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Level III CFA Exam Structure

New starting in 2025

2025 Level III Specialized Pathways

For the 2025 Level III exams, we are introducing two new specialized pathways – Private Wealth and Private Markets, in addition to the current traditional Portfolio Management path. Candidates will have the opportunity to select the path most directly related to their interests and aspirations. Learn more about Level III Specialized Pathways.

2024 Level III Exam Structure and Duration

Structure: The Level III exam consists of item sets and constructed response (essay) sets. Both  question types combine vignettes with accompanying multiple-choice items for item sets and constructed response items for essay sets. 

All questions must be answered based on the information in the vignette. Hence, the items are not free-standing, as in the CFA Level I exam. You will need to refer to the vignette before answering each item.

Each session will have either 6 item sets and 5 essay sets or 5 item sets and 6 essay sets. This mixed distribution of item types across the two exam sessions creates a more-balanced delivery of questions throughout the exam. Overall, the Level III exam contains 11 item sets and 11 essay sets for 12 points each.

The CFA® Program curriculum topic areas for Level III will be randomly placed on the exam. All topics may be covered in either the first or second sessions, and possibly both sessions. Each vignette will begin with a statement of the topic and the total point value, which is always 12 points. For example:

TOPIC: ECONOMICS
TOTAL POINT VALUE OF THIS QUESTION SET IS 12 POINTS

Since Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning represents 30%-35% of the exam, further detail on the topic is provided:

  • The title will include the following sub-topic distinctions:
    • Portfolio Management – Private Wealth
    • Portfolio Management – Institutional Investing
    • Portfolio Management – Asset Allocation
    • Portfolio Management – Trading
    • Portfolio Management – Performance Evaluation
    • Portfolio Management – Investment Manager Selection
  • For results reporting, topics are grouped into two sub-topic groupings:
    • PM - Private Wealth; and Institutional Investing (15%-20%)
    • PM - Asset Allocation; Trading; Performance Evaluation; and Investment Manager Selection (10%-20%)

Duration: The Level III exam will be 4 hours and 24 minutes, split into two equal sessions of 2 hours and 12 minutes, with an optional break in-between. 

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.

CFA Level III Exam Question Format

Constructed Response (Essay) Format

  • Essay questions
    • In the question stem, command words used will be bolded.
    • A text box is available for the response.
    • If more than one answer is requested, (for example, “Explain, with two reasons…”), the following note is included: 
      Note: Each explanation should be in a separate paragraph”. 
      Bullet points are acceptable, as well. An important message to note – when asked to provide more than one response, the responses will be evaluated up to the number requested, and in the order presented by the candidate. Anything more than the number requested will not be evaluated.
  • Calculation responses in essay questions. 
    • An essay text box will accept typed words and numbers. Note that a correct numerical value typed in the essay box by itself receives full credit – formulas and explanations are not required. If a candidate chooses to do so, they may describe steps used in the calculation or show values using either a math editor function or typing out variables in an equation.
  • A multiple-choice question format may occasionally be used in the essay portion of the exam and it is possible that there may be more or less than 3 answer choices. (See Examples 1 and 2 below.)

Important Information on Essay Question Structure

Each essay set will have variable number of items, with each item worth a variable-number points. Points per item are not disclosed.

There may be multiple questions within one essay item. It is important to understand how many answers a candidate is expected to provide. Three examples are presented:

Example 1

Determine which bond best meets the advisor’s objective.

(Bond X, Bond Y, Bond Z)

Justify your response.

For this question, a candidate is expected to type two answers in the response box: the name of the bond that best meets the objective, and a reason why it meets the objective.

Example 2

Determine, based on the client’s IPS, the most appropriate index to use as a benchmark.

(Index 1, Index 2, Index 3)

Explain why the other two indices are less appropriate.

Note: Each explanation should be in a separate paragraph.

For this question, a candidate is expected to type three answers in the response box: the name of the index that is appropriate, and a reason why the two not selected are less appropriate.

Example 3

Discuss one weakness in the risk management process for each of the following:

  1. Company A
  2. Company B

Note: Each discussion should be in a separate paragraph.

For this question, a candidate is expected to type two answers in the response box: a discussion of the weakness for Company A and a separate discussion of the weakness for Company B.

Item Set Format

Each item set on the Level III exam consists of a vignette followed by 4 multiple-choice questions. The 44 multiple choice items are each worth 3 points.

  • Item set vignettes will begin with a statement of the topic and total point value, for example:

    TOPIC: QUANTITATIVE METHODS

    TOTAL POINT VALUE OF THIS QUESTION SET IS 12 POINTS

CFA Level III 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 US 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.
  • Take a mock exam in the Learning EcoSystem to practice answering exam questions.
  • Familiarize yourself with the software features of the exam in this software tutorial.
  • Learn how hardware/software at the test centers may impact your exam-day experience.
  • Dress comfortably. There is no dress code, but dress in layers for comfort.
  • Review the CFA exam calendar for key dates and to meet pre-exam deadlines.

Example Level III Exam Questions

Below is a link to examples of Level III item set questions.