FREE Comprehensive Notes and Summary for All 10 Topics of the CFA Level I Exam

CFA Level 1 Notes and Summary: A Guide to Mastering the 10 Key Topics

Welcome, ambitious CFA candidates! You’ve taken the first step towards becoming a CFA charterholder, and we’re here to guide you through the CFA Level 1 exam. Our detailed CFA Level 1 notes and summary will help you understand and dominate each topic.

Before we jump in, watch this video that offers our guidance on the optimal sequence of study and exam strategy:

Pass the CFA Level 1 Exam: Study Plan and Exam Strategy

1. Quantitative Methods (8-12% of the exam)

Let’s dig deep into the captivating world of Quantitative Methods, exploring a range of topics from the Time Value of Money to Linear Regression. These subjects cover essential concepts in finance and data analysis, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of how to interpret and utilise financial data effectively.

  • Time Value of Money (TVM)
    Gain a thorough understanding of Time Value of Money, including the intricacies of interest rates, future value and present value of cash flows, annuities, and the importance of compounding scenarios.
  • Organising, Visualising, and Describing Data
    Delve into the essentials of data analysis, mastering the art of data organisation, visualisation, and interpretation. This section includes essential tools such as measures of central tendency, dispersion, skewness, and correlation.
  • Probability Concepts
    Embark on an exciting journey through the world of probability, covering important topics like definitions, rules, expected values, variance, portfolio return and variance, Bayes’ formula, and counting principles.
  • Common Probability Distributions
    Explore the intriguing realm of probability distributions, getting acquainted with concepts like discrete and continuous random variables and the Monte Carlo simulation, a powerful tool in financial forecasting.
  • Sampling and Estimation
    Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of sampling and estimation. You’ll learn about sampling methods, central limit theorem, point and interval estimates, resampling methods, and biases in sampling.
  • Hypothesis Testing
    Learn about hypothesis testing, a critical component of statistical decision-making. This section covers the hypothesis testing procedure, hypothesis tests concerning the mean, variance, correlation, and tests of independence using contingency tables.
  • Linear Regression
    Dive into the exciting field of linear regression, understanding dependent and independent variables, regression model analysis, hypothesis tests for slope coefficients, and various functional forms for simple linear regression.

2. Economics (8-12% of the exam)

The world of Economics is an engaging and vital area of study, covering topics such as demand and supply analysis, firm and market structures, aggregate output, prices, economic growth, and more. It also touches on the understanding of business cycles, monetary and fiscal policies, geopolitics, international trade and capital flows, and currency exchange rates.

  • Topics in Demand and Supply Analysis
    Delve into the world of demand and supply analysis, understanding price elasticity, income and substitution effects, marginal returns, breakeven and shutdown conditions, and economies of scale.
  • The Firm and Market Structures
    Gain a deep understanding of the diverse market structures and their unique characteristics, along with their impacts on pricing strategies and market concentration.
  • Aggregate Output, Prices, and Economic Growth
    Learn about GDP, its components, aggregate demand and supply, macroeconomic equilibrium, and the fundamentals of economic growth.
  • Understanding Business Cycles
    Understand business cycles, their phases, theories, and connection with credit cycles, unemployment, inflation, and economic indicators.
  • Monetary and Fiscal Policy
    Learn about the shaping of the economy through monetary and fiscal policies, the process of money creation, demand and supply of money, inflation, and the roles of central banks.
  • Introduction to Geopolitics
    Uncover the intriguing world of geopolitics, its impact on the global economy and financial markets, and its relationship with globalization.
  • International Trade and Capital Flows
    Discover the compelling world of international trade and capital flows, including the dynamics of imports, exports, trade and capital restrictions, and agreements.
  • Currency Exchange Rates
    Understand the backbone of international financial transactions – exchange rates, and learn about foreign and forward exchange rates, various regimes, and their influence on international trade and capital flows.

