials are also critical to acing the tests.
CFA Program Policies and Procedures
The CFA Institute 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 CFA Institute also permits complete withdrawal from all three exam levels and provides a full refund within 14 days of payment.
To learn more about these Program Policies and Procedures, please visit the CFAI website
CFA Exam Key Points and Takeaways
The CFA Charter's ever-growing popularity has made it an in-demand profession with high earning potential. And with such high stakes, the learning journey is bound to become difficult. Still, there's nothing you can't achieve with the right strategy.
- A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) is a worldwide recognized professional qualification awarded by the CFA Institute (previously the Association for Investment Management and Research), 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 candidates must clear all the levels to earn the CFA Charter.
- Proper CFA exam guides and CFA study materials, along with your determination, are crucial to ace the CFA exam.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Must have a US bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree or select a window that is 11 months before your graduation month
- Must have 4,000 hours of work experience, or a combination of professional work experience and education totaling 4,000 hours
- 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.