CFA® Exam Pass Rates, Scores, and Grading

Before diving into the CFA exam, it's smart to get a grip on pass rates and scores. It's not just about figuring out how tough the test is—it's a guide to smart prep. Knowing the history of pass rates is like having a roadmap, helping you set realistic goals and track your progress. It's not just about passing; it's about learning from those who've been there before.

CFA Exam Pass Rates Across Each Level

The CFA exam pass rates vary across each level, reflecting the program's reputation for rigor and depth. Level I generally sees pass rates in the low 40s to high 50s, with Level II often lower and Level III slightly higher. These rates are influenced by factors such as the difficulty of the exams, the preparation level of candidates, and periodic updates to the curriculum. The CFA Institute is committed to high standards, and candidates are advised to start their preparation early, engage in thorough practice, and stay informed about curriculum changes for the best chance of success in this demanding financial credentialing program.

CFA Level 1 Exam Pass Rates

The Level 1 exam is taken by more candidates and has the lowest pass rate of the three levels. Recently, only an average of 37.25 % passed the CFA Level 1 exam for the 2023 test window.

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 37.25%

In theory, the CFA Institute (CFAI) knows that this level requires a deep and broad understanding of the subject matter, with very little carry-over knowledge from college. It thus filters out the candidates without such requisite knowledge.

CFA Level 2 Exam Pass Rates

Level 2 of the CFA exam is widely considered the toughest of the three levels, with an average of about 46.6% of candidates passing in 2023. Firstly, the exam covers a more extensive and complex curriculum, including more topics and a greater depth of knowledge. Secondly, while Level 1 is mostly multiple-choice questions, Level 2 involves item-set questions that require more analytical and critical thinking skills. These questions present a real-world scenario and require the candidate to analyze and apply the knowledge learned to solve the problem.

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 46.6%

Level 1 typically witnesses lower pass rates, whereas Level 2 showcases the achievements of a more discerning group of candidates. Despite the continued use of multiple-choice questions (MCQs), Level 2 introduces a vignette-style format unfamiliar to Level 1 candidates, adding an extra layer of complexity. This shift in question presentation contributes to the perceived difficulty of Level 2, requiring candidates to navigate a nuanced approach to tackle the exam successfully.

CFA Level 3 Exam Pass Rates

The CFA exam's third and final level has the highest success rate of the three levels. On average, over the past 10 years, approximately 52% of Level 3 test-takers passed the exam. While the pass rate percentage for the May 2023 window saw a jump of 7%, i.e., 48% from 2021’s 41% rate, it was a percent less for August 2023 (47%).

Year CFA Level 3 Average
Pass Rate
2013 49%
2014 54%
2015 53%
2016 54%
2017 54%
2018 56%
2019 56%
2020 56%
2021 42%
2022 49%
2023 47.5%

The CFA Level 3 exam introduces an essay format, which adds another layer of complexity to the exam. Level 3 candidates should devote sufficient time to comprehending the nuances of and grading criteria for this exam format.

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How Does the CFA Exam’s Grading System Work?

To determine passing scores for each level of the CFA exam, the CFAI uses a method known as the modified Angoff method.

  • This process involves a panel of subject matter experts who are familiar with the content and difficulty of the exam.
  • These experts estimate the minimum score that a candidate should receive in order to demonstrate the necessary level of knowledge and skills.
  • The minimum score is then used to set the passing score for the exam, which may vary from one administration to the next depending on the performance of the group of candidates taking the exam at that time and the exam's difficulty.

Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) on all three levels of the CFA exam are machine-graded, with about 10% of exams being re-graded by hand to check for inconsistencies and ensure accuracy. During the grading period, the clarity and validity of multiple-choice questions may be reevaluated based on results and complaints from the testing period. Any questions found to be unclear or invalid will be credited towards a candidate's score.

Essays are also graded a second time by a different person to ensure fairness. If the first and second scores for these essays differ, the essay will be graded a third time. During the official evaluation, CFA exam graders are divided into groups and use a rubric provided by the CFAI to grade questions. Different levels of charterholders and a "grader of graders" grade all exams and review each other's work to maintain consistency during the first week of grading. The middle 50% of exam scores are graded again during the second week, and if there are significant differences in grading, the exams are graded a third time. Finally, the exams are given an MPS (minimum passing score).

Apart from analyzing the CFA exam grading system and its working, having clarity on what the scoring components stand for is also important. A black dotted line indicates the MPS; a thick, dark blue line shows your score. If the line is above the MPS, you passed. If it is below the MPS, you did not pass.

What is a Minimum Passing Score (MPS)?

The Minimum Passing Score (MPS) is the lowest possible score a candidate can obtain while still passing the CFA exam. The CFAI does not publish the minimum passing scores. This is not to be confused with the CFA exam pass rates, which are published annually and represent the percentage of candidates who passed a specific exam.

