LAST UPDATED: Sept 3, 2020

Level 1 CFA® Exam:
ALL You Must Know

CFA exam / Level 1





Level 1 CFA Exam

Level 1 exam is the first of the 3 levels of the CFA exam, a prestigious financial certification introduced and held worldwide by CFA Institute.

In 2020, the level 1 exam is organized only in December and it's the last paper-based exam. Starting in 2021, level 1 exams will be held on computers 4 times a year: in February, May, August, and November. The exam is quite costly and rather hard but rewarding. Candidates are tested in 10 topics.


CFA exam

consists of 3 levels:
level 1, level 2, level 3

2020 level 1 CFA exam date

5 Dec (last PBT)

2021 level 1 CFA exam windows

first CBT:
23 Feb – 1 March

next:
18 - 24 May, 24 - 30 Aug, 16 - 22 Nov

Basic level 1 exam cost

USD 700 for early birds or USD 1000 of standard fee

Recommended study hours

300 study hours/exam level

Level 1 exam pass rates

official: around 43%, real: even lower! (read below)

Level 1 CFA exam study plan

10 topics scheduled into 300 hours of study and review week by week! 3 basic game-changers:
weekly control, maintained motivation, knowledge retention.

Your goal?

CFA® Charter – global gold standard in finance


Welcome to the LEVEL 1 CFA EXAM INFO CENTER – a place where you’ll find all you need to know about your level 1 exam. Read on and learn about:

First Things First: 5 CFA Program Requirements

To be able to sit for your level 1 exam, you must meet CFA Program entrance requirements. There are 5 and they include your education/work experience, knowledge of English, fee payments, place of residence + valid international passport, as well as your professional conduct.

CFA Program requirements you need to meet before you can register for your level 1 exam:

  1. EDUCATION: have a bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree or be a final-year student (complete the degree before registering for level 2 exam).
    OR
    WORK EXPERIENCE (investment related or not): have 48 months of professional full-time work experience or a combination of professional full-time work experience and education totaling 48 months (dates of education and professional work experience cannot overlap!).
  2. KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH: CFA exam is held in English + CFA Program curriculum you get after registration is in English, so you should know English quite well to take the exam.
  3. CFA EXAM FEE PAYMENT: you can register for your level 1 exam only when you make due payments as presented below in more detail. If it’s your first registration ever – apart from the exam fee – you’ll also need to pay a one-time program enrollment fee.
  4. PLACE OF RESIDENCE AND INTERNATIONAL PASSPORT: you need to live in a participating country (currently, most of countries are in, while a few are excluded by the US OFAC policy) and have a valid international passport to register for your exam.
  5. PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT: as a candidate, you are obliged to follow CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct and to confirm your commitment to the code and standards you need to submit – upon registering for your exam – a Professional Conduct Statement disclosing relevant reprimands, investigations, litigations, etc.

Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®) is a graduate-level program developed and run by CFA Institute, an association of investment professionals originating in the USA and spreading all over the world. As a candidate and then CFA charterholder, you can enhance your analytical skills, gain your investment expertise, and improve your chances of career advancement. If there is one expression that can describe what you’re up for after signing up for the CFA exam, it’s disciplined self-study. In December 2020, the last paper-based exam is given in test centers located in the majority of participating countries (note: you can submit a center change request). As of 2021, CFA Institute is introducing computer-based testing for level 1 exam with even more test centers available then. More on the CFA exam day and structure below.


Nearest Level 1 CFA Exam Dates

5-6* December
2020

77 days until the exam

*5-6 – exams can be held on Sat and Sun to accommodate also June 2020 candidates (read more about postponed exams here )

5-6* December 2020

77 days until the exam

*5-6 – exams can be held on Sat and Sun to accommodate also June 2020 candidates (read more about postponed exams here )

23 Feb-1 March** 2021

157 days until the exam

**23 Feb-1 March – exam window when you can self-schedule your level 1 exam (read more about computer-based exams here )

23 Feb-1 March** 2021

157 days until the exam

**23 Feb-1 March – exam window when you can self-schedule your exam (read more about computer-based exams here )

18-24 May*** 2021

240 days until the exam

***18-24 May – exam window when you can self-schedule your level 1 exam (read more about computer-based exams here )

18-24 May*** 2021

240 days until the exam

***18-24 May – exam window when you can self-schedule your exam (read more about computer-based exams here )


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All 2021 Level 1 CFA Exam Windows

As of 2021, you can choose from 4 different exam windows when taking your level 1 exam. The exam window may be even up to 10 days long. However, when choosing your CFA exam date, you must know that both the length of exam window and seating availablility may vary for different test centers and geografic regions.

