Your Complete Guide to Cracking the CFA Exam

The next Level I CFA Exam, or Chartered Financial Analyst exam, is coming up on December 2. Candidates for Level I exams spend an average of 287 hours studying all 10 topics covered in the test, meaning now is the time to study.

To help get you started, here’s a complete guide to cracking the CFA exam.

Why Take the CFA Exam?

Passing the CFA exam provides opportunities for financiers to earn higher pay, find new jobs and update their knowledge of the current market. In fact, over 31,000 investments firms around the world consider the CFA credential as the standard choice for professionals in the industry.

Add that to the fact that CFA charterholders with bachelor degrees earn about $154,025 while non-charterholders with the same qualifications may only earn around $85,875.

There are three levels and over 2,000 curriculum pages to a CFA exam. It takes candidates about four years to pass all three phases, and only one out of every five candidates will succeed.

What Will the Exams Consist of?

The CFA exams are offered yearly in June on the first Saturday of the month. However, the Level I exam is also offered in December. All three levels must be taken and passed in sequence and all exams are given only in English.

Level I

Pass rate: 43%
The Level I CFA exam consists of 240 multiple-choice questions that test a candidate’s knowledge of the professional and ethical standards of the industry.

Level II

Pass rate: 46%
The Level II CFA exam provides 20 sets of case studies, with each set consisting of 6 multiple choice questions. This level will test the ability of the candidate to apply the standards in various situations.

Level III

Pass rate: 53%
The Level III exam consists of 10-item sets with 10 multi-part essay questions. The questions will be based on the application of standards in the context of portfolio management and compliance.

What Topics Are Covered in the CFA Exams?

To prepare for and pass the CFA exam, candidates should study the following topics:
● Fixed income
● Equity investments
● Corporate finance
● Portfolio management
● Economics
● Derivatives
● Quantitative methods
● Alternative investments
● Financial reporting and analysis
● Ethics and professional standards

What Can I Do to Prepare for and Successfully Take the CFA Exams?

Like I said before, candidates for Level I exams spend an average of 287 hours studying, while those who prepare for Level II spend an average of 315 hours and Level III candidates study for about 327 hours.

Here are some tips and strategies for successfully taking the exam:

  • Preparedness is key to passing the CFA exams. Keep yourself informed of any changes and create a plan for study to help you manage your time.
  • Use your time wisely to keep a balance across the topics that will be covered. If you can, find someone to study with. The exchange of information will help facilitate better learning and retention.
  • Expect the exams to be stressful, so learn to manage stress to avoid over thinking and panicking. Time is limited during the exam but do not neglect the details. These are usually the areas where important information may be found.
  • Use your calculator often to familiarize yourself with its functions. At least one month before taking the exam, read all the necessary resources and begin the final reviews. Use mock exams to your advantage and take a minimum of five to get used to the process.
  • Become familiar with the exam. Level I has a testing format that consists of two 3-hour sessions. During these periods, you will be writing a lot, so practice how to write efficiently and legibly.
  • Learn to manage your time. Focusing on what needs to be done will help you work better and faster. Level I, for example, has 40 questions for every hour, so you have 90 seconds to work on each question.
Need more help?

The CFA Institute provides a number of resources for candidates including curriculum e-books, planners for interactive study, topic reviews, mock exams and mobile apps.7

To learn more about positioning yourself to successfully pass these prestigious exams, check out this infographic created by Ohio University’s Master of Financial Economics program.

Infographic Credit –


Author: Madeline Harris

Madeline Harris is a recruitment and human resources specialist professionally, but a writer at heart. When she isn’t watching basketball or trying out a new recipe, she enjoys reading, discovering new music, and making connections with people of various backgrounds and cultures. View all posts by Madeline Harris