Top 9 Differences between CFA Level I and CFA Level II

Understanding the differences of CFA Level 1 vs 2 is like knowing the roadmap to two different places. CFA Level 1 is where you get the keys to the castle, and Level 2 is when you start exploring each room.

Think of it this way: CFA Level 1 is like learning the ABCs of finance. You understand what’s what—numbers, equations, how money moves around. But then comes CFA Level 2, and it’s like getting into the nitty-gritty of words, forming sentences, and telling stories.

Why is knowing these differences crucial? 

Imagine planning a trip without knowing where you’re headed—this is a recipe for chaos! Knowing what to expect in each level helps you prepare better. It’s like having a roadmap—the more details you know, the better you move in the right direction.

IMS Proschool team has prepared 9 key points highlighting the differences that candidates would face between CFA Level 1 and Level 2 of the CFA exam. It’s a walkthrough to give you a heads-up, helping you chart your course, and making sure you’re ready for the adventures along your CFA journey.

CFA Level 1 vs 2: Exam Frequency

The CFA Level 1 exam is held four times a year—in February, May, August, and November. Scheduling the CFA Level 1 exam is free of cost. But, if you need to reschedule after the window closes, a rescheduling fee of USD 250 (approx. INR 21,000) applies.

The CFA Level 2 exam is held three times a year—in May, August, and November. Before attempting Level 2, passing the Level 1 CFA exam is required.

Also Read – Eligibility for CFA & when to start preparing for it (Updated 2023)

CFA Level vs 2: Registration & Exam Schedule

Registration Dates Registration Opens Early Registration Deadline Standard Registration Deadline
November 2023 10 May 2023 08 Aug 2023
February 2024 16 May 2023 13 July 2023 08 Nov 2023
May 2024 15 Aug 2023 12 Oct 2023 06 Feb 2024
August 2024 14 Nov 2023 23 Jan 2024 14 May 2024
November 2024 08 Feb 2024 16 Apr 2024 07 Aug 2024


Exam Dates Level 1 Level 2
November 2023 11-17 Nov 2023 18-22 Nov 2023
February 2024 19-25 Feb 2024
May 2024 15-21 May 2024 22-26 May 2024
August 2024 20-26 Aug 2024 27-31 Aug 2024
November 2024 13-19 Nov 2024 20-24 Nov 2024

Source: CFA Institute

The CFA Level 1 registration fees in India change based on when you register. Early registration costs USD 940 (approx. INR 78,000), while standard registration is USD 1,250 (approx. INR 1,04,000). Additionally, there’s a one-time enrolment fee of USD 350 (approx. INR 29,000).

How to Schedule and Exam Appointment?

  • Register for your CFA exam.
  • Complete the registration process and payment.
  • After logging in, access “schedule your exam” in the CFA Program tile.
  • Utilize the Prometric scheduling tool to choose available testing centers, dates, and times.
  • Appointments are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Not all test centers offer weekend appointments.
  • Ensure completion of this step by the scheduling deadline to secure your exam date and time.
  • Without a confirmed date and time, your exam appointment is not finalized.

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CFA Level 1 vs 2: Exam Format

The CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) certification, provided by the CFA Institute, is globally recognized, especially for those pursuing careers in finance. Split into three levels – Level 1, 2, and 3 – candidates need to pass each level to earn the CFA qualification. The CFA Level 2 exam is considered the toughest, known for its extensive material to cover.

When you take the CFA exams, you’ll do them on a computer through delivery partners – the British Council and  Prometric.

CFA Level 1 Exam Format

The Level I CFA exam is computer based. It comprises two sessions, each lasting 135 minutes, with a potential break between them. Across these sessions, candidates face a total of 180 questions (multiple choice format), testing their knowledge in various subjects.

The first session spans 2 hours and 15 minutes.

It involves 90 questions (multiple choice format), spanning ethics & professional standards, quantitative methods, economics, and financial statement analysis.

The second session spans 2 hours and 15 minutes)

It consists of another 90 questions (multiple choice format) covering corporate issuers, equity, fixed income, derivatives, alternative investments, and portfolio management.

Also Read – Unpacking the CFA Level 1 Syllabus: A Guide

CFA Level 2 Exam Format

The CFA Level II exam is computer based, and spans 4 hours & 24 minutes. 

There are two equal sessions of 2 hours & 12 minutes each, with an in-between interval (optional).

The exam uses an item-set format.

It comprises 22 item sets (11 item set for each session) involving case studies (also known as vignettes), presenting a scenario ranging from half a page to 1.5 pages, and accompanied by 88 corresponding questions (multiple choice format).

During the exam, should candidates require aid from proctors, they’ll promptly receive assistance. It’s recommended that candidates continue working on their exam tasks until a proctor arrives. The test structure accommodates minor delays/pauses, ensuring that candidates are given ample time to answer all questions.

