Quick Ways to Uncover the Content

Level 1 & Level 2


LAST UPDATED: March 26, 2020

CFA exam / Curriculum



CFA® Program Curriculum: Quick Ways to Uncover the Content

Level 1 & Level 2




2020 CFA Exam Curriculum
Also in 2021

That’s big news!

There will be no new CFA Program curriculum in 2021. It means that the 2020 curriculum will apply to all CFA exams taking place at all 2021 exam dates.

CFA Institute made this decision because of the COVID-19 pandemic and postponed June 2020 exams. Below, we describe the 2020 curriculum in detail.


CFA Program Curriculum:
Richly Detailed Source of Knowledge

CFA Program curriculum is a richly detailed source of knowledge. There’s a separate curriculum for each of the 3 levels of the CFA exam. So, there’s:

  • level 1 curriculum,
  • level 2 curriculum, and
  • level 3 curriculum.

The curriculum is aimed at developing the key skills and abilities that investment professionals need to possess. Every level of the exam focuses on different skills and abilities and covers different areas of essential knowledge.

Here, we concentrate on the two first levels of the exam but some of the information may be useful also to level 3 candidates, who are kindly recommended to see our post about the level 3 CFA exam.




Level 1 CFA Exam Books
vs Level 2 Books

A digital version of your CFA exam curriculum will be available to you after you register for the exam you're about to take. You can also buy a print version of the curriculum. Then, you will get a set of six books. Naturally, the digital curriculum is also divided into books (volumes).

The reason why the CFA Program curriculum is divided into books is its length. It's reeeally leeengthy. It’s more than 3000 pages to read and study for both your level 1 and level 2 exams.

CFA exam books are then further divided into smaller portions:

books (volumes) topics study sessions readings



CFA Program Curriculum in Numbers

books

topics

study sessions

readings

Level 1 Curriculum

6

10

19

57

Level 2 Curriculum

6

10

17

48

Level 1 Curriculum

6 volumes

10 topics

19 study sessions

57 readings


Level 2 Curriculum

6 volumes

10 topics

17 study sessions

48 readings


LEVEL 1 CFA EXAM BOOKS & TOPICS

There are 6 level 1 CFA exam books that include 10 topics.

The first level 1 CFA exam book includes 2 topics, namely Ethics and Quantitative Methods. The next 2 books are Economics and FRA, respectively. The fourth book is Corporate Finance and Equity. Then, there's Fixed Income and Derivatives. And the last sixth volume covers Alternative Investments and Portfolio Management. It's presented in the level 1 column of the table below.


CFA Exam Books & Topics

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

Volume 5

Volume 6

Level 1 Curriculum

Ethical and Professional Standards + Quantitative Methods

Economics

Financial Reporting and Analysis

Corporate Finance + Equity

Fixed Income + Derivatives

Alternative Investments + Portfolio Management

Level 2 Curriculum

Ethical and Professional Standards + Quantitative Methods + Economics

Financial Reporting and Analysis

Corporate Finance

Equity

Fixed Income + Derivatives

Alternative Investments + Portfolio Management

Level 1 Curriculum

Volume 1: Ethical and Professional Standards + Quantitative Methods

Volume 2: Economics

Volume 3: Financial Reporting and Analysis

Volume 4: Corporate Finance + Equity

Volume 5: Fixed Income + Derivatives

Volume 6: Alternative Investments + Portfolio Management


Level 2 Curriculum

Volume 1: Ethical and Professional Standards + Quantitative Methods + Economics

Volume 2: Financial Reporting and Analysis

Volume 3: Corporate Finance

Volume 4: Equity

Volume 5: Fixed Income + Derivatives

Volume 6: Alternative Investments + Portfolio Management


LEVEL 2 CFA EXAM BOOKS & TOPICS

For level 2, there are also 6 books and 10 topics. Level 2 topics are the same as level 1 topics and their order is identical. However, they are divided into books differenty as shown in the table above. Why the difference? From the candidate's point of view, there may be no logical explanation to this question. True, there are only 3 readings for Ethics now (no more GIPSes) and only 1 study session for Economics. But the first book is like 800 pages long, whereas e.g. the FRA book is like a half of it, with roughly 400 pages.


Study Sessions & CFA Exam Readings

L1 & L2 Topics L1 Study Sessions L1 Readings L2 Study Sessions L2 Readings
Ethics 1 5 1 3
Quantitative Methods 2 6 2 6
Economics 2 7 1 3
Financial Reporting and Analysis 4 12 2 6
Corporate Finance 2 5 2 5
Equity 2 6 3 8
Fixed Income 2 6 2 5
Derivatives 1 2 1 2
Alternative Investments 1 1 1 4
Portfolio Management 2 7 2 6


STUDY SESSIONS

Each level 1 and level 2 topic has its study sessions which are further divided into readings.

