Mastering the Most Challenging CFA Exam Sections

As a seasoned expert in the field of finance and investment, I have seen countless candidates struggle with the Level 1 CFA exam. It is no secret that this exam is notoriously difficult, and many aspiring professionals find themselves overwhelmed by the vast amount of material to cover. Through extensive research and experience, I have identified the most challenging sections of the CFA exam and offer my insights to help you prepare for success.

The Toughest Topics in Level 1 CFA

After analyzing data from previous exams, it is clear that candidates struggle the most with financial statement analysis (FSA), fixed income, quantitative methods, derivatives, and economics. These topics require a strong understanding of complex concepts and formulas, making them particularly challenging for many candidates. While option valuation models are not included in the Level 1 curriculum, they do make an appearance in the Level 2 exam.

This means that you can focus on mastering these models after passing Level 1.It is important to note that difficulty is subjective and can vary from person to person. However, this hierarchy of difficult and easy topics serves as a helpful guide to approach your studies strategically.

The Most Difficult Subjects in Level 1 CFA

Based on my experience, I can confidently say that fixed income, derivatives, and FSA are the most challenging subjects for the Level 1 exam. These topics require a deep understanding of complex concepts and formulas, making them particularly daunting for many candidates. In order to help you better prepare for these difficult subjects, I have classified all 10 Level 1 topics according to their level of difficulty. While there are 10 modules to cover, they are relatively short and only take up about 120 pages in the CFA exam curriculum. It is worth noting that in 2024, there will be some significant changes to the Level 1 exam topics.

This may include a new weighting of subjects or a different number of modules to study. As an expert, I highly recommend staying updated on these changes and adjusting your study plan accordingly.

The Challenge of Fixed Income

In the 2024 CFA exam curriculum, there will be up to 19 fixed income modules to study, with numbers ranging from 49 to 67. This is a significant increase from the current curriculum, which only has a few fixed income modules. This change reflects the growing importance of fixed income in the finance industry and highlights the need for candidates to have a strong understanding of this subject.

Mastering Derivatives

Derivatives are another challenging topic for many candidates. This subject requires a deep understanding of complex mathematical formulas and their applications in financial markets.

It is crucial for candidates to dedicate ample time and effort to mastering derivatives in order to succeed on the exam.

The Complexity of FSA

Financial statement analysis (FSA) is often considered one of the most difficult topics in the CFA exam. This subject requires candidates to have a strong understanding of accounting principles and financial statement analysis techniques. It is crucial for candidates to practice and review FSA concepts regularly in order to fully grasp this complex topic.

Other Challenging Topics

While fixed income, derivatives, and FSA are often cited as the most difficult subjects, it is important not to overlook other challenging topics such as economics and quantitative methods. These subjects require a strong understanding of economic principles and mathematical concepts, respectively.

It is important for candidates to dedicate sufficient time and effort to these topics in order to succeed on the exam.


As an expert in the field, I have seen many candidates struggle with the CFA exam. However, with proper preparation and a strategic approach, it is possible to conquer even the most challenging sections. By focusing on the most difficult topics and dedicating ample time and effort to mastering them, you can increase your chances of success on the CFA exam.

Serena Lubahn
Serena Lubahn

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