TABLE OF CONTENTS
Before you can register for the Level I CFA exam, you must meet CFA exam requirements such as qualified work/education experience.
Experience required to take the Level I CFA exam include:
As noted above, a completed bachelor’s program qualifies you to take the CFA exam, but you also qualify if you have completed an equivalent program or are a final-year student in a bachelor’s or equivalent program. However, you must complete your educational program before you can register for the Level II exam. You can consult your college or university to inquire about whether your program is equivalent to that of a bachelor’s degree. To validate your education, CFA Institute may request a copy of your degree, marksheet, or other documents.
Taking the CFA exam as a student may be beneficial because you often have more time to prepare for the exams than you would while working a full-time professional job, and once you graduate, it can set you apart from other job seekers. However, it also means sacrificing other extracurricular activities and possibly networking opportunities, so it is important to weigh the pros and cons when considering when to enroll.
Applicants to the CFA program must have a combination of four years (or 48 months) of full-time work experience and/or college/university education on the date of registering for the Level I exam. To meet CFA Program education requirement, professional work experience must be full-time and dates of employment cannot overlap with education. Eligible work experience is not limited to financial markets experience but should show that the applicant has highly developed judgement and business skills. CFA Institute stipulates that the job must require skills such as:
CFA Institute does not ask for proof of work experience at the time of registration. To verify that work experience meets CFA Program requirements, CFA Institute may request documentation proving employment, payment (such as pay slips), or other relevant information.
Once you have determined that you meet CFA exam requirements, you can register for the Level I CFA exam. Registration fees for the program and exam must be submitted with your application. Candidates meeting CFA Program requirements can register for the CFA exam on the CFA Institute website.
CFA Institute charges a one-time enrollment fee of $450 to register for the CFA Program and a $1,000 standard CFA registration fee for each of the three exams. You can save up to $300 per exam by enrolling during the early registration period (about 4 months before the exam).
One-time Enrollment Fee
Early Registration Fee
Standard Registration Fee
Rescheduling a previously selected exam date typically requires payment of an additional $250 fee. This has been reduced to $25 for 2021 exams.
To recap, enrollment and registration fees include a:
Each level of the CFA exam is structured differently and focuses on different elements of the curriculum. Below is information on the curriculum, format, and structure of each exam.
Each exam must be passed sequentially; that is, Level I exam must be passed before taking Level II, and Level II must be passed before taking Level III.
CFA Institute has identified the following curriculum topics covered in the CFA Program exams:
While several topics may be tested at every level, you may only see some topics on exams for one or two levels. However, CFA Institute suggests that material from prior levels may be tested on a higher level.
Most candidates take 4-5 years to take and pass all levels of the CFA exam, and successful candidates spend around 300 hours studying for each level. Here are some key points to consider when making your study plan:
It will take up to 60 days to receive your results for the Level I and Level II exams and up to 90 days to receive your results for the Level III exam. CFA Institute Board of Governors sets a minimum passing score (MPS) on an exam-to-exam basis to help normalize results for exam difficulty. Your results will be reported as either “pass” or “did not pass.” If you score in the 70 to 80 range, you will likely pass the exams. Here is the most recent CFA exam pass rate information reported by CFA Institute:
As you can see, less than half of candidates pass the first two levels of the exam, and just over half pass the Level III exam. So, shoot for a 70% average score across the topic areas as you do practice questions and exams to give yourself the best chance of passing each exam the first time.
After meeting all CFA Program requirements and passing all three levels of the CFA exam, the last step to securing your CFA designation is becoming a CFA Institute member. To do this, you must:
You are eligible to become a CFA Regular Member if you meet the CFA Program requirements for professional work and/or education experience and have a passing score for the CFA Level I Exam, CIPM Program Level II Exam, RBA Netherlands Exam, or the self-administered Standards of Practice Exam. The membership year starts on July 1st and ends on June 30th, so your first payment for annual dues will be pro-rated if you are a first time CFA Institute Member.
Ethics, integrity, and professionalism are cornerstones of CFA Institute expectations and requirements for CFA charterholders. The Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct require that all CFA Institute members act with professionalism and integrity as it applies to capital markets, duties to clients, recommendations, and conflicts of interest. And they must always prioritize the integrity of the profession and put the interests of their clients above their own.
Becoming a CFA charterholder communicates that you have an advanced understanding of investment analysis, real-world portfolio management skills, and professional ethical standards. Earning a CFA designation and showing that you have unmatched expertise in investment management can mean access to:
On average, it takes over four years to become a CFA, but if you have already met the education and/or work requirements needed to qualify for CFA Program enrollment, it is possible to become a CFA charterholder in less than two years if you pass each exam on the first try.
To become a CFA charterholder in under 2 years, your plan would look something like this:
Are you ready for the CFA® Program exam?
Take our free CFA Program practice exam to see where you stand.