3. Financial Statement Analysis (13-17% of the exam)

Dive into the realm of Financial Statement Analysis, navigating the intricacies of financial reports, exploring various reporting standards, and mastering the art of interpreting income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. Further, you’ll learn powerful financial analysis techniques, understand the vital role of inventories, and the intricacies of long-lived assets. You will also uncover the secrets of income taxes, non-current liabilities, and financial reporting quality, and apply these skills to real-world financial statement analysis scenarios.

  • Financial Statement Analysis – An Introduction
    Get well-versed with financial statement analysis fundamentals, learn to navigate through balance sheets and income statements, understand auditor’s reports, and immerse yourself in the financial statement analysis framework.
  • Financial Reporting Standards
    Understand the roles of standard-setting bodies, familiarize yourself with the IFRS framework, and explore the convergence, comparison, and evolution of financial reporting standards.
  • Understanding Income Statements
    Learn to breakdown income statements into components, master various expense recognition methods, and understand key concepts like basic and diluted earnings per share, and comprehensive income.
  • Understanding Balance Sheets
    Get acquainted with the components of a balance sheet, learn to analyze it through liquidity and solvency ratios, and understand the concept of owner’s equity.
  • Understanding Cash Flow Statements
    Master the principles and classifications of cash flows, learn methods of presenting cash flows, and develop skills to analyze these statements.
  • Financial Analysis Techniques
    Discover various financial analysis techniques, understand key financial ratios, and learn equity and credit analysis.
  • Inventories
    Learn about inventory accounting, unlock various inventory valuation methods, and understand the specifics of the LIFO method.
  • Long-Lived Assets
    Understand the fundamentals of capitalisation, depreciation, and amortisation, and learn about impairments, revaluation, and derecognition of long-lived assets.
  • Income Taxes
    Dive into the world of deferred taxes, understand the disparities between financial accounting and tax reporting, and explore the effects of tax rate changes on financial statements.
  • Non-Current Liabilities
    Learn about bonds, leases, and pension plans, and understand how solvency ratios help in assessing a company’s ability to meet long-term obligations.
  • Financial Reporting Quality
    Understand the concept of financial reporting quality, identify the motivations for low-quality reporting, and learn to spot signs of accounting bias and earnings manipulation.
  • Financial Statement Analysis – Applications
    Apply your knowledge in analyzing past performance and forecasting future outcomes, assess credit quality, understand equity screening, and learn to adjust financial statements for comparability.

4. Fixed Income (10-12% of the exam)

Fixed income securities are a cornerstone of the investment world, covering a broad range of instruments, markets, and valuation techniques. This content takes you on a journey from defining the elements of fixed income securities to understanding the risks and returns associated with them. Also, you’ll learn about credit analysis and the intricacies of asset-backed securities.

  • Fixed Income Securities: Defining Elements
    Learn the fundamentals of bonds, the variety of coupon structures, the legal and regulatory framework surrounding them, and the concept of contingency provisions.
  • Fixed-Income Markets: Issuance, Trading, and Funding
    Uncover the mechanisms of global fixed income markets, including primary and secondary bond markets, types of bonds based on issuers, corporate debt, and short-term funding methods for banks.
  • Introduction to Fixed-Income Valuation
    Master bond pricing and yield measures, understand the time value of money, and delve into the components of yield spreads.
  • Introduction to Asset-Backed Securities
    Gain insights into the world of asset-backed securities, understanding securitisation, residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities, non-mortgage asset-backed securities, and collateralised debt obligations.
  • Understanding Fixed-Income Risk and Return
    Learn about sources of return in fixed-rate bonds, how to calculate duration, the factors influencing interest rate risks, and the concept of empirical duration.
  • Fundamentals of Credit Analysis
    Understand the components of credit risk, credit ratings, how to conduct corporate credit analysis, and the special considerations involved in high yield and sovereign credit analysis.

5. Derivatives (5-8% of the exam)

Get ready for a wild ride through the world of Derivatives! We’ll start from the basics, take you through different types of derivatives and their uses, and finally help you master pricing and valuation. At the end of this journey, you’ll see derivatives as a powerful financial tool rather than a complex mystery.