71% of our students pass the CFA exams with ease. Want to be one of them? Enroll in the next batch

CFA Level 1 vs 2: Exam Focus

  • In Level 1 of the CFA exam, the main focus is on understanding basic financial analyst concepts. You’ll learn definitions, financial analysis basics, and essential formulas that you need to remember. It’s also important to understand ethical standards and different investment tools.
  • In CFA Level 2, the exam will focus on the application of financial analysis knowledge to real scenarios. You’ll need to use analysis tools to assess financial data and evaluate asset value. The exam setup includes vignettes that deeply explore specific topics. These questions test your understanding using tables, texts, or financial statements to describe financial situations. CFA Level 2 covers the same topics as Level I but with varying importance for each topic.

CFA Level 1 vs 2: Difficulty and Complexity


  • CFA Level 1 focuses on knowledge and comprehension. It covers fundamental concepts familiar from undergraduate studies. The emphasis is on formulas and definitions.
  • CFA Level 2 requires applying and analyzing concepts, demanding a deeper understanding. It delves into more intricate theories. This complexity might require additional effort to grasp compared to Level 1. CFA Level 2 focuses on grasping concepts and applying knowledge to analyze financial data. This level primarily tests your ability to apply these concepts rather than simply recalling formulas.


  • CFA Level 1 exam features 180 standalone questions that are direct and concise.
  • The CFA Level 2 exam presents vignettes—combinations of texts, tables, and statements—followed by 4 to 6 related questions per vignette. Candidates must meticulously dissect vignettes to extract crucial data for answering questions. This demands a higher level of analysis. 

In essence, the use of vignettes (case studies) in Level 2 and its demand for deeper analysis make it more challenging than the straightforward approach of Level I.

Also Read – A Detailed Guide On Work Experience Requirements For CFA

Complexity in CFA Level 2 Topics

In CFA Level 2, you’ll apply financial analysis knowledge to real scenarios. You’ll need to use analysis tools to assess financial data and evaluate asset value. The exam setup includes vignettes that deeply explore specific topics. It dives deeper into investment management and portfolios. It challenges you with real-world scenarios to check your understanding. The questions test your understanding using tables, texts, or financial statements to describe financial situations. Doing well here is a big step towards becoming a CFA charter.

CFA Level 1 vs 2: Ethics and Competitiveness

CFA Level 1 Ethics

In the CFA Level 1 Ethics part, which makes up about 15-20% of your exam, you’ll face around 27-36 questions out of 180.

Here, you’ll dive into the CFA Institute’s 6 Code of Ethics and 7 Standards of Professional Conduct. These guidelines help you make ethical decisions in finance and are crucial for building trust in the field.

Your task? Understand each standard really well—know how to apply it and what actions it suggests.

Once you’re through these, there’s a quick peek into Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS). But remember, some bits of the GIPS in CFA Level 1 Ethics are optional—check out the GIPS tips for more on that later.

CFA Level 2 Ethics

In CFA Level 2 Ethics, about 10-15% of your test focuses on how you make fair decisions in finance, that’s around 9-13 questions out of 88.

This level builds on what you learned in Level 1 but adds three new concepts: Soft Dollar Standard, Research Objectivity Standard, and the Prudent Investor Rule. These are like extra rules in your financial playbook.

Here’s the twist: In Level 2, you face these questions as part of a mini-story, or vignette. You’ll read a bit more and then answer multiple-choice questions. It’s like solving a puzzle to figure out which rule applies best in the story.

The tricky part? Sometimes, what’s required by the Standards might seem similar to what’s recommended. So, it’s important to really understand the rules to pick the right choice in the test.

CFA Level 1 vs 2: Open Sign-up vs Eligibility Requirement

An Open Sign-up in CFA Level 1 refers to the registration period when candidates can enroll for the CFA Level 1 exam without any specific prerequisites or prior qualifications. During this period, anyone interested in pursuing the CFA designation can register for the Level 1 exam.

In CFA Level 2, an Open Sign-up like in Level 1 doesn’t apply. To register for Level 2, passing Level 1 is a must. Candidates must have foundational knowledge before tackling the more advanced Level 2 material.

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CFA Level 1 vs 2: Topic & Exam Weight 

The Level 1 CFA Program covers various areas like investment tools, ethical standards, and different asset classes. The exam focuses on topics like ethical standards, quantitative methods, economics, and financial statement analysis. The exam weight for each area varies, as seen in the chart below:

CFA Level 1 Topic and Exam Weight for 2024

  • Quantitative Methods: 6-9%
  • Economics: 6-9%
  • Financial Statement Analysis: 11-14%
  • Corporate Issuers: 6-9%
  • Equity Investments: 11-14%
  • Fixed Income: 11-14%
  • Derivatives: 5-8%
  • Alternative Investments: 7-10%
  • Portfolio Management: 8-12%
  • Ethical and Professional Standards: 15-20%

(Source: CFA Institute)

CFA Level 2 Topic and Exam Weight for 2024

  • Quantitative Methods: 5–10%
  • Economics: 5–10%
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis: 10–15%
  • Corporate Issuers: 5–10%
  • Equity Valuation: 10–15%
  • Fixed Income: 10–15%
  • Derivatives: 5–10%
  • Alternative Investments: 5–10%
  • Portfolio Management: 10–15%
  • Ethical and Professional Standards: 10–15%

(Source: CFA Institute)

Each topic area has a specified weight and includes a certain number of readings and questions on the exam.

