Way back in 1963, when the very first CFA exam was given, there was just one level, and 94% of the 284 candidates passed. Of course, the exam (and everything else) has changed a whole bunch since then. Now the pass rate is a lot lower, and as you plan your studies, it’s important to know where it’s most important to spend most of your time and energy.

Check out the chart below, with data from a poll of candidates who took the exam in June 2013 and 2014. As we’ve mentioned before, Ethics turns out to be surprisingly hard, and it was a major stumbling block for these test-takers, too. (It might not be quite as surprising to see that Fixed Income and Derivatives were also rated as difficult by more than two-thirds of those polled in both years.) But really, no section was a walk in the park: all of them were rated difficult by at least half of those polled.

difficult topics cfa oct

As you think about which subjects to spend the most time on, you’ll also want to think about how much each section contributes to your overall score. The chart below, which uses data from the CFA Institute, shows just how each section is weighted from level to level. Derivatives, for instance, may be worth up to 15% of your score in Level II and III, but they are worth only 5% of your Level I score. Of course, you’ll also want to factor in your personal experience with the topics.

topic percentages chart