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- For each exam level, plan on approximately six months of preparation
- Successfully complete the three exams sequentially and accumulate 48 months of approved work experience
- Successful candidates take an average of four years to complete the program
Completing the CFA ProgramCompleting the CFA Program exams can take as little as 18 months, but on average, it takes about four years to earn a CFA charter.
Preparing for the Exams
- Successful candidates report spending an average of 300 hours preparing for each exam. Your preparation time will vary based on your prior education and experience.
For each level of the curriculum, there are 18 study sessions, so a good plan is to devote 15−20 hours per week, for 18 weeks, to studying the material. Use the final four to six weeks before the exam to review what you've learned and practice with sample and mock exams.
When Should You Take Your Exam?
- The Level I exam is offered twice a year, in June and December. The Level II and III exams are offered once a year, in June.
Registration usually opens about 11 months before each exam; register early to take advantage of the fee schedule and to have enough time to study and prepare for the exam.
Does CFA Institute offer the exam in languages other than English?
In order to ensure fair, global consistency both in administering the exam questions and in grading candidate responses, we offer the exams in only one language.
Typical Exam Day Schedule (exact times may vary slightly)
Candidates begin check-in process.
|Candidates must be seated in testing room.
Doors close and announcements begin.
Once doors close, candidates will not be allowed to enter the testing room until the timed portion of the exams has started.
|Session begins. Passports and calculators are checked again.
|Candidates must remain seated for the duration of the session.
Note: At the conclusion of each session, candidates must remain seated until all exam materials are collected and reconciled. This may take up to 10-20 additional minutes.
Testing Rooms Without ClocksIn testing rooms that do not have clocks the timekeeper will mark time remaining on a chalkboard or flip chart in the following increments:
Every 30 minutes:
- Less than 2.5 hours remain
- Less than 2 hours remain
- Less than 1.5 hours remain
- Less than 60 minutes remain
- Less than 45 minutes remain
- Less than 30 minutes remain (verbal announcement)
- Less than 15 minutes remain (verbal announcement)
Sample and Mock Exams
What are the benefits of taking the sample and mock exams?
Sample and mock exams can provide a realistic assessment of your mastery of the CFA Program curriculum, and they provide valuable experience by mimicking the format and difficulty of the actual CFA exam.
When are the sample and mock exams available and when should I take them?
You should take the sample exam after working through the complete curriculum at least once. Two sample exams at each level are typically available for approximately 12 weeks prior to the exam.
You should take the mock exam close to the actual exam date. One mock exam at each level is typically available approximately 30 days prior to the exam.
How up-to-date is the material on the sample and mock exams?
All material is directly sourced from the current CFA Program curriculum and presented in the same manner as actual CFA exam questions.
How are the sample and mock exams like the actual CFA exams?
Each exam is designed to reflect the question formats, topics, length, and level of difficulty that candidates will experience on the actual exam. Please note that the sample and mock exams are intended only as a representation of the actual exams and do not mirror all possible question types or formats. Performance on a sample or mock exam should not be used in any way to predict performance on the actual exam.
What do the "recommended" and "required" score fields in the sample exam results mean?
For our sample exams, the two mean the same. In general, the required score is what you need to pass, and the recommended score is what you need to be confident that you know the material. For the sample exam, we recommend a score of at least 70 percent to be able to make a statement that your study has been effective.
Grading and Results
Why don’t candidates who pass the CFA exam receive information similar to candidates that fail the exam?
The score band information is intended to help failed candidates determine whether to continue in the CFA Program by giving them more detailed guidance on their performance. Reporting similar information to passing candidates would encourage classifications such as "high pass" and "low pass." We consider such classifications counterproductive. All candidates receive information on the score achieved within each topic area (<50, 50-70, >70).
Why don’t you post our exact scores on each section?
We do not consider one passing candidate to be more (or less) accomplished than another passing candidate merely because of their ranking relative to either the minimum passing score (MPS) or other candidate scores. To release scores would inevitably lead to such ranking, which would be especially unfair for candidates taking the same level exam in different years.
Do the pass/fail numbers published by CFA Institute include all the registered candidates or just the ones who took the exam?
The published pass rates include only those candidates who actually took the exams. The numbers do not include no-show candidates or those who withdrew.