ONCE AGAIN: In 2021, all level 1 exams will be delivered on computers in proctored exam centers available worldwide in an increased number.


Can I Still Register?

LEVEL 1 REGISTRATION
CFA EXAM STARTS ENDS
DECEMBER 2020 5 Feb 2020 19 Aug 2020
FEBRUARY 2021 17 June 2020 7 Dec 2020
MAY 2021 20 Aug 2020 23 Feb 2021
AUGUST 2021 20 Aug 2020 4 May 2021
NOVEMBER 2021 20 Aug 2020 10 Aug 2021

Remember: Registering for the exam means you need to pay the fee. Before you register, however, see if you are eligible for a scholarship. If you apply, wait for your scholarship before you register for the exam or you’ll lose it. Mind the final registration deadline, though! Check right below.


CFA Exam Costs & Registration Deadlines

NEWCOMERS ONLY: $450 one-time program enrollment fee

ALL CANDIDATES: Each time you register to take or retake your level 1 exam (and later your level 2 and 3 exams), you'll have to pay a registration fee. Your basic exam cost will depend on when you register for your exam:

February 2021 FEES
$700
early
fee

begins: 17 June | ends:
13
AUGUST 2020
$1,000
standard
fee

begins: 14 Aug | ends:
7
DECEMBER 2020
May 2021 FEES
$700
early
fee

begins: 20 Aug | ends:
3
NOVEMBER 2020
$1,000
standard
fee

begins: 4 Nov | ends:
23
FEBRUARY 2021
August 2021 FEES
$700
early
fee

begins: 20 Aug | ends:
2
FEBRUARY 2021
$1,000
standard
fee

begins: 3 Feb | ends:
4
MAY 2021
November 2021 FEES
$700
early
fee

begins: 20 Aug | ends:
4
MAY 2021
$1,000
standard
fee

begins: 5 May | ends:
10
AUGUST 2021

Note: All the deadlines end at 11:59 p.m. ET.

2021 EXAMS: new rescheduling fee of $250 allows exam re-appointment


CFA INSTITUTE SCHOLARSHIPS


ACCESS SCHOLARSHIP

Access Scholarship:

Access Scholarship application window for 2021 CFA exams is already closed. The scholarship reduces the exam registration fee to USD 250 and the deadline always passes in mid-September . It’s not a mistake. If you want to apply for Access Scholarship, the deadline expires in September of the year before the exam you wish to take.

Access Scholarship Window
for 2021 EXAMS:

mid-May 2020 – 15 September 2020

Access Scholarship is for all those who may find the CFA exam cost challenging. To apply you must NOT be registered for the exam yet and you need to meet all the CFA Program entrance requirements.


OTHER SCHOLARSHIPS

Other Scholarships:

Other CFA Institute scholarships are subject to limitations, e.g. not all students can apply for Student Scholarships (ask your alma mater) and women need to hurry because Women's Scholarships are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. As of 1 September 2020, the application window for 2021 CFA exams is open. Log into your CFA Institute account to find out more.


NOT ELIGIBLE FOR A SCHOLARSHIP?

Not Eligible For a Scholarship?

It’s not a rare thing that employers financially help their employees taking part in the CFA Program by reimbursing or paying for their CFA exams, either fully or partially. So, don’t hesitate to ask your employer for support.


How High Is Level 1
CFA Exam Pass Rate?

Until 2020, CFA exams were held 2 times a year, in June and December. Some former level 1 pass rates are given below:

PREVIOUS LEVEL 1 PASS RATES
JUNE EXAMS DECEMBER EXAMS
41% 2019 42%
43% 2018 45%
43% 2017 43%

CAREFUL! This 40+ percent is the pass rate for those level 1 candidates who actually sat for their exam. However, many register to take their level 1 exam but don’t even turn up on the exam day, which means that the "real" pass rate for all registered level 1 candidates is even lower!

Why so low? See below

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Level 1 Topics In a Nutshell

Level 1 candidates are tested in 10 topic areas, each with its defined exam topic weight given as a range. Below, we present all 10 level 1 CFA exam topics ordered from the highest to the lowest weight range:

  • Ethics: 15-20% of exam questions
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis: 13-17% of exam questions
  • Equity Investments: 10-12% of exam questions
  • Fixed Income: 10-12% of exam questions
  • Quantitative Methods: 8-12% of exam questions
  • Economics: 8-12% of exam questions
  • Corporate Finance: 8-12% of exam questions
  • Derivative Investments: 5-8% of exam questions
  • Alternative Investments: 5-8% of exam questions
  • Portfolio Management: 5-8% of exam questions
  • Ethics: 15-20%
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis: 13-17%
  • Equity Investments: 10-12%
  • Fixed Income: 10-12%
  • Quantitative Methods: 8-12%
  • Economics: 8-12%
  • Corporate Finance: 8-12%
  • Derivative Investments: 5-8%
  • Alternative Investments: 5-8%
  • Portfolio Management: 5-8%

Here is the recommended Soleadea topic sequence with all topics shortly described:


3 LEVEL 1 TOPICS CATEGORIZATIONS

While the most important level 1 topics are Ethics, FRA, and Quantitative Methods, the hardest trio is FRA, Fixed Income, and Derivatives. Also, 3 topics may be regarded as relatively easy. However, topic difficulty is always a subjective criterion.

