My own experience on CFA ESG exam (with study tips)

Let me share my experience on how I passed the ESG exams and obtained the popular ESG certificates - CFA ESG.



2/28/20234 min read

I took both the CFA ESG Edition 3 Exam (Oct 2021 version) and the GARP SCR exam in 2022. Here I am going to share my personal experience and study tips on these 2 certifications.If you are still considering which ESG certification (e.g. CFA ESG, GARP SCR, CESGA, or SASB FSA) to study for, please refer to this full guide to ESG exams.

My personal CFA ESG exam experience

After you pay USD795 and complete registration, you can download from the CFA portal the ‘textbook’ which was a 574-page-long pdf file (like most exams, the textbook will likely be longer and longer as time goes by), and a mock exam pdf file of a set of 100 MCQs.

Yet, it does not provide any online question bank or study tools like CFA exams do.

Is the syllabus useful to a finance job?

The CFA ESG exam is best suitable for finance career tracks like investment manager, fund manager or equity researcher as it mainly focuses on ESG investing, such as types of ESG investment strategies (e.g. how ESG investing differs from sustainable investment/ thematic investment/ ethical investment/ impact investment) and how to take ESG into account in an investment, valuation analysis and portfolio management (e.g. materiality assessments, ESG scorecards, engagement strategies).

The exam also covers a wide range of ESG general concepts and global trends (e.g. UN SDGs, TCFD, PRI, EU Taxonomy) which is relevant to any finance jobs.

How does the online exam feel like?

You can book an exam timeslot within 6 months after payment, which is available on every working day through Pearson VUE testing centres (in-person) or every day via OnVUE remote-proctored exams (online).

I like its flexiblity. You can actually make your booking at a later stage as there are many timeslots every day. For me, I reserved an online exam timeslot after I have studied 80% of the syllabus.

During the exam, an online proctor will check your identity and your venue (Yes, you will have to use your camera to do a thorough ‘room tour’ showing every corner of your room, even inside your drawers or underneath your table… So, do move your private items away from your room in advance if you find this embarassing).

The online proctor will man-mark you one-on-one throughout the entire exam. You can raise any question to the proctor via the chatbox.

How difficult is the CFA ESG exam?

The exam format was 100 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Objectively, the CFA ESG exam has quite a high passing rate (60%-70%). Its difficulty cannot be compared to any level of the CFA exams.

The CFA Institute officially recommends 130 study hours. For a candidate without ESG background, I think ~90 hours could be sufficient if one reads fast and takes my study tips above. With a little prior ESG knowledge from my academic background and career, I spent around 80 hours and passed in one take.

My advice — How to prepare for the CFA ESG Investing Exam?
  1. Read (not glance) through, highlight and make your own notes on every key points in every part of the textbook. Make sure you understand and remember all key concepts and key words. You don’t need to memorise figures in case studies but you could be tested on the cases’ implications. Some questions are very tricky in terms of wordings — you may be tricked by a one-word difference of definitions.

  2. Take the mock exam seriously. It’s the only official non-textbook study material. It gives you an idea of how the actual exam format is like, and helps review your weakest parts in the syllabus. The actual exam has a similar format to the mock exam, but it is more difficult. The mock exam states that “the pass mark of the exam is between 60% and 70%. We therefore recommend that candidates should aim to achieve 75% — 80% when using this specimen paper.” True that. Make sure you set a timer and really get 75%-80% score.

  3. Complete your notes after reviewing every question of the mock exam. Summarise the key points and try to underline testable/ tested concepts/ figures like the below. Keep your notes short and succinct at <4000 words, so you can do quick revisions before the actual exam.

Sample of my notes:

When will I get my result, certification and Linkedin digital badge?

Right after you complete the exam, you’ll immediately know if you have passed or failed your exam. No exact score or breakdown is provided.

A few days later, you will receive an email containing your electronic certificate showing your completion of the CFA ESG exam.

At a similar time, you will receive your digital badge from Banso, and then you can show your credential on your Linkedin easily.