CFA Exam Explained Step by Step

We lead you through the CFA exam maze

First, there is a thought: Why not become a CFA charterholder? You embrace the idea and start your research into the topic. Since your research is thorough, you soon find out that you’ve set out on a long and difficult journey. While the CFA road can have its twists and turns, there are ways to make it much less bumpy and a lot nicer.

Let us guide you through the meanders of the CFA labyrinth the easiest way. It is not to say there will be no ups and downs. You may stumble now and then. But we can promise you will not get lost in the complexities of the CFA exam. Soleadea is the place to give you a comprehensive support: solid information about the CFA certification, all kinds of CFA study materials and unique practical tips.

Choose the stage you’re at and see how you like it with us:

How to become a CFA charterholder?

CFA designation can be awarded when you pass all 3 levels of the exam. First you need to pass the CFA level 1 exam, then CFA level 2, and finally CFA level 3. To become a CFA charterholder, you must also meet other CFA requirements.

The stages described below basically apply to all the 3 levels of the CFA exam.

CFA Registration

  • Register before the second registration fee deadline passes and do not overpay.
  • Do not register for the exam before you get your scholarship or you will lose it.

There is more to registration for the CFA exam than just a click of a mouse. We explain the whole CFA registration process step by step so that it works to your advantage. You definitely need to know there are 3 registration fee deadlines and that they differ in cost. You may also be interested in the CFA exam cost reduction down to $250 available to those eligible for the CFA Access Scholarship. Before registration, it’s also worth checking about the so-called Awareness Scholarships if you do not qualify for Access Scholarship.

CFA 2019 & CFA 2020: check out all important dates
CFA 2019 & CFA 2020 dates

Choosing CFA Study Materials

As soon as you enrol in the exam, CFA Curriculum should become
your closest friend. We strongly recommend relying on the CFA Curriculum as the source of the most reliable and detailed information. But you may find yourself in need of some more compact and diversified CFA study materials (inside our study planner). Our CFA learning portal offers not only videos, exam-type questions and e-books, but also different kinds of free study materials and lots of interesting apps and features. You will need all this to effectively feed your brain with all the information required in the exam.

CFA Calculator

  • Take full advantage of your calculator by using it on a regular basis.
  • CFA prep providers and Soleadea use TI BA II Plus Professional to explain calculations.

You should let yourself fall into routine with using your calculator. Before you can do that, however, you obviously need to choose the one of your liking. While the choice is yours, it is limited by CFA Institute calculator policy allowing 2 types of calculators: Hewlett Packard 12C (different models) or Texas Instruments BA II Plus (different models). A CFA calculator is a powerful tool meant to help you in the exam but also throughout your CFA preparation. Make no mistake by underestimating what it can do for you.

CFA Study Plan

A solid plan is a key to success. But even the best CFA study plan is not enough if you fail to follow it. We’ve been helping CFA candidates make their study plans since 2013. Now, using our free CFA study planner you can both organize your whole prep and make sure you keep to your study agenda. With your CFA calendar divided into weekly study schedules – you have the means to control your CFA exam prep efficiently. You get to monitor your progress on an ongoing basis and with the red readings alert you also know when you need to work harder.

On our blog, you will find some ready-made study plans, which you can further customize to your needs using our study planner. These blog posts not only give you some sample study plans but they also tell you about many interesting issues related to study planning such as topics categorization, your strengths and weaknesses, strategic vs tactical planning or 3 main reasons why you may fail in your CFA exam.

  • As soon as you schedule your CFA exam prep stick to the plan! That’s what it’s for!
  • Revise your CFA study plan when necessary but stay demanding!
  • Every accomplishment calls for reward . Appreciate your good work!

Smart Preparation Starts With Smart Planning

When your plans have this dangerous tendency to fall through - you need more than just timetabled topics!

You need concrete CFA readings assigned to concrete study weeks, weekly progress assessments,
and all the means to stay in charge!


Learning time

  • Learn systematically. CFA study material is bulky.
  • Practice makes perfect. Do exam-type questions and use calculator.
  • Let others know that you registered for the CFA exam. It’s motivating.

