CFA Level I Exam Quick Facts

  • You must pass three CFA exam levels sequentially; that is, Level I, then Level II, then Level III.
  • You must pass lower-level exams before taking an exam for the next level.
  • To enroll to take the Level I CFA exam, you must pay a one-time $450 CFA Program enrollment fee.
  • The Level I CFA exam registration fee is $700 for early registration and $1,000 for standard registration.
  • Recommended study time is over 300 hours.

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How to Study for the Level I CFA Exam

Here are 5 key steps to study for the Level I CFA exam.

1. Plan your Level I CFA exam date

Your choice of exam date determines how much time you have to study. Candidates have indicated an average study time for each level of over 300 hours. Divide 300 hours by the number of hours you can study each month to determine the number of months you will need to study. Pick the next exam outside the number of months you will need to study.

The 2022 Level I CFA exam is offered in February, May, August, and November.

Learn more about the current CFA exam dates.

2. Register for the Level I CFA exam date

First, enroll in the CFA Program, pay the one-time $450 enrollment fee, and pay the $1,000 exam registration fee (you can save $300 by registering early). Then, access your CFA Program tile to self-schedule your exam by the scheduling deadline.

3. Schedule regular time to study

You’ll want to budget over 300 hours to study for the Level I CFA exam. If you’re studying for 50 hours per month, that’s approximately 12 hours per week, so your schedule might include 1 hour of studying every weeknight and just over 3 hours on weekend days.

Learn more about Wiley CFA Level I Study Supplements and how they can help keep your study schedule on track.

4. Invest in course materials that help you pass the Level I CFA exam

The Level I CFA exam has the lowest pass rate, likely because candidates underestimate its difficulty. That’s why it’s so important to invest in course materials that adequately prepare you to pass the first time.

Wiley offers many different CFA program review courses that come with a Score Predictor that reliably estimates how well you’ll do on the exam based on your course performance.

This feature coupled with 30-45-minute bite-sized lessons, expert mentors, video lessons, practice exams, and more will get you prepared to pass the CFA Level I exam on your first try.

5. Expect to pass the Level I CFA exam

Go into the exam with positive expectations. Many of the candidates that fail the Level I CFA exam did not adequately prepare. If you study for at least 300 hours, use Wiley CFA study materials, and pace yourself, you have set yourself up for success and should feel good about that.

Level I CFA Exam Pass Rate

According to CFA Institute, the 10-year average pass rate for the Level I CFA exam is 41% compared to 44% for the CFA exam overall. It is considered the “easiest” of the three exam levels but still has the lowest pass rate. Less qualified candidates who do not pass the Level I exam often self-select out of the program leaving better-qualified candidates to take subsequent exams.

Recent Level I pass rates have been historically low, ranging between 22% and 26% from May-August 2021. This dip is likely due to test schedule disruptions resulting from COVID-19 and pass rates are expected to recover. Regardless, with the right preparation, you can be part of the percentage that passes.

Read our blog on the history of Level I CFA exam pass rates for more information.

Level I CFA Exam Weights and Reading Materials

The Level I CFA exam aims to establish a baseline of knowledge for all CFA exam topic areas, so it’s a well-balanced exam with topic area weights ranging from 5%-20%. According to CFA Institute, successful candidates in 2019 spent an average of 303 hours studying for the Level I exam.

You can prepare your study and reading materials by reviewing the CFA program curriculum and/or investing in a CFA exam test prep service.

CFA Exam Topic Area

Level I Topic Weight (%)

Ethical & Professional Standards15-20
Quantitative Methods8-12
Economics8-12
Financial Statement Analysis13-17
Corporate Issuers8-12
Equity Investments10-12
Fixed Income10-12
Derivatives5-8
Alternative Investments5-8
Portfolio Management & Wealth Planning5-8

Understanding the CFA Level I Topic Weights is crucial to building your study plan and passing the exam.

Level I CFA Exam Structure

The Level I CFA exam lasts 4 hours and 30 minutes with 180 free-standing multiple-choice questions. The exam is evenly divided into two sessions with an optional break in between.

The Level I exam tests all topic areas to some degree but focuses on investment tools, financial statement analysis, and ethical and professional standards. The exam questions primarily test knowledge and comprehension with some testing of a candidate’s ability to apply knowledge and analyze data.

  • Level I CFA exam, Session #1:
    • 2 hours and 15 minutes
    • 90 multiple-choice questions
    • Covers ethics and investment tools (quantitative methods, economics, and financial statement analysis)

  • Level I CFA exam, Session #2:
    • 2 hours and 15 minutes
    • 90 multiple-choice questions
    • Covers Portfolio Management and Analysis (corporate finance and portfolio management) as well as Assets (equity investments, fixed income investments, derivatives, and alternative investments)

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Level I CFA Exam Curriculum

Ethics and Professional Standards

Ethics and Professional Standards make up 15-20% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 27-36 questions on this topic. Candidates will be tested on their ability to recognize violations of CFA Institute’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct.

Quantitative Methods

Quantitative Methods makes up 8-12% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 14-22 questions on this topic. This topic covers concepts and techniques related to financial analysis and investment decision-making.

Economics

Economics makes up 8-12% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 14-22 questions on this topic. This area will test basic supply and demand concepts related to individual consumers and firms as well as the market structures and economic conditions under which firms operate.

