CFA® Pass Rates and Scores
How High Is the Bar?
If you are considering the CFA® exam, it only makes sense to become acquainted with the passing rates and scores as a factor in deciding whether to take the exam. It's best to look at a rolling 10-year average for each level when reviewing the historical pass rates. Since the CFA Institute (CFAI) only provides pass rates, and not the minimum passing score (MPS) for each exam window, the MPS can only be estimated.
But what exactly are Pass-rates?
Pass rates indicate the number of people, shown as a percentage, who were successful in a particular exam (in this case, the CFA exam).
CFA Pass Rates Across Each Level
Knowing the pass rates can often benefit your preparation for intensive exams like the CFA exam, especially when taking mock exams. Estimating your score and pass/fail status can be valuable in effectively carrying out your study strategies. The exam pass rates for all levels have changed in recent years, partly due to the pandemic and partly due to the introduction of computer-based testing.
CFA Level 1 Pass Rate
Obtaining your CFA designation is not an easy task. The Level 1 exam is taken by more candidates and has the lowest pass rate of the three levels.
Note: The 2022 value only includes the February & May window's CFA Level 1 Pass Rate Percentage
In theory, the 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. The pass rate certainly supports this theory, as only 36% of candidates passed the CFA Level 1 exam in February 2022, and 38% in May 2022.
CFA Level 2 Pass Rate
Level 2 of the CFA exam is widely regarded as the most difficult of the three sections. On average, approximately 45% of candidates passed the Level 2 exam in 2022.
Note: The 2022 value only includes the February Window's CFA Level 2 Pass Rate Percentage
While Level 1 pass rates are lower, Level 2 pass rates reflect the scores of a more astute set of candidates. The question format is still MCQ, but in a vignette style that candidates have not yet seen. This makes Level 2 comparatively tricky.
CFA Level 3 Pass Rate
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. The pass rate percentage for the May 2022 window saw a jump of 8% to 49% from 2021’s 41% rate.
Note: The 2022 value only includes the May Window's CFA Level 3 Pass Rate Percentage.
Level 3 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.
What is the CFA Minimum Passing Score (MPS)?
The CFA exam graders are divided into groups, and each group grades a question using a rubric provided by the CFA Institute. During the first week of grading, different levels of charterholders and a "grader of graders" grade all of the exams while also reviewing each other's work to ensure consistency. The middle 50% of exam scores are graded a second time in the second week. If the grading differs significantly, the exams are graded a third time. The exams are then given a MPS.
The Minimum Passing Score (MPS) is the lowest possible score a candidate can obtain while still passing the CFA exam. The CFA Institute does not publish the minimum passing scores. This is not to be confused with the CFA pass rate, which is published annually and represents the percentage of candidates who passed a specific exam. As per many third-party estimates, the CFA Level 1 and 2 passing exam scores stand at somewhere around 70% and 71%, respectively, for February 2022. The CFA Level 3 exam estimated score, on the other hand, was around 58% for November 2021 and 60% for May 2022.
How is the CFA Score Determined/Graded?
For CFA exam results, candidates are not given a numerical score. After the MPS is determined, it is applied to each graded exam and candidates receive their results. Depending on where their score is in relation to the MPS, they are given a "Pass" or "Did not pass" mark. Here's an example of how the results are displayed on the CFAI portal:
However, score box is above MPS line – indicating could have passed if performing at best.
Refer to CFA result indication. Pass/fail cannot be reliably inferred from chart.
Candidates also receive a summary of how they performed in each topic area covered on the exam, the maximum number of points they can earn in each area, and their grades.
Once the grading process is concluded, the Board of Governors at CFAI decides the MPS. Each question and its difficulty compared to other global exams is considered to ensure a fair scoring system. Every result, and the subsequently published MPS, act as a threshold for the next testing window to ensure that the exam and its grading remain fair and square.
The score for each topic area is published in three ranges:
- Less than 50%,
- Between 50% and 70%
- Greater than 70%.
Feeling Stressed About Your Exam Scores?
Along with the CFA 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 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 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.
Tailored to your unique study preferences, UWorld's CFA Level 1 exam prep (CFA Level 2 available 9/1/2022 and Level 3 2023) tracks your performance and gives you access to the most relevant and up-to-date content from the CFAI blueprint. You will have everything you need to pass with confidence and earn your CFA Charter.