Candidates sitting to take the CFA exam

Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: August 6, 2020

If you have considered sitting for Level I of the CFA® exam, you probably have questions. You’re always welcome to reach out to our knowledgeable Student Support team with any questions you have about preparing for the exam. We’ve also created this article to answer some of the most common questions we receive from people preparing to take the first step toward becoming a CFA charterholder.

What is the CFA® charter?

Let’s start with the basics. The Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA) charter is a professional designation administered by CFA Institute. According to CFA Institute, it’s the most respected and recognized investment management designation in the world.

How do I earn the CFA charter?

In order to earn the CFA charter you must pass three levels of the exam in order: Level I, Level II, and Level III. Each exam builds on the mastery demonstrated by achieving a passing score on the previous exams.

Is the CFA charter a degree?

It is not a degree. It’s a professional credential that demonstrates mastery of advanced investment analysis and real-world portfolio management. Candidates often weigh the benefits of the CFA charter against those of an MBA, which may be a contributing factor in this common misunderstanding.

What is the date for Level I of the CFA exam?

To learn the date for Level I, read this article, which breaks down all the Level I exam dates, and provides information on Levels II and III also.

Considering the CFA charter? Download this free Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA Exam eBook.

Can I postpone my CFA exam after I’ve registered?

You can only postpone your CFA exam after you’ve registered in specific circumstances, mostly related to medical reasons. It’s easier to withdraw, but unless you withdraw within three days of registering, you will have to pay the registration feeds again and re-register. Read this article to learn all the options you have if you think you can’t take the exam on the scheduled date.

What are the requirements to sit for the CFA exam?

An individual wishing to enroll in the CFA Program and register for the Level I exam for the first time must possess an international travel passport. In addition, candidates must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Have earned a bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree, or be in their final year of a bachelor’s program.
  • Have accumulated 4000 hours (approximately two years if you work full time) of applicable professional work experience (not required to be investment related).

Candidates may also have a combination of full-time professional experience and education that totals a minimum 4000 hours. Those hours of experience/education must be accrued prior to enrollment in the program. This article has more details.

What is the format of Level I of the CFA exam?

In 2020, Level I of the exam is composed of 240 multiple-choice questions, covered in two 3-hour exam sessions. Candidates must attend both the morning and afternoon session, and 120 questions are asked in each. Both sessions cover all of the Level I topics. In 2021, the exam format is changing from paper-based to computer-based, and there will be 180 questions. There will sitll be two session times, but each will be 2 hours and 15 minutes long instead of 3 hours. All the 2021 details for the Level I changes are in this article.

What subjects or topics are tested on the Level I exam?

The 2020 Level I Exam will cover the following topics:

  • Ethical and Professional Standards
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Economics
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis
  • Corporate Finance
  • Equity Investments
  • Fixed Income
  • Derivative Investments
  • Alternative Investments
  • Portfolio Management and Wealth Management

What are the weights of the topics of Level I of the CFA exam?

The weights of the Level I exam topics are subject to change on a year-to-year basis, at the discretion of CFA Institute. For the 2020 Level I exam, the topics are weighted as follows::

TopicExam Weight
Ethical and Professional Standards15%
Quantitative Methods10%
Economics10%
Financial Reporting and Analysis15%
Corporate Finance10%
Portfolio Management and Wealth Management6%
Equity Investments11%
Fixed Income11%
Derivative Investments6%
Alternative Investments6%

How much time does it take to study for the exam?

The average candidate for Level I of the CFA exam should spend a minimum of 300 hours over the course of six months preparing for the exam.

How hard is the exam?

The CFA exam as a whole is difficult by design. It’s an exclusive designation that truly demonstrates mastery.

How is Level I of the exam graded?

CFA exam grading is done by machines and charterholders. CFA Institute then uses a methodology to determine a minimum passing score that is applied to each exam. Our article on how the CFA exam is graded at all levels has all the details.

What is the Level I CFA exam pass rate?

The pass rate for the CFA exam can be found here. According to CFA Institute, only 20% of candidates who begin the program actually earn the charter. You can greatly improve your odds of success by learning from other candidates’ experiences, and avoiding common pitfalls in your preparation. This article has more details.

How much does it cost to sit for the exam?

How much you’ll pay to sit for the Level I exam depends on how early you register. First of all, there is a one-time CFA enrollment fee of $450. In addition, you must pay an exam fee each time you register to sit for an exam. CFA Institute has early, standard, and late registration deadlines, and the price goes up the later you register. The early registration fee is $700. If you register by the standard deadline you’ll pay $1,000. Late registration will cost you $1,450. There are two really good reasons to register early. First, you will save $300, which you could put towards a CFA prep course. Second, the earlier you commit to sitting for the exam, the sooner you can begin preparing.


Now that you’ve gotten answers to common questions people have about Level I of the CFA exam, learn why this designation is so widely sought after and respected. If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to our Student Support team for the answers you need to take this next step in your career.

Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA Exam

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