In your curriculum, you will find the study sessions enumerated before you start each topic. There, you will also see the so-called topic level learning outcome which – in general terms – describes what you should know after reading and studying each topic.

CFA EXAM READINGS

For every CFA exam reading, there is also a more detailed list of things you should be able to do when you’re through with the reading. These are the so-called learning outcomes (LOSes) – note the command words used to define the skills and abilities you should acquire.

As a rule, all readings are obligatory and they form the basis for the exam. However, there are also some optional segments in the CFA Program curriculum. These fragments are clearly marked as optional and they give you some additional information you will not be tested on in your exam. They are included in the curriculum alongside the required bits to make you understand things better.

All throughout the readings, you will find many bolded words and phrases. These are the words and phrases that have been defined for you in the glossary (available at the end of every volume for your convenience). There are also numerous examples, tables, figures, exhibits, and formulas. Their role is to illustrate and better describe the concepts and situations explained in the curriculum.

Each reading closes up with a bulleted summary followed by practice problems (end-of-reading questions) with solutions.


Note that all the examples, tables, figures, exhibits, formulas, and practice problems are part of the curriculum and they form the required segments. Take this to your heart because exam questions are often based on the examples in the curriculum or the end-of-reading questions. Exam questions are also based on one or more LOSes.


CFA Exam Topic Weights

Topics are given different exam weights if you compare level 1 and level 2 CFA exams. It means you will get a different number of questions for a particular topic depending on whether you’re a level 1 or a level 2 candidate (for level 1 topic weights, see here, and for level 2 topic weights, see here).

So, depending on the exam level, the focus is on different topics:

as a level 1 candidate, you should particularly focus on Financial Reporting and Analysis, Ethics, and Quantitative Methods. These are the 3 most important level 1 topics. Also, Equity and Fixed Income are given high weights in the level 1 exam. Moreover, Fixed Income, Derivatives, and FRA are considered to be the 3 most difficult level 1 topics.

as a level 2 candidate, you should put effort into Equity Investments, Financial Reporting and Analysis, Fixed Income, and Derivatives. Equity has always been important in the level 2 exam (though its weight got reduced in 2019) and the last 3 topics are the most challenging when their difficulty is taken into account. Also, never ignore Ethics and pay attention to Portfolio Management, which gets particularly significant in the level 3 exam!


Form and Focus of the Exam

most important topics

most difficult topics

focus of the exam

form of the exam

Level 1 CFA Exam

FRA, Ethics, QM, EI, FI

FI, DI, FRA

investment tools (comprehension)

multiple choice questions

Level 2 CFA Exam

EI, FRA, FI, Ethics, PM

FI, DI, FRA

asset valuation (analysis)

item sets (vignettes)

Level 1 CFA Exam

most important topics: FRA, Ethics, QM, EI, FI

most difficult topics: FI, DI, FRA

focus of the exam: investment tools (comprehension)

form of the exam: multiple choice questions


Level 2 CFA Exam

most important topics: EI, FRA, FI, Ethics, PM

most difficult topics: FI, DI, FRA

focus of the exam: asset valuation (analysis)

form of the exam: item sets (vignettes)



When studying your CFA Program curriculum, you will do wisely if at the back of your mind you will remember also about the form and focus of your exam. Both of these aspects should determine the way you prepare:

if you’re a level 1 candidate, be sure you develop the general understanding of investment tools.

if you’re a level 2 candidate, focus on asset valuation and practice your analytical skills.

Also, get accustomed to the form of the exam – test your knowledge as often as possible using exam-type questions to optimize your chances of passing the exam.


You can find exam-type QUESTIONS inside our CFA Exam Study Planner:



CFA Program Curriculum – Summing Up

Let’s state it explicitly: To pass your CFA exam, you must know your curriculum well. So, if you don’t have enough time to read it from cover to cover (or from the first to last e-page), you should at least flick (or scroll) through it every now and then and study the bolded bits or analyze different examples, practice problems or exhibits.

Many CFA exam candidates find it easier to absorb their curriculum if they can get some help. That's what we're for – to give you compact but comprehensive study materials that can facilitate your studying.

Our printable notes for CFA exam readings and bite-sized videos:

  • give you a solid background for your further detailed study of the curriculum,
  • are easy to digest because they are based on core issues and illustrated with numerous examples,
  • are great for revision time.

You can find NOTES & VIDEOS inside our CFA Exam Study Planner:



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