CFA Level 3 Exam Weights, Study Plan, Tips, Pass Rates, Fees

Updated on March 27, 2024
Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

CFA Level 3 Exam

Firstly, congratulations on clearing the CFA level 1 and CFA level 2 examinations. Now comes the real deal – your last step towards success – CFA Level 3 exam!

I did clear the CFA level 1 and Level 2 exams; however, it took me three attempts to clear CFA Level 3 exam.

I understood the hard way that CFA Level 3 is a different ball game altogether. Competition, the required level of preparation, and difficulty all are enormous. Yet, when I look at my first two failed attempts, I see that the only reason I failed was because of overconfidence and lack of preparation.

You must not fail the CFA Level 3 exam! To help you pass CFA Level 3 in your first attempt, I have created this comprehensive CFA Level 3 guide. We will cover the syllabus, study plan/tips, pass rates, and results to get you started.

CFA Level 3

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Read slowly, understand everything as you go along, and let this article be your first preparation step.

About CFA Level 3 Exam

ExamCFA Level 3 Exam
Fees2022 CFA Level 3 Exam
Early Registration Fees: $700
Standard Registration Fees: $1,000
Core AreasEthics, Alternative Investments, Derivatives, Equity Investments, Fixed Income, Portfolio Management & Wealth Planning.
CFA® Exam DatesCFA® Level 3 is conducted twice a year (May, Aug).
The DealCFA Level 3 is a full-day six-hour examination. Candidates must pass CFA Level 1 and CFA Level 2 exams before advancing to CFA Level 3. However, students are permitted to re-exam if they fail to pass.
FormatEssay Type Questions / Item Set.
Number of QuestionsMorning Session – 8 to 12 Essay type Questions for 180 points
Afternoon Session – 10 Item Sets for 180 points.
Pass Rate54% in June 2016.
CFA Level 3 Exam ResultUsually provided within 90 days.
Recommended Study HoursA minimum of 300 hours of preparation for CFA Level 3 is recommended.
What next?Once you clear CFA Level 3, you are entitled to the CFA Charter (provided you have the requisite professional work experience).
Official Websitewww.cfainstitute.org.

Note – 

  • Keep in mind that the minimum time required to complete all three levels of CFA is about 2.5 years, although an average of 4 years is taken to meet all these levels.
  • To qualify for the Level III exam, one must have earned a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and completed the Level II exam. Apart from meeting all three levels of the CFA exam, one must demonstrate no less than 48 months of acceptable professional work experience to apply for CFA Charter Membership.

CFA Level 1 vs. CFA Level 2 vs. CFA Level 3

CFA Level 2 is centered around imparting the knowledge of basic concepts in finance, which would build a solid foundation for the advanced levels of this program. CFA Level 2 is more or less focused on investment tools and concepts, which would help with the valuation of different types of assets. Equity and Fixed income Investments and accounting lie at the core of its curriculum. However, CFA Level 3 level is primarily focused on bringing together all the tools, techniques, and concepts studied so far to form a part of the greater whole that can then apply to complex areas like portfolio and wealth management.

The underlying subject organization remains uniform throughout levels 1, 2 & 3, consisting of 10 knowledge areas divided into four modules. These modules include ethical and professional standards, investment tools, asset classes, portfolio management, and wealth planning. As can be expected logically, the difficulty level increases with every level, and the third level is the toughest to crack.

Following is a tabular representation of the subject weightage for the CFA Level 3 exam:

CFA level 1 vs 2 vs 3

The primary difference that you may notice in CFA Level 3 is that there is no Financial Reporting and Analysis, Corporate Finance, and Quantitative Methods.

Also, check out the CFA Level 1 ExamCFA Level 2 Exam.

CFA Level III Subject Weightage

CFA level 3 Exam Syllabus

Note: These weights guide the curriculum and exam development processes. Actual exam weights may vary from year to year. Please note that some topics are combined for testing purposes.

