CFA level 1 exam is the first of the three-tier tests we need to go through in the CFA Program. It involves basic knowledge and comprehension questions focusing on investment tools, and some questions will require analysis.
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The focus of this level is on testing of knowledge and comprehension, instead of analysis and application.
The syllabus is diversified with an emphasis on financial reporting and analysis (20%), ethical and professional standards (15%), economics (12%) and quantitative methods (12%) and economics (10%).
The rest includes corporate finance, equity, fixed income, derivatives and portfolio management, most of which will be repeated in Level 2 and 3 with more emphasis.
Level 1 is 100% multiple choice questions. There are 120 questions in the morning session and 120 in the afternoon, and each session is 3 hours long. This implies you have 90 seconds per question on average.
All questions are equally weighted and positively graded. Each question is independent of each other.
There are two dates for this exam each year: the first Saturday in June, an first Saturday in December.
Please note that there is only one test date for the next two levels, so you should strategize when you’d like to start your CFA journey.
Specifically, if you start in December and pass Part 1, you’ll have only 4 months to prepare for Level 2, but at the same time you save time and can possibly achieve completing the exam in 18 months.
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The pass rate has been consistently below 50% but has stabilized in the last 10 years.
Don’t be scared by this statistics — one main reason is the low barrier entry of the exam itself. Remember that a bachelor degree or work experience in ANY industry can get you qualified for the exam, which means a fair number of candidates do not have prior knowledge in finance or investment. If you pick the right CFA review material and spend sufficient time preparing for it, you have a much higher chance of success.
If you look at the statistics of Level 2 and 3 (when the “casual” candidates are screened out), the latest pass rate is 46% and 54% respectively. It’s still difficult to pass, but you see a reasonable level that is more aligned with the other professional exams.
There is a one-time enrollment fee of $450 once you enter the CFA program. Then, when you are ready, pay for the Level 1 exam fee, which ranges from $650 to $1,380 depending on the time you register.
To maximize the saving, aim for the early bird which is as early as 9 months before the exam day. This means mid September for June exam, and mid March for December exam.
Results of Level 1 exam is typically released within 60 days. The fastest and most convenient way is to check the score online (candidate ID required). The minimum passing score is different from year to year.
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