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Level I CFA® Program exam: Important topics cheat sheets

The exams are around the corner – do you know your stuff? This series of posts in the month leading up to the exam will cover revision tips, summaries and must-knows for students to make sure they’re thoroughly prepared.

The most important study tip for each major chapter in the CFA® Program exam.

For the Level I exam, there are 240 questions across the 10 topics: 120 in the morning session, and 120 in the afternoon session. Ethical and Professional Standards, Corporate Finance, Financial Reporting and Analysis, Quantitative Methods and Economics together make up a majority of 64%.

The topic weights shown in the table below serve as a good gauge on the number of questions to expect on exam day:

To ace this section of the paper, we present these 5 key tips on studying and answering questions that all students should know:The most important study tip for each major chapter in the exam.

1. Ethical and Professional Standards

Key tip: Don’t choose the safest answer

When students don’t know the right answer, it seems tempting to pick the most conservative option. Stay away from answers like “Quit the firm” or “Report the violator to the authorities” as they’re not always right.

2. Quantitative Methods

Key tip: Focus on the relationships between concepts

Don’t fixate too much on calculations; CFA Institute tends to put more emphasis on concepts when marking. Be prepared to perform the calculations, but more importantly, understand what is being calculated and why.

3. Economics

Key tip: Always give the short-term effect

Economics questions are easy to over-think. If asked for the effect of a government stimulus action, give the most likely immediate effect, even if the long-run effect may be totally different. Only answer with the long-term effect if that the question asks explicitly for it.

  • Bonus tip: Know the formulas well

Many students taking the exam have taken finance or economics courses at high school, junior college or university. Note that the author of the assigned material for this chapter uses different formulas for some topics (eg. elasticity) and familiarise yourself with these.

4. Financial Reporting and Analysis

Key tip: It is ok to use new accounting standards, even if they aren't in the readings

At times, the assigned readings will be out of date and won’t reflect new accounting standards. If an exam question covers an area where a new standard applies, CFA Institute will give marks to both.

5. Corporate Finance

Key tip: Know what your results mean

Except for the reading on Corporate Governance and ESG, this topic focuses on calculations and the factors influencing them. It is important to know what you’re calculating, why calculations are done a certain way, and implications of a high (or low) numerical value for the outcome.

6. *Extra Tip: The Other 5 Chapters

Key tip: describe, contrast and define the concepts

The remaining 5 topics (the various asset classes and Portfolio Management) make up 36% of the examination. These topics mainly require the candidate to describe, contrast or define concepts (refer to Learning Outcomes from Study Session 12 to 18) and do not require calculations as much.

About the Authors

Darren Degraaf, CFA, CPA, MBA, MAFM, PRM, is the revision expert in AB Maximus' CFA® Program exam prep course. He is currently adjunct professor of the Sauder School of Business in the University of British Columbia and director of Instructional Management for the Stalla Review for the CFA Exams Division of DeVry University. Before an international career in CFA® Prgoram exam prep, he worked in HSBC for almost 20 years.

Th’ng Beng Hooi, CFA, lectures on Ethics for AB Maximus. He was previously VP for Dealing and Resource Development at a listed regional stock-broking firm and is the lead co-author of various financial regulatory examination study guides in Singapore and Malaysia.

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