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CFA Level 2 Item Sets: The Complete Guide


In the CFA Level 2 exam, you will face a new exam format known as CFA item sets.

What exactly are the the CFA Level 2 item sets? How hard are the CFA items sets, and how can you master them? Well, I’ll try to answer those questions and more in this post!

CFA Level 2 Item Sets at a Glance

An item set is a type of multiple choice question. However, several questions are grouped together into one vignette. In other words, these questions are related to one case statement.

The CFA Level 2 exam has 22 item sets that are accompanied by 88 multiple-choice questions. You’ll see 11 item sets on the morning exam and another 11 in the afternoon session.

Level 2 CFA Exm has 88 Questions vs 180 in Level 1. Why is Level 2 tougher?

In Level 1, each multiple-choice question is independent.

In Level 2, however, the exam builds a case around each item set. It is presented in a scenario, a story even, instead of factual statements like you’ll see in L1. What’s more, the CFA Level 2 questions require you to read an entire paragraph of information, which takes a lot longer than answering a stand-alone MCQ as in Level 1.

The  Level 2 questions are still independent of each other. (That is, you don’t need to get one question correct in order to get another question correct.) However, you’ll have to answer several multiple-choice questions that are related to the “story” in the item set. (The “story” is also referred to as a “vignette.”)

Often enough, the vignette includes a lot of distractions like irrelevant information to confuse candidates and make the questions a lot harder. You should figure out what those distractions are and not consider them in your answers.

Also, the format of item sets allow examiners to go much deeper in each concept or combination of concepts.

Which Topics do Item Sets Cover in CFA Level 2?

The item sets could test any concepts covered in L2, based on the weighting:

Topic Area Weighting Item Sets
Ethical & Professional Standards 10-15% 2-3
Quantitative Methods 5-10% 1-2
Economics 5-10% 1-2
Financial Statement Analysis 10-15% 3-4
Corporate Issuers 5-10% 1-3
Equity Investments 10-15% 3-5
Fixed Income 10-15% 2-4
Derivatives 5-10% 1-3
Alternative Investments 5-10% 1-2
Portfolio Management & Wealth Planning 10-15% 1-2

Most of the time, an item set sticks to one topic. But still, it is possible to have some subtle crossover as shown in the EOC questions in the CFAI text book.

Time Allocation for CFA Item Sets

You only have 2 hours and 12 minutes for each of the CFA Level 2 sessions, for a total testing time of 4 hours and 24 minutes. So as you can see, you’ll only have a little over 2 hours to answer 11 item sets. And that means that you must allocate your time wisely so you have enough time to answer all of the item set questions.

How to Master the CFA Item Sets

CFA level 2 item sets

1. Nail the CFA Concepts

With only 22 item sets, you can’t afford to skip any of them because you didn’t learn about a concept. The Level 2 curriculum is a lot more focused. There is no excuse of skipping the heavily tested topics, and shouldn’t ignore the smaller ones, either.

2. Read the CFA Questions First

To speed things up, you need to read through AND discard irrelevant information at the same time. In order to do that, you should know what are being asked, and the best way is to read the questions first.

3. Alternative: Work on One Question at a Time on Your CFA Level 2 Exam

If the above doesn’t work, try this suggestion from one of my readers:

  • Skim through the vignette
  • Read the first question
  • Mark the answer
  • Move on to the next question
  • Rinse and repeat

This works well assuming the questions are listed in the same order of the story line. Seems to be a vast majority of cases, but no guarantee.

4. Circle the Keywords

It might help if you circle the important points in the questions before you forget what is being asked.

It seems to be particularly helpful in ethics, in which the names and their titles/ relationships get quite confusing.

5. Practice makes Perfect

Those who score 80%+ in Level 1 stand-alone questions can easily score in the his is the most boring advice, but that’s what it takes to pass. Go through the practice uestions, the free mock exam from CFAI, and more mocks from third-party providers. Good luck!

Further Reading about CFA Level 2

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