CFA Exam Requirements

How to Become a Chartered Financial Analyst

Investment professionals benefit from the CFA designation
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CFA, which stands for Chartered Financial Analyst, is a credential granted by the CFA Institute. In addition to having a bachelor's degree and four years of professional experience in a full-time job that involves making decisions about investments, one must pass a series of three exams. This voluntary certification, and studying the curriculum that leads to it, provides Wall Street professionals like financial analysts, with a solid foundation that allows them to excel at their jobs and demonstrate to employers that they have the knowledge base that makes them valuable employees.

The exams—CFA Levels I, II, and III—are sequential. The candidate must pass one exam before sitting for the next. The CFA Institute offers all the tests annually in June. The CFA Level I Exam is also given each year in December. Each test is six hours long. They collectively assess candidates' knowledge of ethics and professional standards, investment tools, asset classes, and portfolio management and wealth planning. The first two exams consist of multiple choice questions and the final one of both essay and multiple choice questions.

Each exam level is more complex than the one before it.

How to Become a Chartered Financial Analyst

The first step to becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst is enrolling in the CFA Program. There is an enrollment fee ($450 US in 2018). Although United States citizenship isn't required, you must be able to study the curriculum and take the exams in English. You must have an international travel passport. Test centers are located all over the world except in Cuba, North Korea, or the Crimea region of Ukraine. You may not sit for the CFA exams if you live in any of those countries.

When enrolling in the CFA Program, you will have to complete a Professional Conduct Statement form on which you affirm you are in compliance with the CFA’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct. It includes disclosing any investigations, litigation, complaints, or disciplinary proceedings related to professional conduct.

After enrolling you must, over the course of at least four years, take all three exams. After passing all of them, in order, and fulfilling the professional experience requirement—four years of investment-related full-time work experience—the CFA Institute will grant you the Chartered Financial Analyst designation.

About the CFA Exams and Requirements

Each of the CFA Exams is based on a curriculum laid out by the CFA Institute. Expect to spend at least 300 hours preparing for each test.

Level I Exam

To register for the first of the three CFA exams, you will need to either have completed a bachelor’s degree or be in your final year of college, have four years of professional full-time work experience, or have a combination of college and professional experience totaling at least four years. The Level I exam is made up of 240 multiple choice questions that are distributed equally over two sessions. Each session is three hours long.

Level II Exam

To sit for the Level II Exam, you must have passed the Level I Exam and completed your Bachelor’s Degree. The structure of this exam is different than it is for than the first one. While the questions are also multiple choice, you will be presented with 20 vignettes, each followed by six questions relating to it. Like the first exam, it is split into two equal sessions—one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

Level III Exam

The last exam in the series is made up of eight to 12 essay questions during the morning session and 10 vignettes followed by six questions each during the afternoon session. Before sitting for this test, you must pass the Level II exam.

What to Do Before, During, and After Your CFA Exam

When you enroll in the CFA Program, it is an approximately a four-year commitment that is also quite costly. In addition to the $450 enrollment fee, there is a $950 registration fee for the Level I exam (2018). With this kind of an investment in both time and money, make sure everything goes well. Here is how to increase your chance of getting a good grade and avoid any problems on the day of your exam:

  • Register for the test and choose a test location which will be a major metropolitan city or area around the world.
  • Prepare for the exam using the ebook, practice tests, and mock exams you received when registering. The CFA Institute also provides a list of approved test prep providers.
  • About four weeks before your exam you will receive your exam ticket indicating the specific test center.
  • On the day of your exam, do not bring mobile phones and other electronic devices into the exam room; store them in your car or the area in the test center set aside for personal belongings.
  • You are also prohibited from bringing refreshments, backpacks and handbags, study materials, and weapons into the exam room.
  • Bring your valid international travel passport and leave it on your desk along with your admission ticket, and approved calculator and writing instruments.
  • Eyeglasses (out of cases), manual pencil sharpeners, ear plugs, erasers, and wristwatches (not smart watches) may be kept on your desk as well.
  • Store tissues, medicine, cough drops, gum, hard candy, eyeglass cases, and wallets in your pocket or under the desk.
  • Arrive at least one hour before the exam to check in. Doors close before each timed session.
  • After the doors close, you won’t be allowed to enter the exam room until the proctor has finished reading the test instructions. Arriving more than 30 minutes after the beginning of the exam or leaving prior to dismissal will result in your not being able to take or complete the test and the forfeiture of your fee.
  • Expect to receive your results within 60 days of taking the Level I and II exams, and within 90 days of taking the Level III exam.