Testing Windows Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
February 2022 70% 71% Not Available
May 2022 38% Not Available 49%
August 2022 37% 40% 48%
November 2022 67% 62% Not Available
February 2023 69% Not Available 62%
May 2023 69% 70% Not Available
August 2023 67% 69% 63%
November 2023 68% 68% Not Available

As much as results are important, it is equally important to be able to understand the Whys and Hows of the grade that you receive. Apart from helping you analyze your grade, understanding your CFA exam score report will also give you an idea of areas of improvement and can assess your standing in the CFA exam, should you want to attempt the exam again.

Why doesn't the CFAI publish the minimum passing score for each level?

The CFAI does not publish the minimum passing score for each level of the CFA exam. The reason for this is that the passing score is determined through a process called standard setting, which is a statistical process that involves a panel of CFA charterholders who review each question on the exam and determine the minimum score required to pass. The passing score can vary from one exam administration to another, depending on the difficulty level of the questions and the performance of the candidates. By not publishing the minimum passing score, the CFAI aims to maintain the integrity and consistency of the exam, as well as to avoid any potential gaming of the system by candidates who might try to target a specific score rather than aiming to achieve a thorough understanding of the material.

What is the reason behind the low pass rates of the CFA exam?

The CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exam is a rigorous and challenging exam that requires a high level of preparation and understanding of complex financial concepts. The low pass rates of the CFA exam can be attributed to several factors, including:

  1. Difficulty Level: The CFA exam is known to be one of the toughest financial certification exams in the world, and it requires a significant amount of time, effort, and dedication to prepare for. The exam covers various topics, including accounting, economics, ethics, financial analysis, portfolio management, and quantitative methods.
  2. Time Commitment: The CFA exam consists of three levels, each requiring a substantial amount of preparation time. Candidates must devote hundreds of hours of study to each level to master the material and pass the exam.
  3. Comprehensive Curriculum: The CFA curriculum is extensive and covers a wide range of topics, including both theoretical concepts and practical applications. This breadth of coverage requires a significant amount of preparation, and candidates must be well-versed in all areas to succeed.
  4. Limited Number of Attempts: The CFA exam has a limited number of attempts, with candidates only able to retake the exam once per year. This means that candidates must put in a significant amount of effort and preparation to pass the exam on their first or second attempt.

Overall, the low pass rates of the CFA exam can be attributed to the difficulty level of the exam, the extensive curriculum, the time commitment required for preparation, and the limited number of attempts. Candidates who are willing to put in the time and effort to prepare for the exam can increase their chances of passing by using high-quality study materials and practice exams, seeking guidance from experienced professionals, and developing a comprehensive study plan.

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Maximizing Your CFA Exam Score: Make It Possible with UWorld

Along with the CFA charter exam's nerve-racking nature, there is uncertainty surrounding your chances of passing given that the MPS is unknown. So, what is the best method to increase your chances of passing? The answer is simple: Confidence and passing results come from proper preparation. The difference between passing and failing is in the quality of the CFA exam prep content you use and the study plan around it.

Practicing with a world-class, comprehensive online learning platform is the key to better results. Candidates are not specialists in all topics covered, even with an advanced finance degree. As a result, each candidate has several knowledge gaps that can be filled by self-study and repetition. Reading detailed answers to CFA exam practice problems is a handy tool for swiftly grasping challenging concepts holding you back. The curriculum is extensive, yet the principles are understandable. Allow adequate time to study the curriculum thoroughly, keep involved with the content, incorporate high levels of practice, and include time to review immediately before the exam.

UWorld's team of professionals includes CFA charterholders who have extensive experience in teaching, and creating content specific to the CFA exam, as well as financial training. Some of our team members even have experience in developing the CFA exam itself. By choosing UWorld, you can benefit from the knowledge and expertise of these professionals as you work to understand the expectations of the CFA exam and develop a plan to succeed.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The CFA exam uses a scoring system that is based on a candidate’s overall performance on the exam rather than their performance on individual topics. This means that candidates do not have to beat the minimum passing score (MPS) for each topic to pass the exam, but rather they must achieve an overall score that meets or exceeds the MPS set by the CFAI. The CFAI does not disclose the MPS or the specific score required to pass the exam but rather only reports whether a candidate has passed or failed. Therefore, candidates should aim to perform well across all topics in order to achieve a passing score on the exam.

There is no universal definition of a “good” CFA exam score, as it varies depending on a candidate’s individual goals and circumstances. However, a score at or above the minimum passing score (MPS) for the exam is generally considered a good score. The MPS is set by the CFA Institute Board of Governors each year and is not publicly disclosed. Some candidates aim to score significantly higher than the MPS to increase their chances of passing and to demonstrate their knowledge and competency in the subject matter. Ultimately, a “good” score on the CFA exam is one that meets the candidate’s personal goals and expectations.

No, exam results do not expire. You have unlimited time to complete the CFA Program. However, the CFA Institute recommends that you do not leave too much time between each level or exam retake. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to recall crucial concepts from past exams.

Exam results are expected to be available in approximately 8-10 weeks for Levels 1 and 2, and approximately ten weeks for Level 3.

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