Does CFA Institute recognize the highest scores annually or create an honors list?
No. CFA Institute posts scores as pass or fail and does not consider one candidate as more (or less) accomplished than another merely because of their relative ranking in a particular year.
Why doesn’t CFA Institute let candidates know what score is required to pass an exam or what score candidates achieved on the exam?
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. Neither the MPS nor individual candidate scores have ever been released. To set the MPS before the administration of the exams would require that an absolute standard be applied without regard to the difficulty of the exams; this could potentially be very unfair to candidates, especially across time. The Board's determination is based largely on standard setters' evaluation of exam difficulty, which can vary from one administration to the next.
I received at least 50 percent on almost all topics on my results score matrix, but I still did not pass. How can that happen?
Candidates should not attempt to interpret an overall passing or failing score from the results matrix information. 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. Specifically, candidates should not necessarily interpret scores between 50 and 70 percent as passing.
What is the "ethics adjustment"?
The Board of Governors instituted a policy to place particular emphasis on ethics. Starting with the 1996 exams, the performance on the ethics section became a factor in the pass/fail decision for candidates whose total scores bordered the minimum passing score. The ethics adjustment can have a positive or negative impact on these candidates' final results.
CFA Institute has a policy of not releasing either the minimum passing score or individual candidate scores. Consequently, CFA Institute does not release specific information about the ethics adjustment or the candidates who were affected. The adjustment has had a net positive effect on candidate scores (and thus pass rates) in most exam sessions. The published pass rates always take into account the ethics adjustment for borderline candidates.
Do I have to pass each of the individual topic areas in order to pass an exam level?
No. 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. However, we advise against any "test wise" strategy that recommends ignoring a topic in your study. Offsetting a zero score in a topic could be difficult. Also review the ethics adjustment FAQ for additional information.Most important, an objective of the CFA Program is to develop candidate knowledge and skills to a generalist level in all covered topics. Employers have found this is one of the competitive advantages of charterholders.
Also be sure that you have clearly stated your intended answers. Candidates who change an answer or copy material from a template to lined pages (or vice versa) should cross out any material they do not intend as part of their answer. Graders must consider all material you submit, and if there is confusion or contradictory information, you will not receive credit.
On the Level III exam, I wrote my answer on a lined answer page instead of on the template. Was my answer graded?
CFA Institute grades answers that are written on pages labeled for a specific answer, regardless of whether you used the template provided. You will not be penalized if you did not use the template. Be reminded, however, that you waste valuable time by redrawing a template that is already provided for you. Instructions in bold print immediately following a question will direct you to the page numbers of the template if a template is provided. Candidates should answer on the templates provided and should follow the instructions given in the template. Answers written on the question pages or on the pages marked "Intentionally Left Blank" are not graded.
If my answers differ from those in the published guideline, will I receive any credit?
Possibly. The guideline answers are intended to show a representative candidate response given the CFA Program study materials assigned. Guideline answers may not include all alternative acceptable answers. Your answer may have received partial or even full credit.
What is the purpose of the score band information provided in the results report?
We want to provide failed candidates with information that might help them decide whether or not to continue in the CFA Program. We understand this can be a difficult decision, and we hope that failed candidates find this information useful.
I wrote in the margins of my essay book. Will this cause problems with scoring my exam?
Writing answers in the margin will not affect your scores; your answers will be graded. The only answers not graded are those written on question pages or pages marked "Intentionally Left Blank."
What about stray marks I may have made on my item set or multiple choice answer sheet?
Candidates are instructed not to make stray marks on the answer document as this may affect how the scanning machine reads and records information on the scan sheet.
What if I did not complete my candidate number?
Our experienced grading staff carefully reviews each answer sheet for completeness. A staff member will complete your candidate number to ensure your information is recorded correctly.
Will I be allowed to use a screwdriver during the exam to replace the batteries in my calculator?
Yes. You may bring one and keep it in your pocket or place it under your chair.
Why are only two calculator models allowed for use during the exam?
Many calculators have text-storing capabilities which could create an unfair advantage and compromise the integrity of the exam. It is a standard practice of many professional testing organizations to provide a short list of permissible models. In the current policy, the HP model is available for candidates who prefer Postfix notation entry, and the TI model is available for those who prefer algebraic notation entry.