Financial Statement Analysis

Financial Statement Analysis makes up 13-17% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 25-31 questions on this topic. Candidates will be tested on their comprehension of the effect of alternative accounting approaches on basic financial statements and reporting outcomes.

Corporate Issuers

Corporate Issuers make up 8-12% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 14-22 questions on this topic. This area tests corporate governance, investing for environmental considerations, making use of leverage, and managing working capital.

Equity Investments

Equity Investments makes up 10-12% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 8-22 questions on this topic. Candidates will be tested on the general aspects of the equity investing environment as well as their ability to analyze basic information about markets, companies, and securities with limited emphasis on valuation.

Fixed Income

Fixed Income makes up 10-12% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 8-22 questions on this topic. This section tests candidates’ understanding of yield measures, risk factors, and valuation measurements and drivers with a limited focus on credit analysis.

Derivatives

Derivatives make up 5-8% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 9-15 questions on this topic. Candidates must understand derivatives and derivative markets. Candidates will also be tested on their understanding of how arbitrage is linked to derivative pricing.

Alternative Investments

Alternative Investments makes up 5-8% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 9-15 questions on this topic. Candidates will primarily be tested in this area on defining characteristics of hedge funds, private equity, real estate, commodities, and infrastructure as well as their roles in the portfolio.

Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

Portfolio Management makes up 5-8% of the Level I CFA exam with a potential 9-15 questions on this topic. Candidates must demonstrate a basic knowledge of concepts related to portfolio and risk management.

Taking the Level I CFA Exam

As you prepare for exam day, consider your plan for the night before the exam and what you will bring to the exam.

As you go through final preparations make sure to check out our last-minute CFA exam tips.

The night before taking the Level I CFA exam

The night before the exam is not the time to cram. Relaxing, eating healthy meals, and getting a good night’s sleep are all going to aid in passing the exam far more than stressing over any last-minute studying. Try to practice your positive thinking and mentally prepare to go into the exam feeling your best!

What to bring into CFA exam

You may only bring a few permitted items into the CFA exam. According to CFA Institute, those items are:

  • Texas Instruments BA II Plus and the Hewlett Packard 12C calculator
  • Calculator cases, keystroke cards, and loose batteries
  • Eyeglasses (no eyeglass cases), which may be checked for camera devices
  • Approved personal items (such as necessary medical devices)
  • Valid international passport

Any other items will need to be left in your car or stored in a designated area in your testing center outside of the testing room. See CFA Institute’s CFA Exam Personal Belongings Policy for more information.

After You Take the Level I CFA Exam

After taking the Level I CFA exam, you await your results. Based on whether you passed or did not pass, you either prepare to retake the Level I exam or prepare for the Level II exam.

When do you get your scores back from the Level I CFA exam?

You will receive your Level I CFA exam results via email within approximately 60 days of your exam date. Results are released 8-10 weeks after the exam window has closed.

What if you don’t pass the Level I CFA exam?

First off, don’t panic (we know, easier said than done). But many successful CFA Charterholders didn’t pass Level I on their first try. Next, register for the Level I exam again and pay the exam registration fee ($700 for early registration or $1,000 for standard registration).

Then, self-schedule the exam for at least 6 months after your original exam date (CFA Institute only allows you to take 1 exam every 6 months). Lastly, get back to studying immediately. The second time around you’ll likely want to focus on practice questions and mock exams to evaluate your preparedness.

It’s also a good idea to study with a CFA exam review course (like Wiley CFA Program Exam Review) that comes with Unlimited Access Until You Pass so you don’t have to worry about losing access to your study materials if you have to retake the exam.

Prepare for Level II CFA exam

If you pass Level I (congrats!), it’s time to prepare for Level II. CFA Institute only allows candidates to take 2 exams per year, so you will schedule Level II for at least 6 months after your Level I exam date.

Level II will likely take more time to prepare for than Level I.

According to CFA Institute, candidates that pass Level II spend an average of 328 hours studying (as opposed to 303 for Level I). So, schedule your Level II exam and start studying!

Ready to take the CFA exam? Compare Wiley’s CFA Review Course options now.

Level I CFA Exam – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are quick answers to some frequently asked questions about the Level I CFA exam.

  • No. The Level I CFA exam has the lowest pass rate out of the three CFA exams. It is generally considered the “easiest” of the three because it tests the material using lower-level cognitive skills and consists of all multiple-choice questions, but it is also often underestimated, resulting in the low pass rate.
  • $1,150 – $1,450. The first time you take the Level I CFA exam, you will have to pay a one-time enrollment fee of $450. In addition, the Level I CFA exam registration fee is $700 for early registration and $1,000 for standard registration.
  • Meet all CFA Program enrollment requirements. These include either completing a bachelor’s program, being a student in the final year of an undergraduate program, or having 4,000 hours of work experience and/or higher education. Other requirements include having an international travel passport, being prepared to take the exams in English, meeting the Professional Conduct Admission Criteria, and living in a participating country.
  • 44% (this is the overall 10-year average pass rate).
  • Complete the minimum recommended study hours (over 300 hours per exam), and study with a robust CFA Exam Review Course like Wiley CFA Program Exam Review.