2021 Level 1 CFA® Exam Topic Weights in Ranges

CFA Exam: Level 1 / Topics / 2021 Weights

Last Updated: Feb 22, 2021

As of the Dec 2020 exam, CFA Institute introduced new level 1 topic weights. Now, level 1 weights are given in ranges like for level 2 and level 3 exams.

The fact that 2021 level 1 CFA exam topic weights are given in ranges impacts your level 1 exam greatly. It means you won't know how many questions to expect exactly for each topic. But we give you a hint

Your CFA Exam:
2021 Level 1 Weights

CFA Exam Topics Level 1 Exam Weight
Ethics 15-20%
Quantitative Methods 8-12%
Economics 8-12%
Financial Reporting and Analysis 13-17%
Corporate Finance 8-12%
Equity Investments 10-12%
Fixed Income Investments 10-12%
Derivative Investments 5-8%
Alternative Investments 5-8%
Portfolio Management 5-8%

The table shows the current 2021 weights of all level 1 CFA exam topics.

Before the change, topic weights were given as single values and they were as follows: Ethics (15%), FRA (15%), EI (11%), FI (11%), QM (10%), ECO (10%), CF (10%), DI (6%), AI (6%), and PM (6%).

As you can see, the most important topics still are:

  • Ethical and Professional Standards (Ethics), and
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis (FRA).

You should devote around one third of your study time to these 2 topics.

Predicted Number of Questions in 2021 CFA Exams

Level 1 Topics

What you can see below in the 'Predicted no. of Questions' column is an example of how your level 1 exam questions may be distributed among the topics in your test. We also give you the minimum and the maximum number of questions for each topic. The values are derived from the new weight ranges given above.

Level 1 Topic MIN no. of Questions MAX no. of Questions Predicted no. of Questions Topic Group
Ethics 27 36 28 I
Quantitative Methods 15 21 18 II
Economics 15 21 18 II
Financial Reporting and Analysis 24 30 26 II
Corporate Finance 15 21 16 III
Equity Investments 18 21 20 IV
Fixed Income Investments 18 21 20 IV
Derivative Investments 9 14 10 IV
Alternative Investments 9 14 10 IV
Portfolio Management 9 14 14 III
SUM 159 213 180 -

IMPORTANT! As 2021 CFA exams move to computer-based testing, level 1 CFA exam includes a total of 180 multiple-choice questions, 90 in SESSION 1 and 90 in SESSION 2. The number of questions has been reduced from 2 x 120, i.e. 240 overall. Topics are now divided into 4 groups: (I) Ethics, (II) Investment Tools, (III) Corporate Finance and Portfolio Management, and (IV) Investment Assets. In your exam, questions may be shuffled within a group. You can rehearse the new 2021 exam format here

Our prediction is just an educated guess and the actual number of topic questions may differ when you take your exam. However, when all the 2021 CFA exam changes and the MIN and MAX weight ranges are considered, this is what you can expect in your 2021 level 1 CFA exam:


  • Group I, Ethics (28 questions)
  • Group II, Investment Tools: Quantitative Methods + Economics + FRA (18 + 18 + 26 questions)
  • Group I + Group II = 90 multiple-choice (a-b-c) questions
  • time: 135 min
  • average time per question = 1.5 min


  • Group III, Corporate Finance + Portfolio Management (16 + 14 questions)
  • Group IV, Investment Assets: Equities + Fixed Income + Derivatives + Alternative Investments (20 + 20 + 10 + 10 questions)
  • Group III + Group IV = 90 multiple-choice (a-b-c) questions
  • time: 135 min
  • average time per question = 1.5 min

TOTAL NO. OF QUESTIONS = 2 x 90 = 180 multiple-choice questions

TOTAL TESTING TIME = 2 x 135 min = 4 hrs 30 min

Averaged 2021 Level 1 CFA Exam Topic Weights

Here are the average level 1 topic weights for the 2021 CFA exams:

  • Ethics: 17.5%
  • FRA: 15%
  • Equity: 11%
  • Fixed Income: 11%
  • Quantitative Methods: 10%
  • Economics: 10%
  • Corporate Finance: 10%
  • Derivatives: 6.5%
  • Alternatives: 6.5%
  • Portfolio Management: 6.5%
  • TOTAL: 104%
  • Ethics: 17.5%
  • FRA: 15%
  • Equity: 11%
  • Fixed Income: 11%
  • Quantitative Methods: 10%
  • Economics: 10%
  • Corporate Finance: 10%
  • Derivatives: 6.5%
  • Alternatives: 6.5%
  • Portfolio Management: 6.5%
  • TOTAL: 104%

The pie chart below presents the level 1 topic weights as if they were single values – it uses the average weights, not ranges:

Avr. Level 1 CFA Exam Topic Weights in 2021

As you can see, the sum of all average topic weights is over 100%. That is why on the chart, you will see slightly lower values for the topics. This only proves that the weights given in ranges yield no certain outcomes when it comes to the number of questions in your exam. You can even expect a various number of questions for topics with the same exam weights, which we showed in one of the tables above. For example, you can get 14 questions for Portfolio Management but 10 questions for Alternatives even though both topics are in the same weight range.

IMPORTANT! Even though topic weights change, the difficulty of topics stays pretty much the same.

CFA Exam Topics Difficulty

The difficulty of topics is a subjective criterion. What is difficult for one candidate need not be difficult for another. When we define a topic as difficult, it means that the concepts it covers are usually said to be difficult.

3 hardest level 1 CFA exam topics: what are they & why?

Any easy topics in level 1 CFA exam?

While making your level 1 study plan, you should definitely take topics difficulty into account. Factor it in if you consider a certain topic (or its part) to be difficult (or easy). If you have no idea, though, you can count on our help. Our CFA Exam Study Planner, takes topics difficulty and importance into account. The proposed topic sequence is called Soleadea Topic Sequence and we believe it to be optimal (but you can easily change it if you want):

  • Soleadea Topic Sequence is: QM, PM, FRA, CF, FI, EI, DI, AI, ECO, ETH, and it's based on CFA exam topics length, difficulty, and importance,
  • more challenging topics are coupled with more easy ones allowing you to take a sort of break meanwhile,
  • where possible, topics are coupled based on the similarity of concepts,
  • we suggets that you study Ethics either at the beginning or at the end of your prep.

The time scheduled for each topic depends on its difficulty, the number of pages in the Curriculum, and the topic weights in your exam. While creating your personalized CFA exam study schedule, you can change the topic sequence according to your preferences:

It All Starts With Your
CFA Exam Study Plan


& customize it to suit your needs!

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