Important Things to Remember:

  1. You will see that Ethics and Professional Standards have received the same amount of weightage and attention at Level III as at Levels I & II, emphasizing the significance of this knowledge area in the CFA certification program. Never losing sight of the key role of ethics in finance is perhaps one of the reasons CFA garners such a high level of credibility in the financial industry.
  2. The greatest subject weightage is accorded to portfolio management and wealth planning at this level, which means one needs to be much better prepared for these areas to complete the Level III exam. In terms of percentage, this knowledge area has around 45-55% of the total weightage, making it a key element to success.
  3. The rest of the modules, including Ethics and Asset Classes, make for the rest of the weightage for this level. All in all, it might seem like portfolio management and asset classes; are all it would take to do well at this level. Still, one must not lose track of the rest of the topic areas that are merged to delve deeper and enhance their understanding of these knowledge areas. However, Ethics and Professional Standards must also not be ignored while preparing for the exam, as we have already discussed their unique significance in the CFA program.

Next, we would elaborate on the ten knowledge areas included in the CFA certification and the Level III exam.

CFA Level 3 Exam Subjects

Students must know that different topic areas are brought together to form advanced knowledge. Hence, they differ in their form and structure from Level I & II topic areas.

At each level of the program, the curriculum is organized into study sessions with readings and Learning Outcome Statements (LOS), which describe evaluation or other analytical tasks you should be able to complete. Keep in mind that some of the key knowledge areas are combined at this level, depending on their level of interrelationship:

  • Study session 1-2: Ethics & Professional Standards
  • Study Session 3: Behavioral Finance
  • Study Session 4-5: Private Wealth Management
  • Study Session 6: Portfolio Management for Institutional Investors
  • Study Session 7: Application of Economic Analysis to Portfolio Management
  • Study Session 8: Asset Allocation and Related Decisions in Portfolio Management
  • Study Session 9: Asset Allocation and Related Decisions in Portfolio Management (2)
  • Study session 10: Fixed-Income Portfolio Management
  • Study Session 11: Fixed-Income Portfolio Management (2)
  • Study Session 12: Equity Portfolio Management
  • Study Session 13: Alternative Investments for Portfolio Management
  • Study Session 14: Risk Management
  • Study Session 15: Risk Management Applications of Derivatives
  • Study Session 16: Trading, Monitoring, and Rebalancing
  • Study Session 17: Performance Evaluation
  • Study Session 18: Global Investment Performance Standards

For more details, please visit – CFA Level 3 Subjects.

Top 10 CFA Level 3 Exam Tips

As discussed, CFA Level 3 is more about concepts than techniques and tools to keep in mind while preparing for this exam. But only a few ever reach this level after completing Levels I & II, which are no less grueling. Therefore, it is important to gain an in-depth understanding of concepts and know-how to apply them for clearing this level. In addition, there are some important ways in which CFA Level III differs from previous exam levels, including the exam format and the structured arrangement of subjects.

Here are the top tips for clearing CFA Level 3 Exam: –

# 1 – Don’t be overconfident

Having cleared CFA Level 1 and CFA Level 2, it is obvious that you are confident. However, never think that the tricks that led you to pass the first two exams apply here. The game and format are different. All the players in this game are very competitive.

Make sure you start your preparation early for CFA Level 3.

# 2 – Tackling Essay-type Questions

You must keep in mind that these essay-type questions are composed of multiple parts, and you have to organize an answer in a template after studying them carefully. The important thing to remember is that these essay-type questions are focused on the individual and institutional wealth management, and it is naturally incumbent on the student to have an intricate understanding of portfolio and wealth management concepts, which lie at the heart of the CFA Level III exam, to be able to see through essay-type questions successfully.

It has 180 points equal to the number of minutes for this morning session. Every question has been allocated against it, which can also be considered the number of minutes spent answering it. One must keep in mind that about 80 marks (45%) worth of questions would be asked from the subject matter of Portfolio Management, both individual and institutional.

# 3 – Practice Last 5 years of CFA Level 3 Exam Papers

CFA has made available question papers for the last three years to help students understand what lies in store for them. CFA Level 3 is the only level where the CFA institute releases the previous year’s actual exams. Practicing these papers will help clarify how the questions are formulated, although the questions keep changing every year.

