CFA Pass Rate and Trends- Find Out The Latest Trends

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CFA passing percentage varies from year to year and has traditionally fallen between 35% and 45%. Candidates receive a score report that is intended to be fairly unspecific: there is no numerical score or grade for the test, only a Pass/Fail result, and the candidate’s performance range in each of the topic areas:

  • below 50%,
  • between 50% and 70%, and,
  • above 70%.

Failing candidates are informed of their decile rank within the body of failing candidates. The passing grade for the exams was defined as 70% of the top percentage of exam papers until 1989; since then, the grading method is not explicitly published and the minimum passing score is set by the Board of Governors after each exam. The Board of Governors reviews the results of the standard-setting process and input from psychometricians.

Standard setting is a process that defines the passing score of the exam. The CFA exam uses the modified Angoff method which is a commonly used approach to setting standards for certification and licensure examinations. Subject matter experts review the exam and recommend a minimum passing score for the “just qualified candidate”. The minimum passing scores are presented to the Board of Governors in a report.

Passing Rates
Year Level I Level II Level III
2017 43% / 43% 47% 54%
2016 43% 46% 54%
2015 42% / 43% 46% 53%
2014 44% 46% 54%
2013 38% / 43% 43% 49%
2012 38% / 37% 42% 52%
2011 39% / 38% 43% 51%
2010 42% / 36% 46% 54%
2009 46% / 34% 41% 49%
2008 35% 46% 53%
2007 39% 403% 50%
2006 40% 48% 76%
2005 35% 56% 55%
2004 35% 32% 64%
2003 41% 47% 68%
2002 44% 47% 58%
Our observation
  1. CFA pass rates have been decreasing for every level, mostly due to candidates’ lack of preparation despite the innovative study content – study notes, flash cards, videos, audios etc. We believe that the content is vast and candidates forget the past material as they move forward. Candidates are advised to practice regularly and cumulatively.
  2. CFA pass rates are lowest for Level I. We believe this is due to two reasons:
    a. Overconfidence. CFA exam is tough. Many candidates underestimate it and end up wasting both their time and money.
    b. Increasingly, candidates from non-finance backgrounds are taking CFA exams. After clearing Level I, candidates have a strong understanding of the financial tools and concepts and are better prepared for Level II and III than they were for Level I.

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