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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 meet the CFA exam requirements for Level I:
As noted above, as you pursue your CFA (chartered financial analyst) designation, 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 Level I 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.
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:
Paid internships and professional work experience at a family business qualify. CFA Institute does not ask for proof of work experience at the time of exam 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 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 exam 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:
$450 one-time enrollment fee
$700 – $1,340 registration fee per exam
$250 ($25 for 2021 exams) rescheduling fee, if applicable
Each level of the CFA exam is structured differently and focuses on different elements of the curriculum. CFA Institute determined through independent psychometric research that the exams could be significantly shorter than they were in prior years, and as a result each exam was reduced to 5.5 hours.
Total appointment time for each exam is now 5.5 hours, divided as follows:
Below is information on the curriculum, format, and structure of each exam.
Main curriculum focus: ethics and financial reporting and analysis
Cognitive objectives focus: knowledge, comprehension, and basic application of the material
Question format: 180 multiple-choice questions divided into two 135-minute sessions
Main curriculum focus: financial reporting and analysis, equity investments, and fixed income
Cognitive objectives focus: advanced application, analysis, and synthesis of the material
Question format: vignette-supported multiple-choice questions
Main curriculum focus: portfolio management and wealth planning
Cognitive objectives focus: advanced analysis and synthesis of the material as well as evaluation of the materials and methods used in a particular context
Question format: vignette-supported constructed response questions and vignette-supported multiple-choice questions
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.
Exams for all three levels are now available only as computer-based testing.
The available schedule for the Level I exam is:
Registration for the 2022 Level I February exam is November 1, 2021.
The schedule for all CFA exams will be:
Although there will be four opportunities to take the Level I CFA exam each year, you will likely only be able to register to take the exam twice per year.
This means you will not be able to take adjacent Level I exams, conforming to CFA Institute’s desire to have six months between a failed exam and a retake or a successful exam and the next level exam.
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:
Start early. Give yourself at least six months to study.
Plan for a minimum of 300 study hours per exam. Shoot for 15 hours per week.
Plan for procrastination. Procrastination can lead to not having enough time to adequately prepare, so anticipate wanting to procrastinate and have a plan to combat it.
Use a trusted CFA exam prep course. Using a program of study from a CFA Institute Approved Prep Provider (APP), like Wiley’s CFA Program Exam Review, exposes you to a personalized self-study course taught by industry-expert instructors.
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.
Rather than provide topic area breakdowns of candidate performance, CFA Institute now provides a visual metric for the exam as a whole and each topic area.
The dashed line represents the bottom of the top decile (90% and over); the dotted line shows the top of the bottom decile (10% and under). The shaded area represents your true score with 90 percent confidence while the solid black line represents your score on this exam. Your true score is the mean score you will likely have if you could take a similar exam many times.
CFA takes a similar approach to each topic area:
As with the total score, you can be more confident that you mastered the topic area as your score rises over 70.
Here is the most recent CFA exam pass rate information reported by CFA Institute:
CFA Exam Pass Rates
May 2021 CFA Level I exam pass rate: 25%
May 2021 CFA Level II exam pass rate: 40%
December 2020 Level III exam pass rate: 56%
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.
CFA Institute has responded to the extraordinarily low Level I pass rates for the May 2021 exam.
In general, CFA Institute indicated that various scheduling changes related to the pandemic likely contributed to the lower pass rates. The December 2020 rates were less affected, but the May 2021 candidates may have been deferred for up to a year.
Long-term pass rates are available from CFA Institute here.
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 client interests ahead of 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:
CFA Level I Exam Plan
CFA Level II Exam Plan
CFA Level III Exam Plan
Becoming a CFA charterholder can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With the proper support and trusted study materials, you’ll be well on your way to earning this coveted credential. Plus, all your hard work is guaranteed to pay off when you start to enjoy better job prospects and other advantages because of having the charter.