The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program is a widely recognized professional credential which is offered by the CFA Institute, US. The curriculum of CFA exam is designed to assess the competence and integrity of finance job aspirants.
The CFA program consists of three levels, with Level 1 being the starting point for aspiring finance professionals. In this guide, we will provide you with everything you need to know about the CFA Level 1 exam, from eligibility to prep strategy. We will also cover the value of the CFA designation for your career.
CFA Level 1 Exam Overview
Structure of the exam
The CFA Level 1 exam consists of 180 multiple-choice questions, divided into two parts, each containing 90 questions. Candidates have 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete each part, making the total exam duration 4 hours and 30 minutes, including an optional break between the two parts.
Exam content and topic areas
The exam covers ten topic areas, each with a different weightage in the overall score:
- Ethical and Professional Standards (15-20%): This topic area focuses on the CFA Institute’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct, which set the ethical benchmark for investment professionals.
- Quantitative Methods (8-12%): Quantitative methods are essential tools for investment professionals to analyze financial data and make informed decisions.
- Economics (8-12%): A solid understanding of economics is crucial for investment professionals to interpret market trends and make informed investment decisions.
- Financial Statement Analysis (13-17%): This topic area focuses on understanding, interpreting, and analyzing financial statements, such as the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement.
- Corporate Finance (8-12%): Corporate finance involves the financial decision-making processes within a company.
- Portfolio Management (5-8%): Portfolio management is the process of constructing and managing an investment portfolio to achieve specific objectives.
- Equity Investments (10-12%): Equity investments refer to the ownership of shares in a company. This topic area covers various aspects of equity investments.
- Fixed Income (10-12%): Fixed income investments involve debt securities that provide a fixed stream of income to investors.
- Derivatives (5-8%): Derivatives are financial instruments whose value is derived from an underlying asset, such as stocks, bonds, or commodities.
- Alternative Investments (5-8%): Alternative investments include asset classes outside the traditional stock, bond, and cash investments.
The CFA Level 1 exam is conducted four times in a year – February, May, August, and November. Registration for each attempt opens several months in advance, and the registration deadline is usually 2-3 months before the exam date. You can visit CFA Institute’s website for exact dates and deadlines.
CFA Level 1 Eligibility and Registration
To be eligible for the CFA Level 1 exam, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience, or be in the final/pre-final year of their bachelor’s program.
Alternatively, candidates can have a combination of education and work experience totaling at least 4,000 hours, assuming that higher education takes 1000 hours per year.
- Create a CFA Institute account: Candidates must create an account on the CFA Institute website to begin the registration process.
- Provide required documentation: Candidates must submit their educational and work experience documentation to the CFA Institute.
- Pay the registration fee: Upon approval of the submitted documentation, candidates must pay the registration fee, which varies depending on the registration deadline (early, standard, or late).
Preparing for the CFA Level 1 Exam
Study materials and resources
- CFA Institute’s curriculum: The CFA Institute provides a comprehensive curriculum for each exam level, which is the primary source of material for exam preparation. The curriculum is available in print and digital formats.
- Third-party providers: Various third-party providers offer supplementary study materials, such as video lectures, practice exams, and condensed study notes.
- Online forums and study groups: Joining online forums and study groups can help candidates network, share resources, and learn from others’ experiences.
- Create a study plan: Design a study plan that covers all ten topic areas, allocating more time to areas with higher weightage and those you find challenging. Begin studying at least 6 months before the exam to ensure adequate preparation time.
- Balancing topic areas: While focusing on high-weightage topics, don’t neglect the lower-weightage ones, as they can still significantly impact your overall score. Aim to achieve a good understanding of all topics to improve your chances of success.
- Time management and practice exams: Regularly take practice exams to gauge your progress and identify areas needing improvement. This will also help you become familiar with the exam format and improve your time management skills.
Tips for exam day success
- Get a good night’s sleep: Ensure you are well-rested before the exam to maximize focus and retention.
- Arrive early: Plan to arrive at the exam center at least 30 minutes before the start time to avoid last-minute stress.
- Bring necessary items: Don’t forget your admission ticket, valid photo ID, approved calculator, extra batteries, and writing materials.
CFA Level 1 Exam Results and Next Steps
Timeline & Pass rates of CFA Exam results
- Timeline for results release: The CFA Institute typically releases exam results within 60 days of the exam date. Candidates receive an email notifying them that their results are available online.
- Pass rates: Historically, CFA Level 1 pass rates have ranged between 40-60%, which can fluctuate from year to year.
What to do if you pass or fail?
- Preparing for CFA Level 2 (if passed): If you pass the Level 1 exam, begin preparing for Level 2 by reviewing the curriculum and creating a new study plan.
- Retaking Level 1 (if failed): If you do not pass, analyze your performance summary to identify areas for improvement and adjust your study plan accordingly. Consider retaking the exam at the next available opportunity.
