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The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exams

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exams is a three-part exam that tests the fundamentals of investment tools, valuing assets, portfolio management, and wealth planning. The CFA Program is typically completed by those with backgrounds in finance, accounting, economics, or business.

It is one of the most sought-after credentials for investment professionals. However, becoming a CFA charter holder is not for the fainthearted nor the uninterested. The journey to becoming a CFA charter holder is long, and it tests not only knowledge of the subject but also endurance, diligence, and will.

The current program is best described as a self-study, distance-learning program that takes a generalist approach to investment analysis, valuation, and portfolio management, and emphasizes the highest ethical and professional standards according to the CFA Institute.

CFA Program

Achieve one of the highest distinctions in the investment management profession: Become a Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA®). As a CFA charter holder, you will have the knowledge and the skills to thrive in the competitive investing industry.

The CFA charter gives you expertise and real-world skills in investment analysis. Join more than 170,000 professionals who have been recognized globally for their commitment to ethics and professionalism.

CFA Program Benefits

  • Demonstrating Your Expansive Knowledge and Skills: Designed with your future in mind, the CFA Program provides a strong foundation in advanced investment analysis and real-world portfolio management skills. Ongoing input from industry experts ensures that the curriculum remains relevant and prepares charterholders to enter today’s market.
  • Relevant in a Variety of Career Paths: CFA charterholders occupy a range of investment decision-making roles, typically as research analysts or portfolio managers. CFA charterholders go on to enjoy lifelong careers in asset and wealth management, investment banking, commercial banking, and consulting, alongside a diverse range of career paths in and outside the industry.
  • Value in an Evolving Industry: As a globally recognized credential in the investment management profession, earning the CFA charter demonstrates to employers that you have the knowledge and commitment to thrive in today’s complex and evolving investment industry. The CFA® designation is a mark of distinction, and investment firms know it represents a higher standard.

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exams – What Is a CFA Charter?

A Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) charter is a designation given to those who have completed the CFA® Program and completed acceptable work experience requirements.

The CFA Program is a three-part exam that tests the fundamentals of investment tools, valuing assets, portfolio management, and wealth planning. The CFA Program is typically completed by those with backgrounds in finance, accounting, economics, or business. CFA charterholders earn the right to use the CFA designation after program completion, application, and acceptance by CFA Institute. CFA charterholders are qualified to work in senior and executive positions in investment management, risk management, asset management, and more.

Tools and Resources for Your Journey to Becoming a CFA Charterholder

Earning the CFA charter requires a commitment to learning and excellence. CFA Institute can help you realize your ambitions to join the global CFA charterholder community with a variety of resources.

  • Study Tools: CFA Institute has developed a comprehensive Learning Ecosystem that is available to all registered candidates. It includes an official program curriculum, study sessions for each level, custom study plans, and more.
  • Prep Providers: In addition to the support provided by CFA Institute, candidates in the CFA Program can benefit from extra exam prep courses and materials. Approved prep providers are required to meet CFA Institute standards.
  • Scholarships: As part of the CFA Institute’s commitment to promoting the highest standards of professional excellence, scholarships help make the CFA Program more accessible for people who want to advance in their careers.

CFA® Exams Passing Rate

CFA® exam grading is done yearly by machines and charterholders. CFA Institute then uses a methodology to determine a minimum passing score that is applied to each level of the exam. That score is not made public.

Recent passing rates for all levels of the CFA exam were as follows:

Recent CFA Level I Exam Pass Rates

CFA Level I Exam AdministrationCFA Level I Exam Pass Rate
December 2020 Level I Exam49% pass rate
February 2021 Level I Exam42% pass rate
May 2021 Level I Exam25% pass rate
July 2021 Level I Exam22% pass rate
August 2021 Level I Exam26% pass rate
November 2021 Level I Exam27% pass rate
February 2024 Level I Exam36% pass rate
May 2024 Level I Exam38% pass rate

These recent pass rates have been noticeably low. The July 2021 pass rate of 22% was the lowest in history, which was the beginning of a trend that has only slightly corrected since. The angst in the CFA community is clearly high and rightly so; candidates made a huge investment of time and money only to yield a devastating result. 

The CFA Institute hasn’t provided much information as to why the Level I pass rate is so much lower than previous exam administrations, and we won’t speculate on that topic here. Rather, we want to focus on providing guidance and support to our CFA candidates, both successful and unsuccessful.

Recent CFA Level II Exam Pass Rates

CFA Level II Exam AdministrationCFA Level II Exam Pass Rate
December 2020 Level II Exam55% pass rate
February 2021 Level II Exam46% pass rate
May 2021 Level II Exam40% pass rate
August 2021 Level II Exam29% pass rate
November 2021 Level II Exam46% pass rate
February 2024 Level II Exam44% pass rate

Results from recent Level II exams have varied. While the only significantly lower-than-average pass rate was from the August 2021 exam (29%), it seemed that dip may be a part of a similarly alarming trend as Level I’s consistently declining pass rates. However, the February 2024 exam pass rate of 44%, signals that Level II candidates are back on track as results begin to normalize.