You can also access earlier years’ question papers by searching Google. It is always useful to get access to as many previous exam papers.

#4 – Do Not Write Essays for Essay-type Questions

OK! Here essay type does not mean that you have to reproduce a 2000+ word answer. You should provide pinpointed responses instead of writing essays. Avoid showing off knowledge of other CFA areas and focus on the question at hand, as it won’t help you score better and only take up extra time.

Also, note that the previous year’s CFA Level 3 exam papers provided by CFA Institute contain guideline answers to the questions. Carefully note these guideline answers so that you can keep following the same principles during the morning exam. My tip is to keep your answers to the point, concise, and use bullet points.

# 5 – Tackling Item Set Questions

This afternoon session is generally simpler than the morning session. It is based on the standard format followed in Level I and II of CFA, where item set questions are based on any one or a combination of the topics. There is a greater focus on Ethics and GIPS in the afternoon session, and there could be two items set on ethics and 1 item set on GIPS. This session also has 180 points and a 180 minutes duration, which can help with time management. You must practice item set mock tests before the actual exam. 

# 6 – Don’t Hurry in the Afternoon Examination

You must aptly understand calculation-based questions before they are attempted. A basic mistake in the calculation might affect the outcome. However, there is a silver lining. Most of the questions are independent of each other, so making a minor inadvertent mistake may be overlooked by the examiner if skills and comprehension are demonstrated in the solution. Broadly speaking, if you score about 60% in the morning session, you will require nearly 75% – 80% in the afternoon session to surpass the exam.

Most of you will complete the afternoon sessions well ahead of time. However, please do take the time to revise and recheck your calculations. This last-minute relook at the afternoon item sets helped me a lot. For example, I went through the Ethics section again, and after re-reading the questions, I changed the answers to at least 4 of them. As a result, I scored more than 70% in Ethics!

# 7 – Master Ethics & GIPS

Ethics is the core of CFA examinations, and its weight remains almost the same in all three levels. However, Ethics always remains tricky, and therefore the best way to master it is to practice using mock tests and end-of-chapter questions.

Also, make sure that you have time to revise ethics sessions at least twice.

# 8 – Behavioural Finance

Most of you will be reading behavioral finance for the first time. Go slow, concepts look easy, but they are highly deceptive. When asked in the exam, they create lots of confusion. Again, I recommend you practice this section using the end of the chapter questions and mock questions.

And, please read this session at least thrice as questions on this section are expected.

# 9 – Spend a Minimum of 300 hours

For preparing, 300 hours is approximately 1 hour per day. Please ensure enough time to prepare for the CFA Level 3 examination. Else, 300 hours is just a guideline. You may take more or even less than this. However, I think to evenly space out your preparation throughout the year instead of slogging at the end.

# 10 – Give 4 weeks for Intense Revision and Practice

I know that the last four weeks will either make or break your preparation. You can even take the previous 2-3 weeks off so that you can dedicate full efforts to revision and practice. Try to attempt at least four full mock tests for effective preparation.

CFA Level III Results & Pass Rate

CFA Institute announced that of 28,884 candidates who appeared for the Level III CFA exam in June 2016, 54 percent passed the third and final exam. For the Level II exam, 46 percent were successful, and for the Level I exam, the pass rate was 43 percent.

Exam Results

source: CFA Institute

In the past 15 years, from 2001 to 2016, the overall average pass rate for the CFA Level III exam has been 55%.

Also, have a look at CFA Exam Dates & Schedule.

Conclusion

To sum it up, CFA Level 3 might not be easy, but in the first place, it is not supposed to be, being the final level of one of the toughest financial credentials to be earned in the financial industry, so therein lies the challenge. As far as the CFA Level 3 exam is concerned, you may need to shift your focus from tools, techniques, methodologies, and topic weights to concepts and their application in various contexts to see through it successfully. Those who have worked their way diligently through Level I & II may find that Level III is designed to help evolve their understanding of financial analysis and how it might find applications in the real world. It is the final obstacle to CFA accredited professionals. Students can look forward to earning CFA charter holders after fulfilling work experience requirements to become competent financial professionals with globally-acknowledged credentials.