3 most important L1 topics 3 hardest L1 topics 3 easiest L1 topics
Financial Reporting and Analysis (FRA) Fixed Income (FI) Portfolio Management (PM)
Ethical and Professional Standards (Ethics) Derivative Investments (DI) Corporate Finance (CF)
Quantitative Methods (QM) Financial Reporting and Analysis (FRA) Equity Investments (EI)

The 10 topics are all covered in 6 books of the level 1 curriculum. The topics content is further divided into smaller portions: topics study sessions readings. Overall, level 1 curriculum is roughly 3000 pages long. That’s why candidates often look for more digestible study materials like videos, tests, or e-books. As a rule, the CFA exam curriculum changes from year to year. However, due to the pandemic-related June 2020 exam postponement, the 2020 curriculum will also apply to all level 1 exams held in 2021. Thus, no significant change in topic weights is expected.

To organize your long and tough exam prep, you'll want to have a study plan with deadlines for topics and – ideally – also for readings, best if arranged weekly. This way you get a controllable and manageable study plan you can systematically follow. We explain more below .

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CFA Exam Day: What to Expect?

CFA exam consists of two sessions taken the same day with a break meanwhile. For Dec 2020 candidates, each session will include 120 multiple-choice (a-b-c) questions, whereas 2021 candidates will be asked 90 multiple-choice (a-b-c) questions in each session. What is important here is that, regardless of the exam, you'll have 1.5 minute per question on average. Moreover, there is no penalty for giving a wrong answer (so go ahead and guess if you don’t know ). Also, we distinguish 3 types of level 1 questions: theory, computing, and reasoning questions.

Dec 2020 Exam Day Exam Day in 2021
30 minutes of announcements 30 minutes allotted to pledge, tutorial, and survey
SESSION 1: 180 min
(120 questions)
SESSION 1: 135 min
(90 questions)
BREAK: 120 min BREAK (optional): 30 min
SESSION 2: 180 min
(120 questions)
SESSION 2: 135 min
(90 questions)
TOTAL TESTING TIME: 6 hrs TOTAL TESTING TIME: 4.5 hrs
WHOLE EXAM DAY: 8.5 hrs WHOLE EXAM DAY: 5.5 hrs
3 TYPES OF L1 QUESTIONS:
Theory questions
Computing questions
Reasoning questions
QUESTIONS TOTAL:
Dec 2020: 240 questions
2021 exams: 180 questions
1.5 min per question

More about 2021 CBT exams? Read here

On the exam day, you must bring your valid international passport, admission ticket, approved calculator (only different versions of TIBA II Plus or Hewlett Packard 12C are allowed), and writing tools if you're taking the last paper-based Dec exam (best No. 2 or HB pencils). If you forget about any of these things, you won’t be able to take your exam! Also, it’s worth taking an eraser, a pencil sharpener, a wristwatch, and spare calculator batteries.


Best Way to Prepare
for Level 1 CFA Exam

Keeping in mind the 3000 pages of curriculum and the low level 1 pass rates, you’ll need a sure-fire study strategy for your CFA exam prep. It’s best if it’s based on these 3 pillars:


FULL
CONTROL

MAINTAINED
MOTIVATION

KNOWLEDGE
RETENTION

WHY?

ca. 300 hrs
& procrastination

25%
no-shows

ca. 30%
of the "real" pass rate!


It is common knowledge that you need approximately 300 study hours to get prepared for your level 1 CFA exam. That’s a lot. Take 5 months of prep, for example. It gives you an average of 60 hours per month, i.e. around 15 study hours every week.

It is hard to control 300 hours or even 60 hours. But 15 hours a week? That you can control! So, break down those 300 hours to smaller study times you can easily control and manage from week to week of your exam prep.

Otherwise, procrastination may seriously endanger your CFA exam preparation. It is too easy to postpone, especially if the consequences are delayed into the future. Many people choose to overlook these consequences in favor of immediate gains such as a night with a movie instead of curriculum. But, in the end, they end up with too many readings piled up and impossible to cover before their exam.

