To obtain many jobs in the financial industry, there are basically two routes. First, you can go back to school and learn your MBA. But for people who need to work full-time, this isn’t always an option.
Instead, you can become a Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA). To earn this certification, you’ll need to pass the CFA exam, similar to how you’d need to pass the CPA exam to become an accountant.
The exam consists of three different tests: Level I, Level II, and Level III. Here’s a complete guide on how the exam works.
Summary: Utilize the resources below to help pass the CFA exam.
CFA Exam Prep - Recommended Study Resources
Most CFA exam experts recommend preparing for a minimum of 300 hours. That said, this can vary considerably based on your background. For example, if you’re already working as a stock broker, much of the information on the exam is already second nature to you. Regardless of your background, you’re going to want to take a practice test to see where you stand.
For most professional and academic exams, there are a lot of free resources available for prospective test-takers. But for the CFA exam, virtually all resources are paid. To help, we’ve dug up a few free options to go along with the paid offerings. Here are some resources that can help you succeed:
- To begin with, you’ll need to visit the official CFA Institute registration page, in order to sign up for your test.
- The Princeton Review offers a complete self-guided course, complete with slides, lectures, and mock exams.
- Fitch Learning offers a mix of free and paid study resources, including free sample lectures.
- Wiley CFA provides a paid study course. It’s pricey, but it offers a lot of premium features, including 17 weeks of live online classes.
- Bloomberg also offers a paid test prep program. However, theirs comes with a free 14-day trial period, so you can see if it works for you.
- If you’re looking for a more affordable option, check out AnalystPrep. They offer video lessons, mock exams, and question banks at a very reasonable price.
- See our guide to the best CFA study material for more information on these and other resources.
For more help, check out our free CFA practice questions resource.
Surveys from the CFA Institute show that most candidates use multiple resources to prepare for the exam.
CFA Exam Content Outline
The exact format of the CFA exam changes slightly from year to year. As a result, we can only speak with 100 percent certainty about the latest exam. This year’s Level I exam consists of 240 multiple-choice questions. Because of the large number of questions, the test is administered in two separate 3-hour sessions, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
Test questions are divided into ten different sections. These are:
- Ethical and Professional Standards
- Quantitative Methods
- Financial Reporting and Analysis
- Corporate Finance
- Equity Investments
- Fixed Income
- Derivative Investments
- Alternative Investments
- Portfolio Management and Wealth Management
The different sections are weighted, so not all questions are worth the same amount. The CFA Institute also changes the weighting from year to year. Once again, we can only speak for sure about the latest exam. Here’s a quick look at the weighting:
|Ethical and Professional Standards||15%|
|Financial Reporting and Analysis||15%|
|Portfolio Management and Wealth Management||6%|
CFA Exam Administration
The CFA Exam is administered three times a year: in June, December, and February. Regardless of which session you register for, you need to pay a registration fee. This fee varies based on when you register. If you sign up a year in advance, you’ll get an early bird discounted rate of $650. The normal fee is $950. If you register after August 19th, you’ll pay an increased fee of $1,380. Keep in mind that this fee applies for each level of the test. There’s also an additional $450 registration fee the first time you sign up. So assuming you pay the normal fee and pass each level the first time, you’ll pay a total of $3,300. That’s pricey, but it’s a lot less expensive than an MBA.
In 2020, the CFA exam is a pencil and paper exam. Beginning in 2021, it’s going to be administered on a computer instead. The format will also change. Instead of 240 questions, there will only be 180, but the sessions will be shortened from 3 hours to 2 hours and 15 minutes.
CFA Exam Requirements
Unlike many professional exams, the CFA does not require a college degree. If you have four years of full-time work experience in the financial industry, you can still sit for the exam. You can also sit for the exam if you have a combination of college and work experience totaling four years. Finally, bachelor’s degree holders and fourth-year bachelor’s degree students can also take the exam.
Other than that, the only other requirement to take the exam is that you need to have a valid passport. Make sure to bring this passport with you on exam day, or you won’t be able to take the exam.