Also Read – Top Job profiles & 5 tips to get a job after passing CFA level 1

CFA Level 1 vs 2: Pass Rates

Understanding the pass rates and scores for the CFA exam can help you in several ways. Firstly, it can give you a sense of the difficulty of the exam and the level of preparation required to pass it. 

CFA Level 1 Exam Pass Rates

Year CFA Level 1 Average Pass Rate
2013 40.5%
2014 43%
2015 42.5%
2016 43%
2017 43%
2018 44%
2019 41.5%
2020 49%
2021 29%
2022 36.75%
2023* 38%

*This is the February, May, and August 2023 Window

The CFA Institute, in principle, recognizes that this stage demands a comprehensive grasp of the subject, distinct from prior college education. Consequently, it screens out individuals lacking this essential expertise.

CFA Level 2 Exam Pass Rates

Year CFA Level 2 Average Pass Rate
2013 43%
2014 46%
2015 46%
2016 46%
2017 47%
2018 45%
2019 44%
2020 55%
2021 41%
2022 42.6%
2023* 48%

*This is the May & August 2023 window only

While Level 1 pass rates are lower, Level 2 candidates tend to achieve higher pass rates because they’re more prepared. The Level 2 exam maintains multiple-choice questions but in a new vignette format, which can be more challenging because it’s different from what candidates have seen in Level 1.

Also Read – Tips on passing CFA Level 1 with ease


CFA Level 1 focuses on foundational concepts, while Level 2 delves deeper, demanding a more thorough understanding. The question format has straightforward multiple-choice questions, whereas Level 2 presents these questions within complex vignettes. CFA Level 2 requires more application-based skills, assessing a candidate’s ability to apply knowledge to real-world scenarios.

Importance of Tailored Preparation for CFA Level 2

CFA Level 2 demands a deeper understanding, so prepare to study each topic comprehensively. You need to familiarize yourself with the vignette-style questions to develop proficiency in answering them. Focus on developing critical analysis and application skills is vital for tackling Level 2 exam questions.

Also Read – What Salaries Can You Expect In India As a CFA?

Future Planning

Clearing CFA Level 1 signifies a significant accomplishment in your journey toward becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst. It demonstrates your grasp of foundational concepts in finance and serves as the initial step toward earning the prestigious CFA charter.

Preparation for CFA Level 2 holds immense significance as it marks a pivotal phase in the pursuit of the CFA charter:

Deeper Understanding: Level 2 requires a more profound comprehension of financial concepts compared to Level 1.

Advanced Skills: It emphasizes analytical and application-based skills, essential for solving complex financial problems.

Success in Level 2 brings you closer to achieving the CFA charter, establishing your expertise in investment management. 

Understanding the value of clearing CFA Level 1 and the essential role of thorough preparation for Level 2 sets the stage for advancing your journey towards attaining the esteemed CFA charter.

Why Enroll for Proschool’s CFA Preparation?

Enrolling in CFA preparation offers a fast track to expertise in finance, ethical standards, and investment management. It’s a global passport to advanced career opportunities, recognized worldwide. Beyond the exam, it fosters networking, personal growth, and problem-solving skills crucial in the finance industry.

IMS Proschool offers guidance from experienced CFA Charter holders for success in every CFA level. With over 900 hours of comprehensive training, and a dedicated placement team supporting job placements after CFA Level 1, its comprehensive course focuses on the gold standard in investment finance, starting new batches monthly.


  1. Is CFA Level 2 more difficult than CFA Level 1?

Yes, CFA Level 2 is generally considered more challenging than CFA Level 1. This is due to its emphasis on application, analysis, and the introduction of item set questions, which demand a deeper understanding of concepts compared to the predominantly knowledge-based questions in Level 1.

  1. What career paths open up after clearing CFA Level 2?

CFA Level 2 opens career paths in investment management, equity research, portfolio management, and more senior roles in finance.

  1. Are there any specific advantages to pursuing CFA Level 2 immediately after CFA Level 1?

Pursuing CFA Level 2 immediately after Level 1 helps maintain momentum, builds on existing knowledge, and enhances retention.

  1. Can you combine the knowledge from CFA Level 1 and CFA Level 2 for a career advantage?

Combining knowledge from both levels provides a broader skill set, enhancing career prospects in finance.

  1. What changes in study strategy are required to transition from CFA Level 1 to CFA Level 2?

Transitioning to CFA Level 2 requires a deeper understanding, focus on application, and analytical skills compared to Level 1.