- Importance of perseverance: Remember that the CFA program is challenging by design, and many successful charterholders have faced setbacks along the way. Stay focused and committed to your goal.
Jobs and Salary after CFA Level 1
After passing the CFA Level 1 exam, candidates can explore various entry-level positions in the finance industry. Some popular job roles include:
- Financial Analyst: Conduct research and analysis to provide investment recommendations for individuals and organizations. Average salaries are given below –
India: ₹6 Lakh (Approx)
Global: $45,000 – $70,000
- Investment Banking Analyst: Assist in the origination, structuring, and execution of various transactions, such as mergers, acquisitions, and capital raises. Average salaries are given below –
India: ₹ 8 Lakh (Approx)
Global: $60,000 – $100,000
- Equity Research Analyst: Perform in-depth research on companies and industries to provide investment recommendations to buy-side or sell-side clients. Average salaries are given below –
India: ₹ 5 Lakh (Approx)
Global: $50,000 – $80,000
- Portfolio Analyst: Support portfolio managers in the development, management, and monitoring of investment portfolios. Average salaries are given below –
India: ₹6 Lakh (Approx)
Global: $45,000 – $70,000
- Risk Analyst: Assess and manage financial risks associated with investment portfolios, business operations, and strategic decisions. Average salaries are given below –
India: ₹5 Lakh (Approx)
Global: $50,000 – $75,000
CFA Level 1 Fees
The CFA Level 1 exam fees consist of a one-time program enrollment fee and an exam registration fee. The fees are subject to change, so candidates should consult the CFA Institute’s website for the most up-to-date information. Here is a general breakdown of the fees:
- Program Enrollment Fee: A one-time fee of $350 is required when candidates enroll in the CFA program for the first time. This fee is separate from the exam registration fee and is only paid once throughout the entire program.
- Exam Registration Fee: The registration fee for the CFA Level 1 exam varies depending on when candidates register for the exam. There are three registration periods with different fees-
- Early Registration: Candidates who register during the early registration period benefit from the lowest exam fee, typically around $900.
- Standard Registration: The standard registration fee is generally around $1,200 and applies to candidates who register after the early registration deadline.
Apart from the program enrollment and exam registration fees, candidates should consider additional costs associated with preparing for the CFA Level 1 exam. These may include:
- Study materials: While the CFA Institute provides the official curriculum as part of the exam fee, candidates may choose to invest in supplementary study materials, such as third-party study guides, video lectures, or practice exams.
- Calculator: The CFA Institute allows only specific calculator models for the exam. Candidates may need to purchase an approved calculator if they do not already own one.
- Travel and accommodations: Depending on the candidate’s location, there may be travel and accommodation expenses related to attending the exam.
CFA Level 1 Marking Scheme
Understanding the Marking Scheme
The CFA Level 1 exam uses a points-based marking scheme to evaluate candidates’ performance. Each multiple-choice question carries equal weight, and there are no penalties for incorrect answers. Here is an overview of the marking scheme:
- Points per question: Each of the 180 multiple-choice questions on the CFA Level 1 exam is worth one point.
- Negative Scoring: There are no deductions for incorrect or unanswered questions, so it is in your best interest to attempt every question on the exam.
- Maximum score: Given that there are 180 questions, the maximum score a candidate can achieve is 180 points.
Minimum Passing Score (MPS)
The CFA Institute does not disclose a fixed passing score for the CFA Level 1 exam. Instead, the Minimum Passing Score (MPS) is determined by the CFA Institute’s Board of Governors after each exam administration, based on various factors such as overall exam difficulty and candidate performance.
- Factors influencing the MPS: The Board of Governors considers the performance of all candidates and seeks input from a team of experienced CFA charterholders who review the exam content and provide recommendations for the MPS.
- Confidentiality: The CFA Institute does not disclose the MPS or individual candidate scores. Candidates receive a “pass” or “fail” result, along with a performance summary indicating their performance in each topic area as one of the following: “below 50%”, “50-70%”, or “above 70%”.
Importance of a Balanced Performance
Given the undisclosed MPS and the varying weightage of the ten topic areas, it is crucial to achieve a balanced performance across all topics. Focusing on high-weightage topics is essential, but candidates should not neglect lower-weightage topics, as they can still impact the overall score.
A strong performance in all topic areas will increase your chances of scoring above the MPS and passing the CFA Level 1 exam.
Preparing for and passing the CFA Level 1 exam is a significant milestone on your journey toward becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst. By understanding the exam structure, eligibility requirements, and effective study strategies, you can increase your chances of success.
Remember, perseverance is key, and earning the CFA designation can provide a strong foundation for a rewarding career in the finance industry.
Frequently Asked Questions
The CFA Level 1 exam consists of 180 multiple-choice questions divided into two parts, each containing 90 questions. Candidates have 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete each part, with a break in between.
Average salary that candidates get after CFA level 1 is $50,000. In India, the average is 4 to 6 Lakhs, approximately.