Recent CFA Level III Exam Pass Rates

CFA Level III Exam AdministrationCFA Level III Exam Pass Rate
December 2020 Level III Exam56% pass rate
February 2021 Level III Exam57% pass rate
May 2021 Level III Exam42% pass rate
August 2021 Level III Exam39% pass rate
November 2021 Level III Exam43% pass rate
May 2024 Level III Exam49% pass rate

The May 2024 Level III exam pass rate was 49%, which continues the low pass rate trend we’ve seen in 2021. May’s results though are above the 2021 average Level III pass rate, which is a positive sign for future Level III pass rates.

Similar to the Level I and Level II results, it is unclear why pass rates have been so low for recent exams, but our goal remains the same—to help you become a CFA charterholder. 

For those who passed, congratulations. For those who did not, we will help you take the next best step forward and are dedicated to helping you achieve your professional goals.

Whatever your exam result, the obvious question now is, “What do I do now?”

If you received your results and failed the CFA Exam, we lay a tactical plan for what your next steps should be.

Beginning in 2024, pass rates for CFA Level I will be given out four times a year to correspond with the exam windows (CFA Institute has opened additional seatings for all levels of the 2021 exam). Also beginning in 2024, pass rates for Levels II and III will be given out for each window.

CFA Levels Explained

What is the CFA Level I Exam?

The CFA Level I exam is a computer-based, multiple-choice test that will take you approximately 4.5 hours to complete (broken into two 2.25-hour sections with an optional break in between). The CFA Level I exam is offered four times a year so find a CFA exam date that works for you. 

Level I of the CFA exam tests knowledge and comprehension. The focus is on investment tools and ethical and professional standards. The Level I curriculum mainly focuses on recalling formulas and definitions from memory, and most of the material is a straightforward introduction to the concepts covered.

The Level I CFA exam covers 19 study sessions, 57 readings, and 10 topics.

CFA Level I Exam Topic Weights

CFA Exam Level I TopicsCFA Exam Level I Topic Weights
Ethics and Professional Standards15-20%
Quantitative Methods8-12%
Financial Statement Analysis13-17%
Corporate Issuers8-12%
Equity Investments10-12%
Fixed Income10-12%
Alternative Investments5-8%
Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning5-8%

What is the CFA Level II Exam?

The CFA Level II exam is a computer-based, 4.5-hour exam similar to Level I in administration method and timing, but the questions on the CFA Level II exam are vignette-based, not free-standing. In 2024, the CFA Level II exam will be offered three times. The pass rate for the Level II exam historically hovers between 45% and 46% depending on the timeframe.

That means that even though fewer candidates sat for the Level II exam than Level I and less than half of them passed. It is generally believed by CFA charterholders that Level II is the hardest level.

Level II of the CFA exam tests application and analysis with a focus on asset valuation. Unlike Level I, Level II focuses on how you apply standards to situations that analysts face. 

What is the CFA Level III Exam?

The CFA Level III exam is a computer-based, 4.5-hour exam, but the format is significantly different from Levels I and II. The CFA Level III exam requires you to demonstrate the same skills as Level II, but you also have to show that you can make judgment calls and that you can write about them. The exam is also more subjective than Level II.

The constructed-response section of the Level III CFA exam is Level III’s biggest difference from Level II and Level I. You must answer open-ended questions on a blank piece of paper without any answers to choose from.

The CFA Level III exam has 16 study sessions and 38 readings, and the exam only covers seven topics. It excludes Financial Statement Analysis, Quantitative Methods, and Corporate Issuers.

Enrollment Criteria and Requirements for CFA Program

To become a CFA candidate, you must enrol in CFA Program and register for the Level I exam. In order to enrol, you must meet all of the qualifications listed below. We have provided helpful information below to guide you through the enrollment process and to keep you on track for registration. For further questions about CFA Program enrollment requirements, please refer to these FAQs.

CFA Program vs. MBA

Both the CFA charter and an MBA program offer benefits that can advance your career. While there are some similarities between the two, there are a few key differences. Examine the chart below to consider which education is more aligned to your career goals.

  CFA Program MBA Program
Career Path Investment Analysis and Portfolio Management Business Management
Course Requirement 900+ hours of self study

10 topic areas

4,000 hours of qualified work experience
2–4 years depending on program

Class attendance and participation

No practice requirements
Program Cost USD 3,050–3,950 depending on fee deadline USD80,000–125,000 depending on program
Industry Recognition Benchmarking by NARIC, as comparable to a Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) Master’s Level 7

Waivers from licensing exams in 27 countries
Accredited MBA programs are widely recognized by employers
Educational Focus Deep knowledge of investment analysis, management, and ethics Broad knowledge of core business concepts with some opportunity to specialize
Program Difficulty Low barrier for entry, high attrition rate High barrier for entry, low attrition rate
Award for Completion Charter: professional designation Degree certificate
Networking Opportunities 167,000+ CFA Institute members Depends on specific MBA program

The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exams Dates, Cost, and Registration Fees

Passing the three exams marks true mastery of the curriculum and is the most important task required to earn the CFA® charter. On average, candidates report investing over 300 hours of study in advance of successfully passing each level.

2024 CFA Exam Information

Get the latest information on what’s new about this year’s CFA exam.


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The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Exams

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