CFA® Exam is indisputably one of the toughest and most valued financial exams designed to help professionals acquire advanced financial analysis and investment management skills and capabilities. CFA professionals are in great demand in various sub-domains of finance for their expertise and knowledge of financial analysis and related concepts. This certification is awarded by CFA Institute, USA, and is globally acknowledged by top financial institutions and top industry employers. It is a comprehensive certification program consisting of three levels, each focusing on specific knowledge areas to help develop a detailed understanding of the concepts and their practical applications.
Each CFA level represents an important step on the path to becoming a CFA Charterholder. It must understand that to complete the certification program and acquire the CFA Charter helps validate the financial knowledge, skills, and capabilities of professionals and showcases their ability to work patiently and make determined and well-defined efforts to excel in the domain of their professional pursuit. In this article, we will focus on the CFA Level I Exam as the first and most important step to acquiring the CFA Charter.
Table of contents
- CFA Level
- CFA® Level 1 Topics / Curriculum
- Important Things to Remember about CFA® Level 1 Curriculum
- CFA® Level I Subjects
- CFA Level I Exam Details
- CFA Level I Study Plan Exam
- CFA® Level I Exam Tips
- Sample Questions of CFA®Level 1
CFA® Level 1 Topics / Curriculum
CFA Level I is focused on acquiring knowledge of basic concepts in finance. It would be important to understand the subject-wise organization of the exam. There are ten knowledge areas covered in CFA organized under four modules with increasing difficulty from CFA Part I to Part II & III. The four knowledge modules of CFA include ethics and professional standards, investment tools, asset classesAsset ClassesAssets are classified into various classes based on their type, purpose, or the basis of return or markets. Fixed assets, equity (equity investments, equity-linked savings schemes), real estate, commodities (gold, silver, bronze), cash and cash equivalents, derivatives (equity, bonds, debt), and alternative investments such as hedge funds and bitcoins are examples., portfolio management, and wealth planning.
Here we provide a tabular representation of the knowledge areas and their specific weightage for the Level I exam.
|Ethical and Professional Standards (total)
|Investment Tools (total)
|Financial Reporting and Analysis
|Asset Classes (total)
|Equity InvestmentsEquity InvestmentsEquity investment is the amount pooled in by the investors in the shares of the companies listed on the stock exchange for trading. The shareholders make gain from such holdings in the form of returns or increase in stock value.
|Fixed IncomeFixed IncomeFixed Income refers to those investments that pay fixed interests and dividends to the investors until maturity. Government and corporate bonds are examples of fixed income investments.
|Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning (total)
CFA® Level 1 Study Plan, Topics, Pass Rates & Tips Video
Important Things to Remember about CFA® Level 1 Curriculum
- Financial Reporting / Ethics / Quant makes approx. 50% weightage – It should be apparent from the information presented above that Financial Reporting & Analysis, Ethics, and Professional Standards and Quantitative Methods represent about 47% of the exam weightage, taken together. It is clear that if one scores well in these three subjects, they stand a good chance of passing the Level I Exam. However, it is recommended not to ignore any subjects to score well.
- Non-Finance Graduates put more effort into Financial Reporting – CFA Level I may not be nearly as challenging for finance graduates. In contrast, non-finance graduates might have to put in a greater effort for Financial Reporting & Analysis, but it should not be a major obstacle. Having completed an MBA in finance or from an engineering background could be more comfortable with Financial Reporting and find their forte in quantitative methods, which can be rather challenging for those from a non-mathematical background.
- Subjects and Modules and most common in all 3 Levels – One needs to understand that although the subjects and modules are common to all 3 CFA Levels, the real difference lies in exam weightage, which keeps changing with each level. There is greater stress for CFA Level II & III on more complex areas, including derivatives, alternative investmentsAlternative InvestmentsAlternative investments refer to investments made in assets classified as non-traditional investment vehicles., equity investments, portfolio management, and wealth planning. However, there is almost an equal level of stress on the study of ethics in all 3 CFA Levels, which indicates the kind of significance attached to this area of study by the CFA Institute.
- Next, we provide you with an overview of all the ten knowledge areas covered in CFA Level 1. It should help participants gain an insight into the nature of topics and the best strategy to be adopted for successfully covering the CFA Curriculum.
