7 Commonly Asked Questions by CFA Candidates, Answered

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By Christine

Got a question to ask us about the CFA exams?

For first-time candidates, the CFA exams can be a bit confusing. And in a self-study course, who do you turn to to answer your questions? That’s why we have the 300 Hours Forum – a community of candidates and charterholders formed with a purpose to help its members pass the CFA exams. I’d advise you to join it and get active!

In this post, I look at the top 7 questions candidates ask us, and give an as-thorough answer as I can. And remember that if you have a question that’s not on this list, or if you have a follow-up question, you can always ask us in the 300 Hours Forum!

Do I really need that much time to study for CFA Level I? I’m really smart / looked through the material before and doesn’t seem much / really good at passing exams / work in finance.

If you’re serious about wanting to pass, you WILL need to put in the time. You could still pass with a shorter timeframe provided you have the right background and smarts, but you definitely will be taking a high-risk route, and have a healthy chance of failing. Although our resident maniac, Scott, did it in just 2 weeks, he was exceptionally lucky, and that was only for Level I.

Even if you did well in university, this may be the first time you’re trying to take a proper exam while trying to balance a full time job. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of this.

Although the material in CFA Level I may seem familiar to you from your economics courses, this doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily do well in the exam. The challenging part about the CFA exams isn’t that the material is incomprehensible – otherwise a self-study route would be disastrous for many candidates. The challenge lies in retaining all that information and performing under CFA exam formats and conditions. This is why we always recommend to take as many practice exams as possible.

Is using just the CFA Institute curriculum enough?

Obviously, this will vary depending on your circumstance, but we’ll try and give you a simple answer: It’s unlikely.

The CFA Institute curriculum has improved a lot, and continues to do so, but we would advise to use extra study notes and practice exams at the very least. The CFA curriculum is extensive and not as readable compared to third-party materials. We’ve seen a few candidates try to use the curriculum exclusively, and it rarely ended well. They usually take too much time in going through the material and end up not having covered enough of the syllabus by exam day to stand a chance of passing.

So we’d advise against just using the CFA Institute curriculum. You can see all our latest offers on CFA prep providers here.

If I score more than 70% in the exam, will I pass?

Yes, you will. 

The score you have to beat is the Minimum Passing Score (MPS). In our CFA Exam Insights (which you can get here), we’ve calculated the MPS ranges often range around the 60-65% mark, depending on exam and level. Moreover, the highest category you can get in your results email is the 70-100% score band

Score 70% or above and you’re pretty safe. Below that, you may still pass, but it gets risky.

If I have a low score in Ethics, will I fail?

You pass by scoring higher than the Minimum Passing Score. It doesn’t matter what your scores in the individual topics are – if they add up to more than the MPS, you pass. So no, you won’t fail just because you scored poorly in Ethics, providing you did well enough in the other topics.

The reason why you may have heard rumours about Ethics being especially important is because of the Ethics adjustment. Quoting the CFA website:

The Board of Governors instituted a policy to place particular emphasis on ethics. Starting with the 1996 exams, the performance on the ethics section became a factor in the pass/fail decision for candidates whose total scores bordered the minimum passing score. The ethics adjustment can have a positive or negative impact on these candidates’ final results.

You can read more about Ethics in these articles:

Does my work experience qualify for CFA relevant work experience?

We’ve written quite a few articles about this. Your work experience has to satisfy a few key requirements:

You can find out more about work experience requirements from these articles. If you’ve got more questions, you can always drop us a line in the comments!

Which calculator should I use – the TI BA II Plus or the HP 12C?

If you don’t know what the Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) is, or how to use it, then we suggest that you use the Texas Instruments BA II Plus. Yes, it’s plasticky and gross, but most prep materials refer to it for calculations, and if you forget your calculator on exam day, you’re more likely to be able to borrow a BA II Plus than a HP 12C.

You can read a detailed comparison here: How To Choose Your Calculator: Texas Instruments BA II Plus vs Hewlett Packard 12C

Will concept X or calculation Y be tested in the actual exam?

The fastest way to verify this is to look at the current CFA Institute curriculum, and particularly the Learning Outcome Statements (LOS). The LOS is what defines the topics that will be tested in the exam. If the LOS and the curriculum doesn’t cover it, it will not be tested. If the curriculum states it’s an ‘optional’ topic, then it will not be tested.

If you have any additional questions, just ask us in the comments!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


2 thoughts on “7 Commonly Asked Questions by CFA Candidates, Answered”

  1. What is the purpose of learning outcomes? For example, if the LOS say defined XYZ then will there be a question on calculating XYZ or just defining it?

    • The learning outcomes define what can be tested in the CFA exams. If the LOS say that a candidate needs to be able to define a concept, they do mean ‘define’ rather than ‘calculate’. However, in a lot of cases there will be a related LOS that may say candidates should be able to ‘calculate’ or ‘explain’ the concept, so read through the LOS in the entire reading carefully.


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