That is why you need to constantly maintain your motivation to study week by week. To better understand why it’s so important, consider this: as many as 25% of level 1 candidates do not show up for their exam because they feel they didn’t learn enough to take it. What it means is that the effective pass rate is even lower! If out of 100 candidates registered for the CFA exam, only 75 actually take it, then – with the pass rate of 40+ percent – only a bit over 30 out of 75 exam-takers pass, which gives us the "real" pass rate for all registered level 1 candidates of ca. 30% instead of 43% or 45%.

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Procrastination and lack of motivation are also a problem when it comes to revision. The majority of candidates put off reviewing the study material until last weeks before the exam, which is a huge mistake. It makes your forgetting curve even steeper (after one day only, we forget up to 65% of what we studied the previous day!) and leaves your learning curve totally unattended.

Forgetting Curve
Learning Curve

To be sure you’ll really learn all 10 topics just in time for your exam, it’s best you have your study plan scheduled weekly and revise regularly. Benchmark study times for weeks and readings and a proper review system in place make it is easier to stay motivated and hold tight to the benchmarks and recommendations, and then to pass the exam. If you also feel this is the way to go, you can find all this and more inside the different variants of our CFA Exam Study Planner.


Your Level 1 CFA Exam Study Plan

IT IS STILL ROUGHLY:

It is still roughly:

3 months

until your Dec exam

3 months

until your Dec exam

5 months

until your Feb exam

5 months

until your Feb exam

8 months

until your May exam

8 months

until your May exam

Get CFA Exam Study Schedule:

& see how to make the most of your study time!



Free CFA Exam Study Materials

If you're looking for some free CFA exam study materials to help you understand your CFA Program curriculum, here's a bunch of blog posts explaining some issues. Apart from theory, you'll also find there some exam-type questions. That’s how you should study: combine theory with practice!

Also, we've got some free videos for you. We suggest you use them twice. First – to get familiar with the most important concepts before you dive into your books. Then, after you study your level 1 curriculum – to revise & make sure you finally know everything there is to know for each topic:


What Calculator to Get
and Other Policies

As a level 1 candidate, you also need to know all CFA exam rules and regulations. There are many but your failure to be in compliance may result in your inability to take the exam, voiding your level 1 CFA exam result or even suspension in the CFA Program.

CFA Program Policies include (but are not limited to):

  • Calculator Policy
  • CFA Program Refund Policy
  • Identification Policy
  • Withdrawal Option
  • Qualified Deferral
  • Admission And Departure Policy
  • Answer Sheet And Exam Book Policy
  • Personal Belongings Policy

When Will I Get
My CFA Exam Results?

DECEMBER 2020
26* January 2021

FEBRUARY 2021

MAY 2021

* This is our educated guess based on how CFA Institute released exam results in the past. The usual pattern: your exam date + 7.5 weeks + it’s almost always been Tuesday.

For computer-based exams – results could be available sooner than 7.5 weeks post-exam. Still, the exact date is not yet known even to CFA Institute emphasizing that the same MPS procedure will still be in place.

You’ll get your results to your e-mail. Detailed results are also available on the CFA Institute website from the level of your account. Apart from the PASSED or FAILED information, you will also learn about your performance for given topics relative to other exam takers. The CFA exam results are presented visually with the thick blue line illustrating how you scored, both in the exam and for different topic areas. No exact scores are given, though.

IMPORTANT! Only after you receive your level 1 CFA exam result may you register for the next exam.


CFA Exam Results New Format: Passed Exam

MPS, Ethics Adjustment,
CFA Exam Grading


CFA Exam Passing Score: What is MPS?

CFA Exam Passing Score: What is MPS?

Every CFA exam has its MPS individually set when it’s over. Minimum passing score (MPS) is the threshold value determining who passes and who fails the CFA exam. Both the MPS and individual candidate score are never released. However, in all likelihood, MPS is usually slightly below 70%.


What is Ethics adjustment?

What is Ethics adjustment?

CFA Program aims at promoting ethical culture in the investment industry. That’s why the Ethics topic is said to be particularly important in the CFA exam and there’s the so-called ethics adjustment. Your Ethics result can help you pass or fail if you are a borderline candidate, i.e. if your total exam score borders the MPS. According to the Ethics adjustment:

  • Good Ethics result for a borderline candidate means a Passed Exam.
  • Poor Ethics result for a borderline candidate means a Failed Exam.

What is CFA exam grading like?

What is CFA exam grading like?

To pass, you must score higher than the MPS set for your exam or your Ethics result must be good enough to pull you through if you are on the border. You don’t need to pass all the topics. It is the overall exam score that counts!