2021 CFA Curriculum Changes and Topic Weights, Summarized

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Note: This article is for the 2021 curriculum. For the new 2022 curriculum comparison, check out our article on 2022 CFA curriculum changes.

Did you know that CFA Institute typically updates the CFA curriculum and topic weights annually for all 3 levels?

Due to coronavirus, CFA Institute has kept the 2021 curriculum the same as 2020’s. This means that 2020’s curriculum material would still be 100% relevant for the 2021 exams – but the topic weights HAVE been changed for 2021.

We know that time is a scarce resource for all CFA candidates. So here’s a quick summary of the latest 2021 CFA curriculum changes and topic weights for all Levels that you need to know.


Why Are Curriculum Changes and Topic Weights Important?

Topic weights are key to CFA study plans, as it guides candidates on the importance of each topic for the exams. Needless to say, higher weighted topics deserve more study time, focus and practice.

On the other hand, knowing the curriculum changes in advance are useful in certain circumstances, for example:

  • Candidates who have yet to register for the next exam, yet want to get a head start on reading existing materials. They need to make sure that what they are studying now will be part of the updated curriculum;
  • Candidates who are interested in getting second hand, previous year versions of third party study materials for the next exam; or
  • Candidates who (unfortunately) failed a current year exam, and are planning to retake in 6-12 months time. Existing third party study materials may be re-used if the curriculum changes are minor between these 2 years.

Here are the quick summaries of the topic weights and curriculum changes that you need to know for your exam. For each level, there is also a free 1 pager summary PDF you can download at the end of each section.


CFA Level 1 Topic Weights

CFA Level 1 curriculum changes and topic weights

There is a subtle change in 2021 CFA Level 1 topic weights in that CFA Institute started to use a % range for each topic instead of absolute %. There isn’t much changes from 2020’s topic weight on average, with the exception of potentially greater emphasis on Ethics (15-20%).

Looking back to 2018-2019, there were big changes whereby Financial Reporting & Analysis and Quantitative Methods’ weightings were reduced significantly, to provide a more balanced topic range.

These changes may have been done to discourage candidates from completely ignoring topics such as Derivatives and Alternative Investments for Level 1 preparations.

CFA Level 1 Topic Weights (Changes vs. Previous Year)

Topics / Weight2018201920202021
Ethics15%15%15%15-20%
Quant Methods12%10%10%8-12%
Economics10%10%10%8-12%
FRA20%15%15%13-17%
Corp Fin7%10%10%8-12%
Equity10%11%11%10-12%
Fixed Income10%11%11%10-12%
Derivatives5%6%6%5-8%
Alt. Investments4%6%6%5-8%
Portfolio Mgmt.7%6%6%5-8%

CFA Level 1 Curriculum Changes

In short, there has been lots of small updates throughout the Level 1 curriculum, but nothing major overall. 

There are 57 readings in 2020/2021’s Level 1 Curriculum (vs. 58 in 2019):

  • 1 reading from 2019 removed (Reading 7 – Discounted Cashflow Applications)
  • No new readings added (yay!)
  • 14 readings were updated: mostly minor changes, except FRA. For FRA, there are significant updates regarding new accounting standards on revenues and leases. 

More details of the changes are shown in the table below, as well as a 1 pager summary PDF you can download.​

CFA Level 1 Curriculum Changes Summary

CFA Level 2 Topic Weights

CFA level 2 curriculum changes and topic weights

There isn’t much changes in Level 2 topic weights from 2019-2021, with the exception of Portfolio Management’s minor increase in weighting to 10-15% in 2021.

In 2018-2019, there was a reduced emphasis on Financial Reporting & Analysis (FRA), Fixed Income and Equity Investments, with a slight increase in Portfolio Management’s weighting.

Overall, the Level 2 update reduced the variability in topic weight across the 10 topics, with a maximum range difference of 5% per topic. It is even possible for the 10 topics to be tested evenly at 10% weighting each. ​

These changes may have been done to discourage candidates from purely just focusing on the (previously) big 5 topics of Level 2 (FRA, Corporate Finance, Equity Investments, Fixed Income and Derivatives).

CFA Level 2 Topic Weights (Changes vs. Previous Year)

Topics / Weight2018201920202021
Ethics10-15%10-15%10-15%10-15%
Quant Methods5-10%5-10%5-10%5-10%
Economics5-10%5-10%5-10%5-10%
FRA15-20%10-15%10-15%10-15%
Corp Fin5-15%5-10%5-10%5-10%
Equity15-25%10-15%10-15%10-15%
Fixed Income10-20%10-15%10-15%10-15%
Derivatives5-15%5-10%5-10%5-10%
Alt. Investments5-10%5-10%5-10%5-10%
Portfolio Mgmt.5-10%5-15%5-15%10-15%

CFA Level 2 Curriculum Changes

In short, even though a few major readings have been added and removed, the overall content length for Level 2 curriculum is similar to 2019’s.

