CFA Level 3 Notes

Written by: Nik Ventouris

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CFA Level 3 Notes

Are you preparing for the CFA Level 3 exam and looking for a comprehensive resource? This CFA Level 3 Notes article will deliver the support you need.

Below, we’ve outlined the key topics, structure, and concepts the exam will cover, and provided a clear roadmap for your study.

From investment tools and portfolio management to ethical and professional standards, this guide offers everything you need to know. Let’s get started.

CFA Level 3 Summary

The CFA Level 3 exam includes 11 essay sets and 11 item sets, covering several crucial topics.

The table below outlines each of these topics, their respective sessions, and the weight they represent within the exam. This breakdown can help you focus your study efforts on the areas most important to your success.

TopicSessionExam Weight
Ethical and Professional Standards1 and/or 210% to 15%
Economics1 and/or 25% to 10%
Equity Investments1 and/or 210% to 15%
Fixed Income1 and/or 215% to 20%
Derivatives1 and/or 25% to 10%
Alternative Investments1 and/or 25% to 10%
Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning1 and/or 235% to 40%

In order to ensure you possess the necessary understanding of this material and skill to pass the CFA Level 3 exam, you’ll need to invest in reliable study materials.

Recommended Study Materials

Interested in starting your CFA Level 3 studies? Check out Kaplan’s in-depth study materials.

4.7 out of 5 starsKaplan Schweser

Alternatively, read our in-depth CFA Level 3 overview. 

CFA Level 3 Study Notes

Below, you’ll find a succinct breakdown of the topic format you should follow when preparing and structuring your CFA Level 3 notes.

Unlike the CFA Level 1 and CFA Level 2 exams, the CFA Level 3 exam doesn’t differentiate between the sessions. This means you could get multiple questions on the same topic in one session and none in the other.

Sessions 1 and 2

You must complete each session of the exam within two hours and 12 minutes. Each will contain either six item sets and five essay sets or five item sets and six essay sets.

Here’s a look at the exam’s topic breakdown:

Ethical and Professional Standards

  • Professional Standards of Practice: Dive deep into these principles that govern professional conduct. Draft scenarios in your notes to challenge your understanding of the application of these standards in real-life, ethical situations
  • Asset Manager Code of Professional Conduct: When making notes, emphasize the ethical responsibilities this code places on asset managers — especially the principle of placing clients’ interests first
  • Presentation of Performance Results: Outline the importance of transparent and accurate performance reporting. Document case studies or examples that showcase its impact on investor confidence


  • Market Forces of Supply and Demand: Draft diagrams and real-world scenarios to enhance your understanding of how these forces determine prices
  • Business Cycles: Create a timeline or chart in your notes that depicts each phase of business cycles, annotating the potential investment impacts
  • International Trade and Capital Flows: Highlight key trade theories and policies as well as their subsequent consequences on global trade dynamics

Equity Investments

  • Types of Equity Securities and Markets: Differentiate each type with their characteristics, advantages, and limitations
  • Valuation of Individual Equity Securities: Incorporate practical examples or valuation models
  • Equity Market Valuation and Portfolio Management: Prioritize strategies and methodologies with practical case studies for context

Fixed Income

  • Types of Fixed Income Securities and Markets: Create a list or chart that differentiates each type based on risk profiles and returns
  • Analysis of Interest Rate Risk: Incorporate calculations and scenarios to demonstrate the relationship between interest rates and bond prices
  • Analysis of Credit Risk: Focus on practical examples that showcase credit rating evaluations and their impact


  • Types of Derivative Instruments and Markets: Provide examples of each type and its typical use
  • Valuation of Option Contracts: Use real-life valuation models or scenarios for context
  • Uses of Derivatives in Portfolio Management: Illustrate the various uses with practical case studies or portfolio strategies that incorporate derivatives

Alternative Investments

  • Real Estate: Document property valuation methods, trending investment strategies, and market insights
  • Private Capital: Detail valuation techniques, structures, and evaluation methodologies for potential investments
  • Hedge Funds: Incorporate analysis techniques, focusing on strategies, risks, returns, and real-world fund structures

Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning

  • Modern Portfolio Management Concepts: Break down and explain the critical concepts with practical applications
  • Behavioral Finance: Document psychological factors that can influence investor behavior and decision-making
  • Management of Individual/Family Investor Portfolios: Prioritize strategies tailored for individualized financial goals
  • Risk Management, Performance Attribution, and Appraisal: Illustrate each concept with real-world scenarios and evaluation methodologies

Candidates must have a deep understanding of each of the topics listed above to successfully apply portfolio management and wealth planning in real-life scenarios.

Ready to get started? StateRequirement recommends having a look at Kaplan’s study materials and resources.

4.7 out of 5 starsKaplan Schweser

CFA Level 3 Notes FAQ

Is CFA Level 3 very hard?

The CFA Level 3 exam is challenging, with an emphasis on portfolio management and wealth planning. This exam includes essay-type responses, making it distinct and more demanding than the previous two levels. For an overview of the final CFA exam, check out our CFA Level 3 article.

Are Schweser notes enough for CFA Level 3?

Schweser notes are a popular study aid for the CFA Level 3 exam, but relying solely on them may not be sufficient. As a best practice, you should supplement the Schweser notes with the official CFA curriculum and practice exams for comprehensive preparation. You also should take several mock exams in order to review practice questions before the actual exam.

What is the hardest topic in the CFA Level 3?

Difficulty can be subjective based on individual weaknesses. However, many candidates cite challenges with this exam’s qualitative areas — most notably the Behavioral Finance and Wealth Management topics. These topics require a deep understanding and practical application, making them inherently demanding. For in-depth information on exam topics, see our CFA Level 3 Notes.

What is the fail rate for CFA Level 3?

The fail rate for the CFA Level III exam fluctuates annually. Historically, it ranges from 39% to 56% with a 12-year average of 50%. It’s also important to remember that a number of factors, including individual exam difficulty and candidate preparation, affect this rate. Check out our Mock Exam CFA Level 1 article to see if the CFA certification is the right choice for you.

How long should you study for CFA Level 3?

The recommended preparation time for the third (and final) CFA exam is around 300 hours. A structured and consistent study plan that encompasses all topics of the CFA program curriculum is crucial. Incorporating online mock exams while you’re studying — as well as collaborative learning sessions — can go a long way in helping you prepare holistically. If you’d like to have a look at the structure, we recommend having a look at our CFA Mock Exam Level 2 article.