CFA Exam Scores
The CFA exam is a professional exam, not an academic exam. As a result, there are only two scores a candidate can receive: “pass”, or “did not pass”. Individual candidates can also see a detailed breakdown of their performance in each section. That said, candidates cannot see their results for individual questions. This is one reason why it’s so important to take practice tests for preparation.
Individual candidates can also view their percentile rank amongst all test takers, and submit an appeal to the CFA Institute to have their test results retabulated. Percentile rank and test performance will never be released to a third party for any reason. However, the CFA Institute does provide a list of passing test takers to professional organizations.
Test results are available within 60 days of the Level I and Level II exam. For the Level III exam, results can take up to 90 days. The results are available online for one year after the test. After that, the results will no longer be available. However, you can still request an official letter from the CFA to confirm that you passed the test.
As soon as test results are released, candidates can register for the next exam level. If you didn’t pass, you can re-register for the same level immediately. You can re-take any level of the CFA exam an unlimited number of times, so a “did not pass” result is not the end of the world.
Exact passing scores vary from year to year. The CFA Institute Board of Governors set the minimum score each year, as soon as the last year’s results have been tabulated. This is similar to a college exam that’s graded on a curve, to ensure fairness to all candidates. That said, the minimum passing score is not public knowledge. It’s proprietary information known only to the CFA Institute.
CFA Exam Pass Rates
The most recent CFA Pass Rates are shown in the chart below.
CFA Exam FAQs
What are the best CFA study materials available?
There are no shortages of CFA study materials available. After reviewing numerous materials, our top picks was Princeton Review. Princeton Review will help students prepare for the CFA without breaking their budget.
What is the CFA Exam pass rate?
The exact CFA exam pass rate varies slightly from year to year. For December of 2019, the pass rate for Level I was 42%. Of candidates who register for the Level I exam, 20% ultimately complete all three levels.
Are CFA prep courses worth the money?
The CFA exam has 3 levels, all of which are challenging. Earning a CFA designation will accelerate any career. Making an investment in a CFA prep course will pay dividends in the long run.
What is on the CFA level 1 exam?
The CFA exam is always changing. Last year’s CFA level I exam consisted of 240 multiple-choice questions and was made up from ten different sections.
What is a CFA exam?
CFA stands for chartered financial analyst. The exam is taken by applicants, usually investment or financial professionals, who wish to achieve the CFA professional designation. There are 3 levels of the CFA exam.
If you're aiming to work in roles such as financial analysts, portfolio managers, or investment bankers, the CFA designation can be a valuable asset. However, if you want to pursue careers in other areas of finance, an alternative certification or qualification may be more relevant.Is the CFA worth it in 2023? ›
If you're aiming to work in roles such as financial analysts, portfolio managers, or investment bankers, the CFA designation can be a valuable asset. However, if you want to pursue careers in other areas of finance, an alternative certification or qualification may be more relevant.How many readings in CFA level 1 2023? ›
There are 73 modules in 2023 level 1 CFA exam curriculum (vs 60 readings in 2022). No readings were removed compared to 2022 curriculum and three readings were added.How many correct answers are needed to pass CFA Level 1? ›
The exam is composed of 90 questions in the first session and 90 questions in the second session. To pass this exam, aim for correctly answering at least 75% of the questions. That means you need to correctly answer at least 180(0.75) = 135 questions total, or about 68 questions in each session.Is 3 months enough to study for CFA Level 1? ›
No, studying for any CFA exam in less than 6 months will not give you enough time to adequately prepare unless you have a relevant background in the curriculum. According to CFA Institute, candidates study on average 348 hours for the Level I exam, 364 hours for the Level II exam, and 365 hours for the Level III exam.Is 7 months enough for CFA? ›
You can take it slow and still be certain you'll be able to deal with all the readings in your CFA Program curriculum. Be careful though not to lose this time! 7 months seems long. You may get tempted to study irregularly and postpone your study sessions by days or even weeks.Is 4 months enough for CFA? ›
Successful Level I candidates spend more than 300 hours preparing for the exam on average. The best strategy is to leave at least four months (approximately 17 weeks) to finish all the reading material.What is the hardest reading CFA Level 1? ›
Level 1 Hardest Topics
Fixed Income, Derivatives, and Financial Reporting Analysis have always been considered one of the hardest topics for the Level 1 exam. The reason is that these topics demand a lot of reading time and extensive calculations.
