Level I CFA® Exam Structure
How Long Does the CFA Level I Exam Last?
The Level I computer-based 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%|
|Financial Reporting and Analysis||13-17%|
|2||Portfolio Management and Analysis||Corporate Finance||8-12%|
Understand the Multiple Choice Exam 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:
- Sentence completion with three unique choices
- 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:
- return on assets.
- debt-to-equity ratio.
- 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?
- Return on assets
- Debt-to-equity ratio
- Interest coverage ratio
All questions are equally weighted and there is no penalty for an incorrect answer.
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.
Should I Take the CFA 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 .