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What to Expect on the CFA Level 3 Exam

Two exams behind you and one of the final CFA hurdles lies ahead in June 2019. As you’re no doubt aware, you only have one chance each year to sit and pass the CFA Level 3 exam. Those of you who are keen to get registered can do so from mid-August of this year. Then you’ll no doubt be up to your eyeballs in studying to overcome that penultimate obstacle between you and CFA Charterholder status. So, let’s review what you can expect ahead of you on the exam in June 2019.

For those used to the multiple-choice format of CFA Level 1 & 2 exams, the CFA Level 3 provides a challenging deviation. Your exam time management techniques must adapt to fit writing answers for the structured response format or ‘essay’ section of this level.

CFA Level 3 Key Calendar Dates

As mentioned in the previous articles in this series (What to expect on the CFA Level 1 & 2 exams), there is just the one opportunity annually to sit and pass Level 2 and Level 3 exams. The CFA Level 1 exam happens twice a year and can be sat in December 2018 or June 2019.


Registration for the June 2019 exam Mid-August 2018
Exam Day: Americas and EMEA (Levels 1, 2 and 3) June 15th 2019
Exam Day: Asia Pacific (Level 2 and 3 only) June 15th 2019

(, 2018)

CFA Level 3 Exam Differences

Morning session: Essay style questions (referred to officially as structured response questions).

Afternoon session: Different to the morning format—the good news is the afternoon portion of the exam still comprises 10 vignette and item-set questions as per Level 2.

Level 3 is often pitched as the hardest because of the essay-style questions that make up the morning questions. If you learning and recalling facts comes easy to you, then no fear. For everyone else though, this makes Level 3 the hardest of the three exams.

Efficient time management is crucial to ensure you write a brief, but accurate answer to each question. There are two types of structured response questions:

  • Calculation based answers: Where you should show all your working to help get the most points you can
  • Word-based answers: Where exam graders are looking for 2-3 solid ideas per answer

On the plus side, you can—and should—use bullet points to answer the questions, and grammatical mistakes don’t weigh against you, so don’t worry if English isn’t your first language. Don’t write a novel, stay concise.

CFA Level 3 Exam Weights

The Learning Focus for Level 3 is “Synthesis and Evaluation,” while the Topic Focus is “Portfolio Management.” The structure breaks down like this below and varies slightly from year-to-year.


Topic Exam Weight
Ethical and Professional Standards 10-15
Quantitative Methods 0
Economics 5-10*
Financial Reporting and Analysis 0
Corporate Finance 0
Equity Investments 10-15
Fixed Income 15-20
Derivatives 5-15
Alternative Investments 5-10
Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning 35-40
Total 100

*“See Economic Analysis and Setting Capital Market Expectations”

(, 2018)

My Tips For Passing CFA Level 3 Exam

  • If Level 2 is calculation based, Level 3 is all about concepts. Memorising facts isn’t enough, sure you need good recall skills, you’ll get points for demonstrating your core understanding of the CFA topics in both reasoning and computation. (So, while other CFA study programs will be helpful, nothing will beat knowing the CFA Institute’s Syllabus inside and out.)
  • Read the exam questions slowly and carefully. Answer concisely and accurately. Remember you don’t get points for the word count, just for the precision of your responses.
  • Show your calculations. Even if the final answer is wrong, you may be awarded points for your approach or formula application.
  • Stay focused. At this point in your journey, it’s important not to underestimate your exhaustion. Motivate yourself with the reminder that if you put your all in and get it right this last time you don’t have to retake the exams ever again. Don’t cut corners at the penultimate hurdle.
  • Have I mentioned time management? Good. The first thing to do in the exam when you have a chance is to check and allot time to the number of questions you have AND THEN STICK TO IT.

The best piece of advice I can offer is to remain calm and not to panic in the exam. Oh, and while it may be tempting. Don’t rush the afternoon session in an attempt to get away from them forever. Take your time to ensure you give your best possible final exam performance ever!

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