If you don't have any academic background in finance, the CFA level 1 test is difficult, but if you have, it's much easier. So, what is the hardest part of CFA level 1? The most challenging topics for CFA test candidates on their level 1 exam are often FI, Derivatives, and FRA.What is the CFA curriculum update for 2023? ›
2023 Level I CFA Curriculum and Weight Changes
The Level I curriculum now includes 73 “learning modules” (compared to 60 readings in 2022) and 543 Learning Outcome Statements (compared to 532 in 2022) and is no longer divided into Study Sessions.
CFA Level 1 Passing Score
The CFA Institute Board of Governors sets the MPS for each level, and that changes with each cycle of new candidates. Some years test takers will receive a 65% overall score and fail, while in other years candidates have received a 62% score and passed.
Many CFA charterholders consider the Level 3 CFA Exam the most difficult because of the time and thought needed to answer the constructed responses successfully. While the typical Level 3 CFA Exam pass rates are the highest of the CFA Exams, only around 56% of CFA candidates pass the exam.Do CFA Level 1 questions repeat? ›
Many questions/topics repeat themselves. Also, when you go over old exams and see a really “out there” question (there's at least one in every exam, in my experience), it will prepare you a bit for a surprise question on the real exam.What is the shortest time to study for CFA? ›
We recommend 6 months of studying per level to minimize fail chances, which is the biggest setback you can risk. Therefore, the quickest (practical) way to a CFA charter is about 12-18 months, from starting Level 1 to finishing Level 3.How to pass CFA Level 1 in first attempt? ›
- How to pass CFA Exam in the first Attempt?
- Attend all classes.
- To attend a free demo at FPA; CFA classes in Mumbai, please connect us. Self Study is Important.
- Don't just read the curriculum, understand it.
- Practice Questions.
At the end of the day, yes, I did pass with just two weeks of study. But I think I was INCREDIBLY lucky to have managed. I'm glad I studied hard and tried to pass it instead of waiting for the next exam.What level is 2023 CFA? ›
In 2023, the CFA exam takes place: level 1 – FEB 14-20, MAY 16-22, AUG 22-28, and NOV 11-17, level 2 – MAY 23-27, AUG 29-SEPT 2, and NOV 18-22, level 3 – FEB 21-23 and AUG 29-SEPT 5.What are the prices for CFA 2023? ›
|CFA Level 1 exam fee 2023|
|$350 one-time enrollment fee for 'first-timers'||Early Registration deadline||$900|
|Standard Registration deadline||$1200|
The CFA charter is one of the most respected designations in finance and is widely considered to be the gold standard in the field of investment analysis. To become a charter holder, candidates must pass three difficult exams, have a bachelors degree, and have at least four years of relevant professional experience.Is 30 too old for CFA? ›
It's not too late for the CFA, or an MBA, or a master degree in cows.
Many CFA charterholders consider the Level 3 CFA Exam the most difficult because of the time and thought needed to answer the constructed responses successfully. While the typical Level 3 CFA Exam pass rates are the highest of the CFA Exams, only around 56% of CFA candidates pass the exam.What percent of people pass all 3 levels of CFA? ›
Level 1 ranges from 22%-49%, with a 12-year average of 39%; Level 2 ranges from 29%-55%, with a 12-year average of 44%; Level 3 ranges from 39%-56%, with a 12-year average of 50%.What are the changes to CFA Level 3 2023? ›
For 2023 there were no new or dropped readings for the Level III curriculum and topic weights did not change. One major change for the 2023 Level III CFA curriculum is the exam format for both sections of the exam will consist of randomly placed constructed response (essay) questions and item sets.