6. Alternative Investments (5-8% of the exam)

Embark on an exciting exploration of alternative investments, diving into their unique structures, investment methods, and diverse categories. Understand the dynamic world of hedge funds, demystify their benefits and fees, and delve into the realm of private equity and private debt. This journey continues through commodity investments, real estate, infrastructure, and concludes with the important aspect of performance appraisal.

  • Categories of Alternative Investments
    We’ll dive into the different types of alternative investments, their unique features, and why they might be a good addition to your portfolio.
  • Methods of Investing in Alternative Investments
    Uncover the main ways to invest in alternative investments, their pros and cons, and who’s responsible for due diligence.
  • Hedge Fund Strategies
    Deep dive into the dynamic world of hedge funds, their shared characteristics, and the key strategies they employ.
  • Hedge Fund Benefits and Fees
    Discover the diversification secrets of hedge funds, their performance in down markets, and the common fee structures they utilize.
  • Private Equity
    Learn how investments in private companies or those aiming to go private can provide a significant return, along with the associated risks.
  • Private Debt
    Explore the world of private debt, its different methods, and the set of rules and risk levels associated with each.
  • Forms of Commodity Investments
    Learn about the various forms of commodity investment, their potential benefits, and the factors influencing their returns.
  • Commodity Prices and Investments
    Understand the factors that influence commodity prices and the pricing of commodity futures contracts.
  • Timberland and Farmland
    Get a grasp on timberland and farmland investments, how their returns are influenced, and the risks involved
  • Real Estate Investments
    Understand the different types of real estate investments, how their performance is measured, and the key factors influencing this sector.
  • Infrastructure Investments
    Learn about the various types, stages, and forms of infrastructure investments, and the risks and returns associated with them.
  • Issues in Performance Appraisal
    Wrap up with an understanding of performance appraisal in alternative investments, the common issues, and how to measure risk-adjusted returns.

7. Equity Investments (10-12% of the exam)

Equity Investments is a critical field that unravels the essentials of financial markets, security market indexes, market efficiency, equity securities, industry and company analysis, and equity valuation. It’s a journey through the building blocks of the financial system to the nitty-gritty of financial intermediaries, and from the fundamental concepts of market efficiency to the intriguing realm of behavioral finance. This comprehensive guide is a passport to the world of equity investments, helping you master the theories, principles, and techniques that rule the stock market jungle.

  • Market Organisation and Structure
    Dive into the components that shape financial markets, understanding the roles of the financial system and intermediaries, and the dynamics of primary and secondary markets. You’ll also explore the significance of market regulation in maintaining system efficiency.
  • Security Market Indexes
    Unmask the intricacies of security market indexes, learning about their definitions, computation methods, and various applications. You’ll also delve into the complexities of index construction and management and different types of equity and fixed income indexes.
  • Market Efficiency
    Understand the fundamental concept of market efficiency and its impact on investment practices. You’ll also explore the Efficient Market Hypothesis, market anomalies, and the intriguing interplay of human biases and market efficiency via behavioral finance.
  • Overview of Equity Securities
    Delve into the dynamic world of equity securities, learning about their types, the differences between private and public equity securities, and non-domestic equity securities. You’ll also understand the risk and return characteristics of equity securities and their relationship with a company’s value.
  • Introduction to Industry and Company Analysis
    Embark on a journey to understand industry and company analysis, learning about industry analysis techniques, classifications, Porter’s Five Forces, and the impact of external influences on industry growth, profitability, and risk.
  • Equity Valuation
    Venture into the realm of equity valuation, learning about the difference between intrinsic value and market price, major categories of equity valuation models, and the role of dividends. You’ll also explore various valuation models, such as present value models, multiplier models, and asset-based valuation models.

