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The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation is the most prestigious credential in financial analysis. CFA Level 1 certification requires a lot of effort, but it’s worth it if you want to be one of the elite few who have earned this distinction. In this article, we’ll cover what is required to study for a test, how much time it takes, who offers prep materials, and, of course, what to expect on exam day.

What Is Required?

You are required to take six, three-hour exam sections. The math, reading comprehension, and data interpretation tests will be one section each, while the other four exams consist of two test sections (e.g., accounting and ethics). You have 18 hours for all six exams which means you need at least nine hours per exam to pass.

Exam content

Aside from knowing what is required, it’s also important to know what topics are covered on each of the six tests and how much time they take. The math test covers quantitative aptitude, including algebraic manipulation, arithmetic progressions, percentage calculation, and number combinations. You’ll have two hours to complete this section. The reading comprehension test covers financial and non-financial texts selected from a pool of sources that changes every year.

The data interpretation test is designed to measure your skills in understanding charts, graphs, and tables. It will be one hour long for this test only. The accounting exam covers the topic of financial reporting, which includes both income statements and balance sheets and cash flow analysis and valuation techniques. You’ll have four hours to complete all two sections of this test (i.e., Income Statements/Balance Sheets & Valuation Techniques). The ethics exam covers the topic of ethical behavior in financial professions and is also one hour long. The investment management/portfolio management exam will cover topics such as time value of money, capital budgeting techniques, the risk versus return analysis, and bond pricing analysis with two hours to complete. Finally, the economics examination includes macroeconomics and microeconomics topics, with two hours allotted for this exam.

How Much Time Does It Take?

The math test is the only one that will require more than an hour to complete, requiring at least three hours per section (six total). The other exams can all be completed in less than four hours for each section (i.e., four hours for the accounting exam, two hours each for the ethics and economics exams).

The math test is worth 45% of your total score. The reading comprehension and data interpretation tests are both worth 25% of your final grade, which means you need to do well on these three sections to pass.

Who’s Better To Prepare With?

There are a variety of different companies and schools that offer CFA Level I prep courses. Some people find it easier to study with others, while some like an online course because they can work through the material at their own pace.


Excelling in the CFA Level 1 exam is easier than you think. With the right tools and knowledge, it can be accomplished in a matter of weeks, if not days!

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Jakaria Farhan

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