How Difficult is The CFA Exam (Levels 1, 2, 3)?

How Difficult is The CFA Exam

The requirement of strong discipline, rigorous hard work, and practice make CFA one of the toughest exams to crack.  

With an aggregate passing percentage of about 50% at all levels across India, CFA is undoubtedly one of those exams that require persistence, preparation, and a ton of knowledge.

In fact, before you start preparing for your CFA exam, here are some things you should know about:

  • CFA exams have three levels – each more difficult than the previous one.
  • Clearing these exams requires a personalized learning roadmap.
  • The exam questions are tricky, so you require a lot of practice.

But how difficult could this three-year finance course really be?

Let’s find out.

The three spearhead levels of the CFA exam

The Chartered Financial Analyst (or CFA) course is one of the most difficult exams in Finance.

In fact, when it comes to the pass percentage of all levels of the exams, only 37% of candidates make it to Level 1, 40% to Level 2, and 48% to Level 3 – according to the 2022 year.

💡The CFA exam in India has tough standards one of which is also that if you don’t clear it, you can’t appear for a retest for at least 6 months.

Let’s break down each of these levels one by one.

Preparing for CFA Level 1

Level 1 of the CFA exams is your entry point towards becoming a CFA.

Even though this level is a challenging one, there’s a good chance you’re going to crack it if you dedicate enough time to prepare.

The exam consists of topics that include:

  • Ethical & Professional Standards 
  • Quantitative Methods 
  • Economics
  • Corporate Finance
  • Financial Reporting/Analysis
  • Equity Investments
  • Fixed Income
  • Derivatives
  • Alternatives
  • Portfolio Management 

As you’re considering pursuing CFA Level 1 exam, you can do the following few things to increase your chances of cracking it:

  • Start early Because of a lot of material to cover, it’s essential that you start your exam preparation early. Review the material and practice answering the questions.
  • Take mock tests – Mock tests can introduce you to a variety of questions and situations that you may have missed in your preparation. 
  • Take a CFA training course – The resources you use to prepare are usually the same as other candidates. However, taking a CFA training course contributes to your skillset, helps you learn from professionals, and increases your chances of cracking the exam.

Get a headstart on some topics – The CFA Level 1 exam has sections like Fixed Income, Derivative Investments, and Financial Reporting & Analysis which, if you pay extra attention towards, can help you understand other important topics much easier.

Preparing for CFA Level 2

The next level of the CFA exam, Level 2, has the same topics as that of Level 1.

However, the Level 2 exam is an advanced and in-depth version of the Level 1 exam where the candidates are required to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios.

Most candidates aren’t able to clear the CFA Level 2 exam because of the complex curriculum and sections that the students need to learn.

In fact, the following factors make the CFA Level 2 exam more difficult:

  • The complexity of the curriculum.
  • The challenging questions require skills and deep knowledge in a candidate.
  • The time duration of the exam – is precisely 4 hours and 24 minutes.

The Level 2 CFA exam will precisely focus on asset valuation and applying different investment tools. All of this is bundled in Item Sets where the candidates have to read and review a case study and answer MCQs based on the information in the study.

Preparing for CFA Level 3

One of the most distinctive factors about the CFA Level 3 exam is that it focuses on applying the knowledge and skills gained in the earlier levels to real-world investment management scenarios. 

  • The Level 3 exam focuses on portfolio management and wealth planning.
  • The candidates require a great understanding of asset allocation, investment strategies, and risk management. 
  • The Level 3 exam is structured differently from the multiple-choice format of the previous levels. 

The exam has two sessions – one in the morning and another in the afternoon. 

The morning session has 8 to 12 essay questions with multiple parts. Some of the questions require constructed responses as well.

On the other hand, the afternoon session consists of 10 item-set questions.

The candidates appearing in the CFA Level 3 exam require a strong hold on the curriculum, a good amount of time to prepare, and a great understanding of the exam format.


The CFA exam with all its levels combined could be a very difficult exam.

However, the candidates can very well increase their chances of cracking it by dedicating enough time to study, utilizing the right resources, and practicing as much as possible.

Finishing the CFA exam could be very rewarding and can open multiple opportunities for you in your career.

At CFI Education, we have compiled a list of resources and preparation material to help you crack the CFA exam and learn from professionals that know what it takes to make it through.


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