Twelve things you need to know before registering for the CFA exam

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Nearly 80k people sat for the CFA Level I exam in June – a record total that is expected to be eclipsed during the December sitting. The number of new candidates has increased two-fold over the last decade and by 15% since 2017. With the standard registration deadline for the December exam just a month away, we put together a list of important facts you should know before deciding if you want to join the frenzy.

Fees add up

The cost of earning a CFA charter is not a fixed number because it depends on how proactive you are. There’s a one-time program enrollment fee of $450 plus the $950 standard registration fee for each level. However, you can save $300 by registering a full nine months before the exam (March 14th for December exams and October 10th for June). But if you wait too long, the CFA Institute will charge a late registration fee of $1,380 during the month after the standard deadline passes. So, the bare minimum you’ll spend on exam fees is $2,400, though that number can top out at $4,590 if you procrastinate. Of course, the total will increase with every failed attempt.

Other costs

While access to the online curriculum is included in the registration fee, it will cost you $150 plus shipping to get your hands on the physical version. If you eventually earn you charter, you’ll have to pay $275 per year in membership dues to remain an official charterholder.

Getting started early

You don’t actually need to have your bachelor’s degree to sit for the Level I of the exam; you can take it during your senior year, though you need to graduate before registering for Level II.

Calculators

Believe it or not, only two types of calculators are allowed: the Texas Instruments BA II Plus and various versions of the Hewlett Packard 12C.

Think carefully if you live in the U.K.

Four out of 10 CFA candidates said they expected employment opportunities for investment management professionals to increase in their home market over the coming year, with just 11% believing opportunities will decrease, according to a recent CFA Institute study. In the U.K., only 22% felt the employment outlook was improving while 28% expected it to worsen – the biggest percentage among the 20 countries included in the study. The most optimistic test takers are in India.

ID required

You need to have a valid passport to register for a CFA exam.

Check your country status

Residents of a handful of countries are barred from taking the CFA. Click here to make sure your country is on the list or you won’t get your registration fee returned.

The 300-hour rule is a bit of a fallacy

The common refrain is that it takes 300 hours of study, on average, to prepare yourself for passing each exam. While this is true for Level I, the average exam preparation time is 328 hours for Level II and 335 hours for Level III, according to the CFA Institute.

You better know about fixed income

The fixed income section is deemed to be one of the three most difficult topic areas for each level. The ethics section is known as the second most difficult to master.

Passing Level I won’t benefit you much

People who pass Level I see no significant increase in their income, according to one recent study. If you pass Level II, you can expect a 20% bump in pay, after adjusting for work experience and seniority. Charterholders earn around 32% more than colleagues who never sat for the exam.

Related work experience is subjective

Most everyone knows you can’t simply pass all three levels of the CFA to earn your charter. You’ll also need four years of related work experience that the CFA Institute deems to be related to investment management. Part-time work doesn’t count, neither do internships. However, you can gain the necessary level of experience after passing all three levels and then apply for your charter – something many test takers are now doing to get it out of the way before life becomes too hectic.

What you can bring, what you can’t

You can bring a manual pencil sharpener, ear plugs, backup batteries and even a small screwdriver to the exam (to open the battery door of the calculator). But you can’t wear a smartwatch, carry your cell phone or bring a bag of any kind.

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