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Level I CFA Exam Structure

How Long Does the CFA Level I Exam Last?

The Level I exam consists of 180 multiple choice questions, split between two 135-minute sessions (session times are approximate). There is an optional break between sessions. Candidates must take both sessions in order to receive an exam result.

  • First session (2 hours, 15 minutes): 90 multiple choice questions, covering the topics of ethics & professional standards, quantitative methods, economics, and financial reporting and analysis 
  • Second session (2 hours, 15 minutes): 90 multiple choice questions, covering the topics of corporate finance, equity, fixed income, derivatives, alternative investments and portfolio management 

Time Management Preparation for CFA Level I

Timing: On average, you should allow approximately 90 seconds for each multiple choice question. You may need more or less time, depending on the question and how well you understand the topic.

How to Study for the CFA Level I Exam

The best way to study for the CFA Level I Exam is to follow the CFA program curriculum and give yourself enough time to learn the material in your ideal learning style. Here are some resources candidates have listed as being most helpful for their exam preparation:

  • CFA Program curriculum
  • CFA Institute online mock exams
  • CFA Program approved prep providers
  • CFA Program curriculum end-of-reading practice problems
  • Study groups

Steps to Prepare for the CFA Level I Exam

One of the most important ways to prepare for the CFA Level I exam is to give yourself enough time to study. The CFA Program enables candidates to customize their preparation to match individual needs and circumstances. Following are some numbers to consider in planning a study strategy for the CFA Level I exam.

  • The average successful candidate reported spending 303 hours studying for the Level I exam offered in June 2019.
  • Since studying for the CFA Level I exam is self-paced, candidates will spend varying amounts of time preparing for the exam depending on how long they have until their exam date. For example, if a candidate spent a year preparing for the CFA Level I exam, the candidate would have needed to study about 25 hours per month.
  • On average, a typical candidate takes 4–5 years to pass all three exams. Successful candidates report spending about 300 hours studying for each level, ranging from 303 hours for the CFA Level I exam to 328 for the CFA Level II exam and to 344 for the CFA Level III exam.

What Topics are on the CFA Level I Exam?

The CFA® Program curriculum for the Level I exam is focused on the knowledge and comprehension of investment tools and asset classes, as well as portfolio management and ethical and professional standards. The exam covers the following 10 topic areas:

Session Functional Area Topic Exam Weight
1 Ethical and Professional Standards Ethical and Professional Standards 15-20%
Tools Quantitative Methods 8-12%
Economics 8-12%
Financial Reporting and Analysis 13-17%
2 Portfolio Management and Analysis Corporate Finance 8-12%
Portfolio Management 5-8%
Assets Equity Investments 10-12%
Fixed Income 10-12%
Derivatives 5-8%
Alternative Investments 5-8%

Start learning today by viewing all study session outlines

Understand the Multiple Choice Exam Question Format

Question Format

Each multiple choice item on the CFA Level I exam consists of a question, a statement, and/or table as well as three answer choices (A, B, or C).

Two basic formats are used:

  1. Sentence completion with three unique choices
  2. Questions with three unique choices

Example 1: Sentence completion

An analyst suspects that a company’s US GAAP financial statements may require adjustments because the company uses take-or-pay contracts. The most likely effect of the appropriate adjustments would be to increase the company’s:

  1. return on assets.
  2. debt-to-equity ratio.
  3. interest coverage ratio.

Example 2: Question

An analyst suspects that a company’s US GAAP financial statements may require adjustments because the company uses take-or-pay contracts. Which of the following is most likely to increase as a result of the appropriate adjustments being made to the company’s financial statements?

  1. Return on assets
  2. Debt-to-equity ratio
  3. Interest coverage ratio

All questions are equally weighted and there is no penalty for an incorrect answer.

Learn more about item stems and item construction (PDF)

Practice with CFA Level I Exam Sample Questions

Are you ready for the CFA Level I exam? These 20 CFA Level I sample questions for the CFA Level I exam provide a broad selection of the types of questions you’ll see on the exam.

Use These Test-Taking Tips on the Day of the CFA Level I Exam

  • Be comfortable with your calculator. Make sure you know how to use the calculator features needed to address the learning outcome statements (LOS).
  • Exam questions referring to Financial Reporting and Analysis (FRA) are based on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), unless otherwise specified. When a question is based on U.S. GAAP, it will be stated in the question.
  • Answer all questions. There is no penalty for incorrect answers.
  • Dress comfortably. There is no dress code, but dress in layers for comfort. Quiet shoes are a plus.

Learn how hardware/software at the test centers may impact your exam-day experience.

Should I Take the CFA Exam?

If you are interested in taking the CFA Level I exam, review the CFA Level I Exam Requirements to see if you are ready to enroll. Once you are certain you meet the enrollment criteria, you can register for the CFA Level I Exam.

Additional CFA Level I Exam Preparation & Resources

Anyone who registers for the Level I exam will gain access to a variety of study tools and resources to guide your preparation. Registered exam takers will unlock access to:

  • The official CFA program curriculum
  • Study sessions for Level I
  • Custom study plans
  • Practice questions
  • Mock exams
  • Study resources and tips

And more to support you in your path to joining 178,000+ financial professionals around the world in becoming a CFA charterholder. In addition to the CFA Institute learning ecosystem, candidates can also benefit from extra exam prep courses and materials. If you’re looking for more CFA exam resources, see our list of approved prep providers .