OK. You have your plan. Now all you have to do is get down to work. Your Curriculum is divided into CFA study sessions composed of readings for given topics. The number of topics depend on your CFA exam level. CFA level 1 includes 10 topics. The same for CFA level 2. Level 3 defers and brings the number down to 7. Topics are also given different weights depending on the level of the exam (level 1 weights, level 2 weights).

Statistically, you’ll spend about 300 hours to acquire all CFA topics. It’s such a load of material to study. So, organize your time and use it effectively. Find balance between your family life, work and exam, e.g. get up earlier to have some extra time for your CFA exam prep. When studying, make use of both passive and active learning to boost your learning curve. And remember you learn most through practice, not through theory. That’s why it is so important to do tests and use calculator from the very beginning. Finally, treat your CFA exam not like an intruder in your life, but an opportunity. This will help you keep motivated.

CFA Review

Learning goes hand in hand with revision. The more you review the material, the more you’ll remember. It’s rather natural that we’re all thinking about revision before the exam. But is that sufficient? If a good revision safeguards us against the forgetting curve, we should review the material on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s unconventional, but will surely pay off.

That’s what you can call a good CFA review:

  • take notes throughout your study to help you go over things again quickly and effectively,
  • go through learning outcome statements and end-of-reading questions in your CFA Curriculum,
  • repeat formulas and definitions,
  • do exam-type questions and practice exams,
  • watch various videos, learn from presentations, read handy e-books, etc. you need to see things from a different perspective to fully understand them.

Do not economise on the time you take to review for your CFA exam, especially when it concerns mock exams. Remember: a good CFA mock exam is not the toughest one, but the one that reflects the exam the best.

Do at least 4 mock exams to optimise your chances of passing.

If you can, take leave from work before the exam. This will help you focus and review.

CFA Exam

  • Is your passport valid?
  • Is your admission ticket close at hand?
  • Approved calculator and writing tools ready?
  • All CFA exam policies carefully read?
  • Where is the test centre and how to get there?

CFA exam dates are fixed, though it is possible to submit a religious alternate date request. Candidates of all levels sit for two parts of their exam: morning and afternoon session, 3 hours each. While for every level the sessions differ in structure (level 1, level 2, level 3), strict exam policy is the same for all levels.

You must present yourself at the test centre 1 hour before the exam with your admission ticket and a valid international travel passport. There is an approved list of things you are allowed to take with you. You also have to know what kind of conduct is acceptable while in the testing room. In other words, you have to obey the set rules, which are many. Remember it is your obligation to get yourself familiar with the exam policies.

CFA 2019 & CFA 2020: check out all important dates
CFA 2019 & CFA 2020 dates

Waiting Time

After the exam, you definitely deserve some rest. But while this is a pause from hard work, it’s not time off from the set rules. CFA Institute regulates what your conduct should be when you leave the testing room and afterwards. There are things you must not do after you take your CFA exam. Even if you burst with satisfaction or are down in the dumps about your performance during the test, you may want to know what to do next not to get yourself excluded from the CFA Program.

Follow ethical standards at every stage of your CFA endeavor.

CFA Results

The questions we all ask ourselves at this stage is: FAILED or PASSED? When will I get to know my result? It takes about 2 months for CFA level 1 and 2, and 2.5 months for level 3.

CFA results are sent to the candidates to their e-mails. The message you’ll receive will say whether you passed or not . If you pass, it means you reached the minimum passing score set individually for every CFA exam, but not disclosed by CFA Institute. It is believed that 70% should be enough to succeed.

In your CFA Institute website account, you will also find about your performance in different topics. To pass the exam, you do not have to score over 70% for every topic, though your Ethics result may prove crucial owing to the ethics adjustment. Additionally, you’ll get to know how well you did relative to other exam-takers.

  • waiting time: ca. 2 months for CFA level 1 & level 2, ca. 2.5 months for CFA level 3
  • CFA exam minimum passing score: ±70%
  • exam & topic performance benchmarks: 90th and 10th percentile score
  • CFA level 1 pass rate: 38-45%
  • level 1 no-shows: 25%

It is not easy to gain the Chartered Financial Analyst® designation – the exam is a difficult challenge. CFA level 1 pass rate of 38-45% or 25% of no-shows among level 1 candidates prove the point. So, bon voyage on your CFA road and may it lead you to your well-deserved success.