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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. 

  • First session (2 hours, 15 minutes): 90 multiple choice questions
  • Second session (2 hours, 15 minutes): 90 multiple choice questions

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 learning ecosystem (LES)
  • CFA Institute online mock exams
  • CFA Program approved prep providers
  • CFA Program curriculum end-of-reading practice problems
  • Study groups
  • CFA Program Practice Pack (additional purchase necessary)

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.

  • Successful candidates report studying on average over 300 hours for each level of the CFA Exam.
  • About half of successful candidates passing the LIII exam passed each exam on the first attempt (i.e. sat a total of three exams) while about a quarter sat a total of four exams.
  • Familiarize yourself with the data-backed study habits linked to passing the 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 10 topic areas noted in the chart below. Ethics questions will appear as a group in the first session. Questions from all other topics within each session are randomized.

Session Topic Exam Weight
1 Ethical and Professional Standards 15-20%
Quantitative Methods 6-9%
Economics 6-9%
Financial Statement Analysis 11-14%
Corporate Issuers 6-9%


Portfolio Management 8-12%
Equity Investments 11-14%
Fixed Income 11-14%
Derivatives 5-8%
Alternative Investments 7-10%
  • Our research indicates that most Level I candidates have already mastered many introductory financial concepts as part of their university studies or early career role. To avoid duplication and to streamline Level I curriculum content, we have moved some of this content and will provide it separately as reference material for registered candidates.
  • The content that has been moved to pre-read--topics such as time-value of money, basic statistics, microeconomics, and introduction to company accounts--are essential building blocks for later learnings. Our research indicates that 9 out of 10 candidates do not need to review this material. By not directly assessing these topic areas, we free up more time in the exam for more advanced practice concepts and more time for the new practical skills modules.
  • Candidates who have not had exposure to this content, or who simply wish to review materials during their study of the CFA Level I curriculum, may access this content as companion pre-read materials at no additional charge. Registered candidates may also use these materials to get a sense of gaps in their knowledge and assess their readiness for the Program.
  • Read more here: https://evolve.cfainstitute.org/curriculum.html

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 stem (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

If the 12-month continuously compounded return of a security is 9%, its associated 12-month holding period return is closest to:

  1. 8.62%.
  2. 9.38%.
  3. 9.42%.

Example 2: Question

Which of the following is most likely an assumption of technical analysis?

  1. Security markets are efficient
  2. Market trends reflect irrational human behavior
  3. Equity markets react quickly to inflection points in the broad economy

Question Structure

The Level I CFA exam does not use ‘except’, ‘true’, or ‘false’ in items and avoids the use of ‘not’ whenever possible. When appropriate, question stems will include one of the following qualifiers: ‘most likely’, ‘least likely’, ‘best described’, ‘most appropriate’, ‘most accurate’, ‘least appropriate’, or ‘least accurate’. Each question stem supports only one item on the exam.

Answer Choices

The Level I CFA exam does not use any of the following answer options: ‘all of the above’, ‘none of the above’, ‘A and B only’, ‘B and C only’, ‘A and C only’, ‘cannot determine’, ‘cannot calculate’, or ‘not enough information to determine’. Choices consisting of words or sentences are typically ordered from shortest to longest; choices that are quantitative are ordered from the smallest number to largest number. The choices agree grammatically with the question stem; language common to all choices is placed in the question stem.

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? We provide a broad selection of the types of questions you’ll see on the exam.

CFA Level I Exam Tips

  • Exam questions referring to Financial Statement Analysis 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.
  • Be comfortable with your calculator. Make sure you know how to use the calculator features needed to address the learning outcome statements (LOS).
  • Answer all questions. There is no penalty for incorrect answers.
  • Dress comfortably. There is no dress code, but dress in layers for comfort.

During the normal course of the exam, candidates may find they need assistance from proctors. Proctors will come to workstations as quickly as possible to assist. If able, we encourage candidates to continue working on their exam until a proctor has assisted. Our exam writers have designed the exam to account for minor disruptions or pauses in order for candidates to still have adequate time to respond to all questions.

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:

  • Official CFA program curriculum
  • CFA Institute learning ecosystem
  • Custom study plans
  • Practice questions
  • Mock exams
  • Study resources and tips
  • Practice Pack (additional purchase necessary)

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.

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