CFA examination scheme

The CFA examinations are divided into three Levels: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.

Their curriculums are broken down into the following topic areas:

CFA Exam Topic Area Weights

Topic Area Level 1% Level 2% Level 3%
Ethical and Professional Standards 15 10-15 10-15
Corporate Finance 7 5-15 0
Economics 10 5-10 5-15
Financial Reporting and Analysis 20 15-20 0
Quantitative Methods 12 5-10 0
Alternative Investments 4 5-10 5-15
Derivatives 5 5-15 5-15
Equity Investments 10 15-25 5-15
Fixed Income 10 15-20 10-20
Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning 7 5-10 40-55
Total 100 100 100


Note: Actual exam weights may vary slightly from year to year. Please note that some topics are combined for testing purposes.

CFA Level 1 Examination

The Level 1 examination consists of just 240 multiple choice questions (MCQs) which must be completed in a six-hour time frame.

  • 120 MCQs are examined on the morning session of the exam which has duration of 3 hours
  • The remaining 120 MCQs are examined on the afternoon session which has again duration of 3 hours.

Each item on the Level 1multiple choice exam consists of a question, a statement, and/or table and has three possible answers: A, B, and C. All questions are equally weighted and there is no penalty for guessing.


CFA Level 2 Examination

The Level 2 examination consists of 20 item sets — 10 item set questions in the morning session of the exam and 10 on the afternoon session.

Item sets are sometimes called “mini-cases.” Each item set on the CFA exam consists of a case statement and six multiple choice items (questions).Therefore on the Level 2 exam, you will have a total of 120 items (20”mini cases” (item sets) with 6 items each).

The length of a “mini case” ranges from about 1 page to 2.5 pages. The longer “mini-cases” are those that include several tables of information, such as for a financial statement analysis, statistics, or fixed-income item set. The average length of the vignettes on the exam is about 1.5 pages.

The six items in each item set can only be answered based on the information in the “mini case”. Hence, the items are not free-standing (as in Level 1), but are drawn from the “mini case”. The six items can be answered independently of each other, but they do require information in the “mini case.”

The Level 2 exam is graded for 360 points, corresponding to the number of minutes on the exam. The 120 Level 2 items are equally weighted, 3 points each, with no penalty for guessing.


CFA Level 3 Examination

The Level 3 examination uses the essay format in the morning, and the item set format, with 10 item sets, in the afternoon.

The Level 3 essay exam is given in the morning session. The essay exam typically has 8–12 questions, and questions may have multiple parts. The points for each question and each question part are given in the exam. Each essay question consists of one or more parts (A, B, C, etc.).

The Level 3 exam is graded for 360 points, corresponding to the number of minutes on the exam. At Level 3, the morning essay exam is 180 points and the afternoon item set exam is 180 points.


Minimum Passing Score (MPS)

The minimum passing score (MPS) for each level of the exam is determined by the CFA Institute Board of Governors each year after the administration of the exams.  The Board's determination is based largely on standard setters' evaluation of exam difficulty, which can vary from one administration to the next. The minimum passing score for the exam is determined by many factors, and is not a predetermined or specific percentage of the points either for individual topic areas or for the entire exam.

As long as you achieve a total score above the minimum passing score (MPS) set by the CFA Institute Board of Governors, you would pass the exam regardless of your performance on any individual topic.


Exam progression rules

The three exams — Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 — must be passed sequentially as one of the requirements for earning a CFA charter.

Candidates may register for only one exam at a time, and must wait to receive their exam results before registering for the next exam. Candidates who fail an exam are encouraged to re-take the exam. You can take as much time as you need before registering for the next exam.