Woman sitting at desk studying for the CFA Exam - Kaplan Schweser

Posted By: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: July 10, 2018

While it’s common to hear people say they are “studying for the CFA® exam,” the CFA Program actually includes a series of three exams: Levels I, II, and III. Each exam is offered annually at test centers around the globe on the fourth Saturday in June. Level I is offered an additional time each December. As you’d expect, the exams get more difficult with each level. It is recommended that a candidate study for a minimum of 300 hours per level to pass the exam. (A solid study plan and an exam prep package can go a long way toward making those 300 hours effective.)

The Level I exam consists of basic knowledge and comprehension questions focused on investment tools, while the Level II exam requires more complex analysis and focus on valuing assets. The Level III exam combines all of the concepts and analytical methods in a number of applications for effective portfolio management and wealth planning.

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

CFA Exam Topics

The Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) and core concepts on the CFA exams are built from the Candidate Body of Knowledge™, which is developed by CFA Institute. While the curriculum is updated every exam cycle, all three levels of the CFA exam focus on the same 10 topic areas. Exam weights vary by level and can change slightly from year to year. The following topic areas are covered:

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

Pass Rates and Exam Results

Everyone who takes a CFA exam is provided with a “pass” or “did not pass” exam result and a summary of performance in each topic area. Level I and II results are released within 60 days of the exam date and Level III within 90 days.

The CFA exams are notorious for their difficulty. In June 2016, CFA exam pass rates were:

  • Level I: 43%
  • Level II: 46%
  • Level III: 54%

To pass, a candidate needs to meet the minimum passing score (MPS), which is never given and varies year-to-year. Candidates will receive an indicator of the score range for each topic area instead (<50%, 51-70%, >70%), along with their final result. Level III candidates are provided with only two topic area summaries, one reflecting the essay portion and one reflecting the item set portion.

Individuals who do not pass the exam are also given more information about their performance relative to all other candidates who did not pass. All candidates who did not pass are divided into 10 equal score bands, which shows how well an individual score compares with the overall scores of others who did not pass.

Now that you’ve got a good handle on what the CFA exam is all about, find out if you have what it takes to be a CFA charterholder.