8. Corporate Issuers (8-12% of the exam)

Deep dive into the fascinating domain of Corporate Issuers, where you’ll comprehend the nuances of corporate structures, governance, and risks, in addition to mastering the art of capital investments and understanding the dynamics of working capital and liquidity. You will further enhance your knowledge about the cost of capital, capital structure, and leverage, which are all pivotal to understanding the corporate world.

  • Corporate Structures and Ownership
    You’ll grasp the diversity in corporate structures, including sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations, along with their tax treatments, liability levels, and operational characteristics.
  • Corporate Governance and ESG
    This topic provides insights into the key players of corporate governance, stakeholder management, the role of boards and committees, and factors influencing these relationships. Additionally, you’ll learn to analyze these elements and incorporate ESG factors in decision making.
  • Business Models and Risks
    Understand how companies plan to earn money through various business models, their associated risks, and the effect of leverage on risk exposure and growth potential.
  • Capital Investments
    Familiarize yourself with the capital allocation process, principles of capital allocation, and investment decision criteria. You’ll also explore common pitfalls in capital budgeting and the concept of real options.
  • Working Capital and Liquidity
    Learn about the different sources of funds, managing and measuring liquidity, and evaluating short-term financing choices.
  • Cost of Capital – Foundational Topics
    This section delves into concepts like the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC), costs of different capital sources, Project Beta, and flotation costs.
  • Capital Structure
    Uncover the relationship between a company’s life cycle and its capital structure, theories affecting capital structure decisions, and how stakeholder interests shape these decisions.
  • Measures of Leverage
    Begin with the basic definitions of leverage, understand the different types of leverage – operating, financial, and total – and learn to calculate the breakeven point.

9. Portfolio Management (5-8% of the exam)

Portfolio management is an exciting field that bridges finance theory and practical investment strategy. The journey commences with the fundamentals of the discipline and progresses towards advanced concepts like risk management and technical analysis. The exploration also covers the influence of behavioral biases on investment decisions and concludes with the groundbreaking impact of Fintech on investment management.

  • Portfolio Management Overview
    Grasp the essentials of the portfolio management process, including the portfolio approach to investing, types of investors, and the workings of the asset management industry. Delve into pooled investments and their unique features.
  • Portfolio Risk and Return I
    Embark on an exploration of portfolio risk and return, understanding measures of returns, portfolio diversification theory, and how to determine an investor’s optimal portfolio.
  • Portfolio Risk and Return II
    Delve deeper into portfolio risk and return, learning about capital market theory, systematic vs. unsystematic risk, return generating models, and performance measures.
  • Basics of Portfolio Planning and Construction
    Understand the processes involved in portfolio planning and construction, focusing on client analysis, execution stages, and the integration of ESG factors.
  • The Behavioural Biases of Individuals
    Navigate the realm of behavioural finance, learning how cognitive errors and emotional biases can impact financial decisions and influence market behaviour.
  • Introduction to Risk Management
    Learn about the comprehensive risk management process, including risk governance, identification and measurement of risks, and methods of risk modification.
  • Technical Analysis
    Discover the principles of technical analysis, understanding chart patterns, technical indicators, and their applications to portfolio management.
  • Fintech in Investment Management
    Step into the future of finance by understanding the role of Big Data, AI, and blockchain in investment management and their transformative effects.

10. Ethics (15-20% of the exam)

Get ready to navigate the complex yet vital terrain of ethics in the finance world. This journey will take us from the essence of ethics in the investment profession to the rigorous code of conduct formulated by the CFA Institute. We’ll further explore the seven Standards of Professional Conduct and conclude with an introduction to the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS).

Final Thoughts: Tackling the CFA Level 1 Exam

And there you have it – a comprehensive overview of the 10 topics covered in the CFA Level 1 exam! With our expertly crafted CFA Level 1 notes and summary, you’ll be well on your way to acing the exam. Remember to stay focused, practice plenty of questions, and don’t forget to enjoy the learning process. After all, finance can be fun, right? Good luck, and may the CFA gods be with you!