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Most Frequently Asked Questions About Level III of the CFA® Exam

By: Kaplan Schweser
October 11, 2022
Level 3 CFA Exam FAQS

By this point, you’re a CFA® exam veteran. After passing the Level I and Level II exams, your confidence is strong. That confidence is an asset, but don’t take your foot off the gas just yet. Passing Level III is going to take some work. We answer questions every day from candidates preparing to sit for Level III of the CFA exam, and we developed this article based on the most common ones, giving you all the information you need as you take this final step in your mission to earn the CFA charter.

What To Expect on the CFA Level III Exam?

Candidates will have 4 hours and 24 minutes to finish the exam and should expect to demonstrate advanced portfolio management and wealth planning knowledge. A new question format called constructed response questions or essay questions will be introduced which will require candidates to justify or explain their answers.

What Makes Level III of the CFA® Exam Different?

The Level III exam is markedly different from the previous two levels. The most significant difference is that you have to write. It’s no longer just multiple-choice questions. If you learn and can recall the appropriate factoids, you’re going to pass the exam. But CFA Institute really throws you for a loop on Level III by changing the format of the test. Level III CFA exam questions are more like case studies. There’s math involved, but it often can’t be reduced to a single equation. Level III essentially tests your ability to effectively do what employers will expect of you as a CFA charterholder.

Because the exam is so different, you also need to drastically adapt your preparation strategy in order to pass. Not adopting a Level III-specific preparation strategy is a primary reason candidates who did well on the previous two levels struggle when they get to Level III.

What is the Format of Level III of the CFA Exam?

The Level III exam is computer-based and includes two exam sessions. Each session is a mix of either 5 constructed response (essay) sets and 6 item sets or 6 essay sets and 5 item sets for a total of 11 sets of questions per exam session. All question sets are worth 12 points. Each essay sets test your real-world application of the curriculum by presenting you with a scenario that you must solve or advise on. Each multiple-choice item set begins with a case statement and then asks four multiple-choice questions related to the statement.

When is Level III of the CFA Exam Offered?

The Level III exam will be offered twice a year, but the months differ. You can learn more in this article about CFA exam dates.

Before you choose your CFA exam date, 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 fees again and re-register.

CFA Exam Postponement >>

What Subjects are Tested on Level III?

Candidates preparing for the Level III exam are not tested on all the topics that were part of the Level I and Level II exams. Here’s what you will be tested on:

  • Ethical and Professional Standards
  • Economics
  • Equity Investments
  • Fixed Income
  • Derivatives
  • Alternative Investments
  • Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

The topic that is most tested on the Level III CFA exam is Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning.

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What Are the Topic Weights for the Level III Exam?

Each year, Level III exam topic weights are subject to change at the discretion of CFA Institute. Here are the topic weights for the June 2021 Level III exam:

TopicExam Weight
Ethical and Professional Standards10–15%
Equity Investments10–15%
Fixed Income15–20%
Alternative Investments5–10%
Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning35–40%

How Much Time Should I Spend Studying for Level III of the CFA Exam?

While CFA Institute recommends candidates spend a minimum of 300 hours preparing for each level of the CFA exam, a June 2017 survey found that candidates actually spent an average of 335 hours preparing for Level III.

7 Tips for Effectively Using Your 300 Hours >>

How Difficult is the Level III Exam?

The Level III CFA exam is challenging because, as detailed previously, the exam format is quite a bit different than the Level II and Level I formats.

What is the Level III CFA Exam Pass Rate?

The pass rate for Level III of the CFA Exam usually falls within the 50-57% range but most recent CFA pass rates have been lower. It’s important to remember that everyone sitting for Level III has already passed the first two levels. So these are the best of the brightest candidates, and still only slightly more than half passed.

How is the Level III 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.

CFA Exam Grading Process >>

How Much Does it Cost to Sit for Level III?

What you’ll pay to sit for Level III of the CFA exam varies depending on when you register. If you enroll before the early registration deadline, you will pay $900. The cost of registering by the standard deadline is $1,200. Registering early means you have extra money to invest in CFA Level III exam prep materials. You’ll also have a longer time frame over which to spread your preparation.

CFA Level III Exam Fees >>

Contact Kaplan Schweser

If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to the Kaplan Schweser Student Support team for the answers you need to take this next step in your career.

Ready To Start Preparing for the CFA Exam?

Looking for more guidance on how to prepare for Level III of the CFA® exam? Enroll in one of our CFA Level III Premium study packages to receive expert instruction, CFA Program study materials, and more. Give yourself the best chance to prepare, practice, and perform on the CFA exam.

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