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CFA Level I – Exam structure, requirements, topic area weights, fees, and locations

Level I, the first of the three levels of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program, has changed. While previously it was a bi-annual pen-and-paper exam that spanned over two 3-hour long sessions of 120 multiple-choice question each, it is now a computer-based exam conducted four times a year consisting of two 2 hour and fifteen minutes sessions of 90 questions each.

If you want to know the detailed exam structure, entry requirements, topic areas and their weights, fees, exam locations, results, and timetable, please read on.

Exam structure

When I attempted CFA Level 1 (back in 2011), it was a 6-hour marathon, you had to attempt a 3-hour test covering ALL topic areas, followed by a 2-hour break, and then another 3-hour test covering all topic areas.

Under the new structure, there are still two sessions, but their duration is reduced to 135 minutes (2 hours and 15 minutes each), and their contents have also been changed.

  • Session 1 covers topic areas of ethics & professional standards, quantitative methods, economics, and financial reporting and analysis.
  • Session 2 covers topic areas of corporate finance, equity, fixed income, derivatives, alternative investments and portfolio management

The exam contains multiple choice questions in which you either have to complete a sentence or chose one correct choice out of 3 unique options.

Further, the break between the sessions is optional.

Topic areas and expected number of questions

The following table shows the topic areas that are testing the Level 1, their suggested weighting bracket and the number of questions you can expect from each topic area.

Topic areaMinimumMaximumAverageAverage Questions
Ethical and Professional Standards15%20%18%31
Quantitative Methods8%12%10%17
Financial Reporting and Analysis13%17%15%25
Morning Session – Total   90
Corporate finance8%12%10%16
Equity Investments10%12%11%19
Fixed Income10%12%11%19
Alternative Investments5%8%7%12
Portfolio Management5%8%7%12
Evening Session – Total   90

Entry requirements and fee

The entry requirements for Level 1 program are the same as the general requirements for enrolling in the CFA program. The following decision can help you decide if you are eligible to enroll in the CFA program:

CFA Program - Level 1 Enrollment Requirements

At the time of your enrollment in the CFA program, you need to pay USD 450 one-time registration fee. The Level 1 exam fee depends on when you register for the exam: the early registration fee is USD 700, and the standard registration fee is UDS 1,000.

Pass rates

The most recent pass rate for the Level 1 is 43%. The historical pass rates are available here.

Schedule and locations

The CFA Level 1 exam is offered four times a year in February, May, August, and November in 400+ exam locations. Details of the latest time table and locations can be accessed below:

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