CFA® Level I Subjects
Ethics and Professional Standards:
This subject covers the code of ethics, professional standards, and Global Investment Professional Standards (GIPS) as a larger part of the ethics aspect applicable to the financial industry. It is one of the most important areas of study in CFA as the certification program is dedicated to promoting universal professional ethics. It is evident in subject weightage, where ethics is one area that receives relative weightage in all 3 CFA Levels.
This section is rather limited in its scope with merely 7% weightage. It covers areas related to capital budgeting, NPV IRR, cost of capital, measures of leverage, basics of dividends, and share buybacksShare BuybacksShare buyback refers to the repurchase of the company’s own outstanding shares from the open market using the accumulated funds of the company to decrease the outstanding shares in the company’s balance sheet. This is done either to increase the value of the existing shares or to prevent various shareholders from controlling the company., along with working capital management and corporate governance of listed companies. Some of the problems addressed include agency problemsAgency ProblemsThe agency problem is better defined as a conflict that occurs when the agents entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the interests of the principals choose to use the power or authority for their personal gain. In corporate finance it can be explained as a conflict of interest that occurs between a company's management and its stockholders. in the agency-principal relationship.
This section covers the fundamentals of micro and macroeconomics with its primary focus on the latter. Those with an economics background generally tend to do well with macroeconomicsMacroeconomicsMacroeconomics aims at studying aspects and phenomena important to the national economy and world economy at large like GDP, inflation, fiscal policies, monetary policies, unemployment rates. and makes it less challenging to assimilate all the information presented with the help of graphical presentations, as is the standard method. However, this subject has 10% weightage, making it important to pursue with diligence.
Financial Reporting and Analysis:
This exam tests the knowledge of financial ratios and financial statements commonly employed for financial analysis. As we have already made clear, it has nearly 20% weightage, making it an important enough knowledge area for anyone pursuing CFA. Along with this, one should be well-conversant in the concepts of revenue recognition accounts receivablesAccounts ReceivablesAccounts receivables is the money owed to a business by clients for which the business has given services or delivered a product but has not yet collected payment. They are categorized as current assets on the balance sheet as the payments expected within a year. , and inventory analysis, along with taxes and long-term assets. While preparing for this exam, must keep in mind that local accounting practices do not hold much relevance as CFA is more of a global exam and focuses on US GAAP and IFRS practices.
This section focuses on quantitative analysis and mathematically-oriented approaches to address complex financial issues that make this knowledge area of great value. Some of the most important areas covered in this section include performance measurement, time value of money, statistics and probability basics, sampling, and hypothesis testingHypothesis TestingHypothesis Testing is the statistical tool that helps measure the probability of the correctness of the hypothesis result derived after performing the hypothesis on the sample data. It confirms whether the primary hypothesis results derived were correct., along with correlation and linear regression analysis in excelLinear Regression Analysis In ExcelLinear Regression is a statistical excel tool that is used as a predictive analysis model to examine the relationship between two sets of data. Using this analysis, we can estimate the relationship between dependent and independent variables.. A study of these concepts provides useful tools and techniques for knowing fixed income, equities, and portfolio management. In addition, a proper understanding and grasp of quantitative techniques would help master a good proportion of CFA’s body of knowledge.
This section includes forms of investment not covered under other knowledge areas of CFA. It includes real estate funds, venture capital, hedge fundsHedge FundsA hedge fund is an aggressively invested portfolio made through pooling of various investors and institutional investor’s fund. It supports various assets providing high returns in exchange for higher risk through multiple risk management and hedging techniques., and commodities. There is a special focus on commodities, so it would be helpful for participants to have an in-depth awareness of concepts related to trading in commodities. There could be seven or eight conceptually-oriented questions from this section, some of them specifically related to commodities. Although this section is short on weightage in CFA Level I, with reasonable effort, could master these sections with comparative ease.
DerivativesDerivativesDerivatives in finance are financial instruments that derive their value from the value of the underlying asset. The underlying asset can be bonds, stocks, currency, commodities, etc. The four types of derivatives are - Option contracts, Future derivatives contracts, Swaps, Forward derivative contracts. are complex financial instruments, and this section deals with them specifically, including the fundamentals of futures, forwards, options, swaps, and hedging techniques usually employed. In addition, more complex mathematical methods are usually employed for studying these exotic financial instruments. Still, on Level I, most of the material is introductory, and the weightage of this section is only 5%, with only about 12 questions in the exam from this section.
