Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: February 7, 2019

By this point, you’re a CFA® Program 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 Program exam, and we developed this article to answer 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 makes Level III of the CFA® Program exam different?

The Level III exam is remarkably different from the previous two levels. The most significant difference is that you have to write. It’s no longer just multiple-choice questions. We think of Level I as trivial pursuit for financial analysts. If you learn, and can recall, the appropriate factoids, you’re going to pass the exam. Level II is the one that charterholders typically say is the most difficult. The multiple-choice questions for Level II are math-based, and the solutions are deterministic. But CFA Institute really throws you for a loop on Level III by changing the format of the test. Level III CFA Program 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® Program exam?

Like the previous two levels, Level III includes both a morning and afternoon session. The morning session consists entirely of essay-style questions (they’re called constructed response), with multiple parts to help you organize your answer. The questions test your real-world application of the curriculum by presenting you with a scenario that you must solve or advise on. The afternoon session features 10 item sets, similar to Level II. Each item set begins with a case statement, and then asks six multiple-choice questions related to the statement.

When is Level III of the CFA® Program exam offered?

Like the Level II exam, Level III is only offered in June. The 2019 Level III exam will be offered on different dates in June, depending on which region you live in. We’ve broken down all of the 2019 testing dates in this article.

What subjects are tested on Level III?

Candidates preparing for the Level III exam can expect to be tested on the following topics:

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

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

What are the topic weights for the 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 2018 Level III exam:

TopicExam Weight
Ethical and Professional Standards10 - 15%
Quantitative Methods0%
Economics5 - 10%
Financial Reporting and Analysis0%
Corporate Finance0%
Equity Investments10 - 15%
Fixed Income15 - 20%
Derivatives5 - 10%
Alternative Investments5 - 10%
Portfolio Management35 - 40%

How much time should I spend studying for Level III of the CFA® Program exam?

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

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. The pass rate for the June 2017 Level III exam was 54%. 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 much does it cost to sit for Level III?

What you’ll pay to sit for Level III of the CFA Program exam varies depending on when you register. If you enroll before the early registration deadline, you will pay $650. The cost for registering by the standard deadline is $950. Late registration will cost you the most, at $1,380. There’s really no good reason to register late. Aside from the obvious financial savings, which could be invested in CFA Program exam prep materials, registering early also means you’ll have a longer time frame over which to spread your preparation.

Hopefully this article answers most of your questions about Level III of the CFA Program exam. If you have additional questions, please reach out to our Student Support team. You can also find additional information in our blog. When you begin planning to sit for the exam, we strongly suggest watching Kaplan Schweser Level III manager David Hetherington’s video How to Pass Level III of the CFA Program Exam as a starting point.