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CFA® Exam Guide

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What is the CFA exam?

If you want to set yourself apart from the competition by achieving the highest distinction in the investment management profession, you have a viable path. As a finance professional, you are always 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 pass the CFA exam successfully. Each CFA candidate has up to four years to pass all three levels.

What content 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, precisely: 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 issuers, 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 1 exam comprises 180 multiple-choice questions and is taken in one day and split into two sessions—morning and afternoon. Each exam session (2) is 135 minutes long.

Paper-Based Testing: The Level I paper-based exam consists of 240 multiple choice questions, split between two 3-hour sessions. Candidates must take both sessions to receive an exam result.

  • Morning session (3 hours): 120 multiple choice questions, covering all topics
  • Afternoon session (3 hours): 120 multiple choice questions, covering all topics

Computer-Based Testing: The Level I computer-based exam consists of 180 multiple choice questions, split between two 135-minute sessions. There is an optional break between sessions. Candidates must take both sessions to receive an exam result.

  • First session (2 hours, 15 minutes): 90 multiple choice questions, covering all topics
  • Second session (2 hours, 15 minutes): 90 multiple choice questions, covering all topics

Is the CFA Level I exam difficult?

The CFA Level I Exam is difficult because of the required endurance and the breadth of financial concepts that 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 other specific 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 $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 MPS 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 CFA Level I and II exam results 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 1 exam is offered four times per year, typically in February, May, August, and November. In 2021, there were additional dates added to accommodate rollover from the COVID cancellations in 2020. Levels 2-3 will typically be offered two times per year, although some incremental dates were added in 2021 for COVID cancellations, as well.

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 needed 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?

You will pay a one-time enrollment fee of $450 when you register for the Level I CFA exam. 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.

Beginning with the 2023 exam cycle, the price of the one-time enrollment fee will decrease from $450 to $350. The prices to register for each individual exam will increase from $700 to $900 for early registration and from $1,000 to $1,200 for standard registration.

What calculators can I use on the CFA exam?

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