This section primarily deals with equity markets and covers various tools and techniques available for the valuation of companies – DCF, PE RatioPE RatioThe price to earnings (PE) ratio measures the relative value of the corporate stocks, i.e., whether it is undervalued or overvalued. It is calculated as the proportion of the current price per share to the earnings per share. , PBVPBVPrice to Book Value Ratio or P/B Ratio helps to identify stock opportunities in Financial companies, especially banks, and is used with other valuation tools like PE Ratio, PCF, EV/EBITDA. Price to Book Value Ratio = Price Per Share / Book Value Per Share , PCF, etc. This section has nearly 10% weightage, with about 25 questions in the exam section. Most of the questions could be related to the valuation and analysis of companies.
This section covers fixed income marketsFixed Income MarketsFixed Income Market is where fixed income securities like government bonds, corporate bonds and treasury bills are traded. In his market, the investors receive a regular income, whether on a monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or yearly basis, and repayment of principal amount on maturity. and instruments and their pricing techniques. Important concepts, including yield measures, duration, and convexity, are discussed. Sequentially, this section deals with the bond analysis and valuation before taking up the bond’s features before finally moving on to 10 risks related to debt investments. The exam weightage is 10% for this section.
This section deals with fundamental principles of portfolio management and introduces some key concepts, including the Theory of Modern PortfolioTheory Of Modern PortfolioAn investment model like modern portfolio theory or MPT allows investors to choose from a variety of investment options comprising of a single portfolio for earning maximum benefits and that too at a market risk which is way lower than the various underlying investments or assets. and Capital Asset Pricing Model. Section weightage is only 7% which roughly translates to about 17 questions in the exam. However, this section gains increasing significance in Level II and Level III of CFA as the focus shifts to applying available knowledge for efficient portfolio management.
CFA Level I Exam Details
CFA Level I Exam is a 6-hour total duration, divided into morning and afternoon sessions of 3-hour duration each. Each session has 120-multiple choice questions comprising 240 questions in both sessions. It should keep in mind that three choices are provided for each question, and most of the questions are unrelated. It helps judge the knowledge and capabilities of a test participant in a wider range of knowledge areas.
CFA Level I Results & Pass Rates:
The CFA Level I Exam results are usually announced 60 days after the exam date. You can access the results both on the CFA Institute website, and exam participants are also notified by email.
Before detailing the pass rates, one must understand that the CFA Level I exam is conducted twice a year, in June and December.
CFA Level I Exam 10-year average pass rates:
- In the past ten years, from 2007-2016, the overall average pass rates for CFA Level I exam are around 39.65%
- The 10-year average pass percentage for the June CFA Level I exam is 40.5%
- The 10-year average pass percentage for December CFA Level I exam is around 38.8%
CFA Level 1 Pass Rates in 2015-16:
- In June 2015, the CFA Level I exam pass rate was 42%.
- In December 2015, the CFA Level I exam pass rate was 43%.
- In June 2016, the CFA Level I exam pass rate was 43%.
Declining Pass Rates for CFA Level I Exam:
- It has often been pointed out that pass rates for this exam have been declining for the past few years, and it could be of help for participants to know the possible reasons behind it.
- It is considered the results of common prerequisites for the Level I exam, which results in many people appearing for the exam.
- However, only those with a good level of preparation make through, thus lowering the pass rates.
- It holds an important message for people with a non-accounting or financial background that CFA might require a good deal of extra effort from them to clear the exam, and it would not be intelligent to opt for CFA just because you are eligible to appear for it.
CFA Level I Study Plan Exam
As we have already seen, pass rates for CFA Part I are rather low, in the range of 37-40%. It shows that a rather limited number of candidates complete the exam, and you have to make a concerted effort to make it through and earn the coveted CFA Charter. However, at the moment, we are focusing on CFA Part I, but the same holds good for Part I as well. It is only that the level of difficulty keeps rising with each CFA level.
Developing A CFA Study Plan: 300 Hours
Generally, it is recommended to devote around 300 hours of structured study to complete CFA Level I successfully. Those with a solid background in any CFA topics might require a lesser amount of time for preparation. It would help to remember that the CFA Level I exam covers ten topics, 18 study sessions, and 60 readings. Each study session should review independently to ascertain the level of familiarity with the topics covered therein.
There are several study plans available to cover the CFA curriculum effectively. However, one of the most popular approaches is considering 300 hours of study time as the benchmark and distributing it over four months (120 days) before the exam.
