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How Is the CFA® Exam Graded?

By: Kaplan Schweser
January 11, 2021
A stack of CFA exams eating to be graded
CFA® exam grading is done by machines and charterholders. CFA Institute then uses a methodology to determine a minimum passing score that is applied to each exam. In this article, we break down how the whole process works and share some tips to increase your likelihood of getting a passing grade.




CFA® Exam Grading

The multiple-choice sections in all three levels of the exam are graded by a machine, although 10 percent are checked by humans. The essay portion of Level III—known as constructed response—is graded by CFA charterholders. The graders are divided into teams, and each team grades one question, using guideline answers and grading keys provided by CFA Institute. The graders do not know the names of any of the candidates or even their testing centers.

Junior graders, senior graders, and a grader of graders not only grade the exams, but they also check the work of others to ensure consistency and quality. The middle 50 percent of the distribution of scores are graded again by someone else to ensure that marginal cases get another pass. Then, for those exams with questions where the scores of the first and second rounds of grading are different, there is a third round of grading.

After all the grading is completed and collected, the next step is applying the Minimum Passing Score to each exam.

Considering taking the CFA exam? Download our free eBook, Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA® Exam, to get advice and tips from past exam-takers.

What Is the Minimum Passing Score?

The Minimum Passing Score (MPS) is the benchmark used to determine whether a candidate has passed or failed the exam. The MPS is different each year. To get the MPS, CFA Institute conducts workshops for each level of the exam. Workshop participants go through the entire exam several times, looking at each question to make independent judgments on the expected performance of a “just-competent” candidate on each question. After they correlate the judgments and review them, they issue a report that provides a score range for the exam.

CFA charterholder members on the Board of Governors of CFA Institute use this report as the foundation for setting the MPS for each level. CFA Institute does not release the MPS, although research indicates that it hovers between 60 and 70 percent.

The Final Grade

Candidates do not receive a numerical score for their exams. After the MPS is set, it is applied to each graded exam, and candidates get their results. They receive either “Pass” for a score at or above the MPS or a “Did not pass” result for a score below it.

With their grade, they also get a summary of how they did by each topic area covered on the exam and the maximum amount of points that candidates can earn in each topic area. The score for each topic area is expressed in three ranges: less than 50 percent, between 50 and 70 percent, and more than 70 percent.

How to Get a “Pass” Result after CFA Exam Grading

If you would like to increase your chances of getting the “Pass” grade, here are some steps to follow for each level of the CFA exam:

  1. Develop your study plan 6–9 months before the exam.
  2. Allot 90–120 hours to reading and coursework, 120–150 hours to answering practice questions, and 60 hours to taking practice and mock exams.
  3. Make all Learning Outcome Statements part of your plan.
  4. Use study groups and CFA exam prep courses to stick to your plan.
  5. Know the exam weights.
  6. For each concept you learn, ask yourself how it applies in the real world.
  7. In the last weeks, before the exam, instead of panicking or ramping up your study intensity, space your practice sessions further apart, and get plenty of rest.

Ready to Get Started?

As you strive for a positive outcome from CFA exam grading, consider making a Kaplan Schweser exam prep package—complete with classes, practice exams, and mock exams—the centerpiece of your mission to earn a passing grade on all levels of the CFA exam.

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