There are 48 readings in 2020/2021’s Level 2 Curriculum (vs. 51 in 2019):

  • 8 readings from 2019 were removed: 
    • Reading 4 – Trade Allocation: Fair Dealing and Disclosure
    • Reading 5 – Changing Investment Objectives
    • Reading 6 – Fintech in Investment Management
    • Reading 23 – Corporate Performance, Governance, and Business Ethics
    • Reading 24 – Corporate Governance
    • Reading 41 – Derivatives Strategies
    • Reading 46 – The Portfolio Management Process and the Investment Policy Statement
    • Reading 51 – Algorithmic Trading and High-Frequency Trading
  • 5 new readings were added:
    • Reading 7 – Machine Learning
    • Reading 8 – Big Data Projects
    • Reading 22 – Corporate Governance & Other ESG Considerations in Investment Analysis
    • Reading 43 – Exchange-Traded Funds: Mechanics & Applications
    • Reading 48 – Trading Costs and Electronic Markets
  • 5 readings were updated, mostly minor changes, except Intercorporate Investments where content was mostly revised due to accounting changes.

More details of the changes are shown in the table below, as well as a 1 pager summary PDF you can download.​

CFA Level 2 Curriculum Changes Summary

CFA Level 3 Topic Weights

CFA Level 3 curriculum changes and topic weights

There are no changes in Level 3 topic weights in 2019-2021.

In 2018-2019, there was a big change whereby Portfolio Management’s weighting is significantly reduced, and in favor of an increased emphasis on Equity and Fixed Income.

Overall, the Level 3 update reduced the variability in topic weight across the 10 topics, with a maximum range difference of 5% per topic.

CFA Level 3 Topic Weights (Changes vs. Previous Year)

Topics / Weight2018201920202021
Ethics10-15%10-15%10-15%10-15%
Quant Methods
Economics5-10%5-10%5-10%5-10%
FRA
Corp Fin
Equity5-15%10-15%10-15%10-15%
Fixed Income10-20%15-20%15-20%15-20%
Derivatives5-15%5-10%5-10%5-10%
Alt. Investments5-15%5-10%5-10%5-10%
Portfolio Mgmt.40-55%35-40%35-40%35-40%

CFA Level 3 Curriculum Changes

In short, the major revamp on the Level 3 curriculum since the last 2 years is ongoing.

There are 38 readings in 2020/2021’s Level 3 Curriculum (vs. 37 in 2019):

  • 12 readings from 2019 were removed:
    • ​Reading 5: Overview of the Asset Management Industry and Portfolio Management
    • Reading 10: Managing Individual Investor Portfolios
    • Reading 15: Managing Institutional Investor Portfolios
    • Reading 16: Capital Market Expectations
    • Reading 17: Equity Market Valuation
    • Reading 30: Alternative Investments Portfolio Management
    • Reading 31: Risk Management
    • Reading 32: Risk Management Applications of Forward and Futures Strategies
    • Reading 33: Risk Management Applications of Option Strategies
    • Reading 34: Risk Management Applications of Swap Strategies
    • Reading 35: Execution of Portfolio Decisions
    • Reading 36: Evaluating Portfolio Performance
  • 13 new readings were added:
    • Reading 10: Capital Market Expectations, Part 1: Framework and Macro Considerations
    • Reading 11: Capital Market Expectations, Part 2: Forecasting Asset Class Returns
    • Reading 15: Option Strategies
    • Reading 16: Swaps, Forwards, and Futures Strategies
    • Reading 26: Hedge Fund Strategies
    • Reading 27: Asset Allocation to Alternative Investments
    • Reading 28: Overview of Private Wealth Management
    • Reading 33: Portfolio Management for Institutional Investors
    • Reading 34: Trade Strategy and Execution
    • Reading 35: Portfolio Performance Evaluation
    • Reading 36: Investment Manager Selection
    • Reading 37: Case Study in Portfolio Management: Institutional
    • Reading 38: Case Study in Risk Management: Private Wealth​
  • 5 readings were updated, mostly major content revisions in the Portfolio Management section.

​More details of the changes are shown in the table below, as well as a 1 pager summary PDF you can download.

CFA Curriculum Changes Level 3 Summary

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10 thoughts on “2021 CFA Curriculum Changes and Topic Weights, Summarized”

  1. As someone who passed level 1 in 2011, I feel making level 1 easier for those who took it in 2018 makes the program less valuable and as an insult to those like me who studied hard and passed.

    Reply
  2. As CFA charterholder, I feel making level 1 easier makes the CFA program less valuable and an insult to those like me who studied hard and passed in 2018. One reason to make level 1 easier is to have more people registering for level 2 and 3…it is a pity how business takes priority over everything.

    Reply

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