Following this plan, you would be required to devote at least 12 hours each week to studying various topics to cover the curriculum within the exam. The most logical approach is to assign a greater number of hours to topics with higher weightage and varying levels of complexity.
Here is a general study plan presented in tabular form, which might be customized later in keeping with individual time constraints and other factors.
|Hours based on 300-Hour schedule
|Days to allocate
|Ethical and Professional Standards
|Financial Reporting and Analysis
|Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning
- It means that one should start preparation at least 5-6 months before the actual exam date, cover the curriculum well within time, and devote the last month to review the exam material.
- It can be crucial to success in the exam as study material is comprehensive, and without proper review of the entire curriculum, one may not be able to make it through.
- The best way is to start with WallStreetMojo CFA Tutorials and move to Schweser notes to ensure you have covered all important concepts from exams.
- After that, I advise you to look at CFA® Blue Box Examples (discussed within the chapters) and then End of Chapter (EOC) Questions. It may take another 80-100 hours.
- However, it is always recommended to have completed the exam preparation at least one month before the exam date.
If you have 100-120 hours, Exam Preparation Time?
You know that you are short of time; however, I think it just enough gives your one best shot. With this, I recommend the following –
- Forget about the CFA® Curriculum Books (sorry, but you can’t look at your books now). On average, it takes around 200+ hours to go through CFA Curriculum books. (which you are short of)
- Go through the WallStreetMojo CFA Video Tutorials. It may take a max of 40-50 hours, and these are a good starting point to prepare yourself for the exam.
- Once you have looked at the videos, go through the Schweser notes in detail. Though these are a summary version of CFA® books, I feel they are sufficient to ensure that you pass the exam. Reading Schweser notes will take around 50-60 hours or so
- The remaining time (if any) you must spend on attempting as many Mock Papers as you can and concept revision.
- Please find enough time to practice 2-3 mock test papers. It is really helpful (Trust me on this!)
- I had only 100-110 hours for CFA® Level 1 exam preparation and used this strategy to pass the CFA® level 1 examination.
If you have 200-250 hours for exam preparation?
- If you can spend 200-250 hours preparing for the exam, then you may be in a dilemma – Should I touch complete CFA® curriculum books or not?
- My take would be to work on the CFA curriculum book selectively.
- Within the Curriculum books for CFA Level 1, look at CFA Blue Box Examples (discussed within the chapters) and then End of Chapter (EOC) Questions.
CFA® Level I Exam Tips
Map Your Study Progress:
- Create a study schedule on Excel, Outlook, or another tool and map your progress as you complete each study section.
- It would help complete the curriculum at least a month before the exam.
- During last month’s review, developing and adhering to a study schedule is advisable.
Do Not Leave Practice Questions for Later:
- It is highly recommended to attempt all practice questions at the end of each section instead of leaving them later.
- It will help assess your progress and expose the areas of weakness that might require extra effort and study time to be mastered.
- Practicing questions would also add to your confidence in what you have learned and help you feel what you might encounter in the exam.
Go by the Definitions of CFA Curriculum:
- It would be important to acquire knowledge of financial concepts and understand several complex terms associated with them ‘as per the CFA curriculum.’
- There are several complex financial concepts covered in the curriculum, and terms are defined differently. In contrast, things may have been defined somewhat differently in other places.
- It can create confusion and a lack of clarity, and it is recommended to continuously refer to the curriculum to stay on the right track for your exam.
Prepare Well with a Mock Test:
- In the month-long curriculum review period before the exam, it is generally recommended to practice more questions and appear for a mock exam offered by CFA Institute.
- It would require you to take a 3-hour morning session test followed by a 2-hour break, after which another 3-hour long afternoon session would commence.
- It is likely to help you prepare well for the exam psychologically, apart from helping assess the general level of your performance.
Master All Learning Outcome Statements (LOS):
- CFA Institute clearly defines LOS as “knowledge, skills, and capabilities that you should be able to apply after completing each reading and all associated exercises and problems.”
- To master the LOS, you can write down the principal concepts, definitions, and formulas to help you remember them better.
Additional Learning Techniques:
- You could make flashcards to instantly review key concepts in the curriculum instead of carrying around comprehensive material.
- It will make learning and reviewing the material in the shortest of available breaks.
- One effective technique could be using mnemonic devices and other memory techniques.
Decide What to Study First:
- It would be important to develop an organized approach to study to avoid missing out on any concepts and their nuances presented in the CFA Curriculum.
- It is unnecessary to study subjects in the way they are presented. Instead, it could be better to start with the fundamentals sections before taking up more advanced topics while preparing.
- One logical way would be to focus on quantitative methods that might find wider applications in other areas before moving on to financial reporting and analysis and leave more complex and advanced topics like macroeconomics and ethics for later.
- Another approach could be to focus on quantitative topics, understand the concepts and tackle the problems presented, and study qualitative material, including ethics and behavioral financeBehavioral FinanceBehavioral finance refers to the study focusing on explaining the influence of psychology in the decision-making process of investors. It explains the occurrence of irrational decision-making in the financial market when it is expected to be a manifestation of rational decisions and an efficient market., before attempting related problems.
- My personal plan was in this order – Quantitative Analysis -> Financial ReportingFinancial ReportingFinancial reporting is a systematic process of recording and representing a company’s financial data. The reports reflect a firm’s financial health and performance in a given period. Management, investors, shareholders, financiers, government, and regulatory agencies rely on financial reports for decision-making. -> Ethics -> Corporate Finance -> Fixed Income -> Economics -> Equity Investments -> Derivatives -> Alternative Investments -> Portfolio and then to again Ethics (read twice)
Practice with a CFA-Approved Calculator:
- To ensure you do not lose any time during the exam would be best to practice with a CFA-approved calculator, proving to be of great help during the exam.
- The Texas Instruments BA II Plus is the official calculator approved by CFA. Knowing the functions available for calculating effective yieldCalculating Effective YieldEffective yield is a yearly rate of return at a periodic interest rate proclaimed to be one of the effective measures of an equity holder's return as it takes compounding into its due consideration, unlike the nominal yield method., capital budgeting, and other necessary calculations would be useful.
Sample Questions of CFA®Level 1
CFA Institute offers several sample questions to help students understand the kind of questions they might ask and the format in which they are presented, which would help avoid any confusion while tackling questions in the actual exam.
There are primarily two question formats adhered to in CFA Level I exam. First, it includes questions where you have to study the entire equation and figure out how to complete the last sentence of the question with the right option. There is another format based on the study of the question. You have to choose the right option, which represents the answer.
For the benefit of readers, we would here include one sample question in each of the formats explained for better understanding.
Sentence Completion Format:
Susan Plumb is the supervisor of her firm’s research department. Her firm has been seeking the mandate to underwrite Wings Industries’ proposed secondary stock offering. Without mentioning that the firm is seeking the mandate, she asks Jack Dawson to analyze Wing’s common stock and prepare a research report. After the reasonable effort, Dawson produces a favorable report on Wings stock. Plumb then adds a footnote describing the underwriting relationship with Wings and disseminates the report to the firm’s clients. According to the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct, these actions are:
|not a violation of any Standard.
|a violation of Standard V(A), Diligence, and Reasonable Basis.
|a violation of Standard VI(A), Disclosure of Conflicts
Choose the Right Option Format:
Timothy Hooper, CFA, is a security analyst at an investment firm. Hooper serves as a volunteer for City Pride, which collects clothes for the homeless in his spare time. Hooper has occasionally given some of the clothes to his friends or sold the clothes instead of returning all of the clothing to City Pride. City Pride discovers what he has been doing and dismisses him. Later, City Pride learns that other volunteer organizations have dismissed Hooper for similar actions. Has Hooper violated Standard I(D) on professional misconduct in the CFA Institute Standards of Professional Conduct?
|No, because Hooper’s conduct is unrelated to his professional activities as a security analyst.
|No, because Hooper volunteers his services to City Pride.
The CFA® Level I exam is certainly not for the faint-hearted or those casually interested. It is meant for people already working in finance with a good amount of knowledge in a specific domain and willing to develop their expertise, professional skills, and capabilities for career advancement. The odds of completing the exam are certainly not impossible, but participants need to realize that the results may not be favorable without an organized and dedicated effort. On the positive side, completing the CFA Level I exam opens up a whole new world of professional growth opportunities. It expands the scope of knowledge and skills for any finance professional. They can then set their sights on earning the much-coveted CFA Charter and put their best foot forward.
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“CFA Institute does not endorse, promote, or warrant the accuracy or quality of Wallstreetmojo. CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst® are registered trademarks owned by CFA Institute.”