What is the Pass Rate for the CFA® Exam?

By: Kaplan Schweser
April 18, 2022
Passing rates for CFA exams

The CFA exam pass rate is low because it is a challenging exam with three levels. The percentage of people who pass all the levels is small, especially when you consider that the passing rate for Level 1 is less than half. Let’s look at the data, and discuss what you can do to increase your chances of passing.

CFA® Exams Passing Rate

CFA® exam grading is done yearly by machines and charterholders. CFA Institute then uses a methodology to determine a minimum passing score that is applied to each level of the exam. That score is not made public.

Recent passing rates for all levels of the CFA exam were as follows:

Recent CFA Level I Exam Pass Rates

CFA Level I Exam Administration
CFA Level I Exam Pass Rate
December 2020 Level I Exam
49% pass rate
February 2021 Level I Exam
42% pass rate
May 2021 Level I Exam
25% pass rate
July 2021 Level I Exam
22% pass rate
August 2021 Level I Exam
26% pass rate
November 2021 Level I Exam
27% pass rate
February 2022 Level I Exam36% pass rate

 

These recent pass rates have been noticeably low. The July 2021 pass rate of 22% was the lowest in history, which was the beginning of a trend that has only slightly corrected since. The angst in the CFA community is clearly high and rightly so; candidates made a huge investment of time and money only to yield a devastating result. 

The CFA Institute hasn’t provided much information as to why the Level I pass rate is so much lower than previous exam administrations, and we won’t speculate on that topic here. Rather, we want to focus on providing guidance and support to our CFA candidates, both successful and unsuccessful.

Recent CFA Level II Exam Pass Rates

CFA Level II Exam Administration
CFA Level II Exam Pass Rate
December 2020 Level II Exam
55% pass rate
February 2021 Level II Exam
46% pass rate
May 2021 Level II Exam
40% pass rate
August 2021 Level II Exam
29% pass rate
November 2021 Level II Exam46% pass rate
February 2022 Level II Exam44% pass rate

 

Results from recent Level II exams have varied. While the only significantly lower-than-average pass rate was from the August 2021 exam (29%), it seemed that dip may be a part of a similarly alarming trend as Level I’s consistently declining pass rates. However, the February 2022 exam pass rate of 44%, signals that Level II candidates are back on track as results begin to normalize.


Recent CFA Level III Exam Pass Rates

CFA Level III Exam AdministrationCFA Level III Exam Pass Rate
December 2020 Level III Exam56% pass rate
February 2021 Level III Exam57% pass rate
May 2021 Level III Exam42% pass rate
August 2021 Level III Exam39% pass rate
November 2021 Level III Exam43% pass rate

 

The November 2021 Level III exam pass rate was 43%, which continues the low pass rate trend. However, November's results are a slight improvement from the August 2021 Level III pass rate of 39% which, was a historically low pass rate.

Similar to the Level I and Level II results, it is unclear why pass rates have been so low for recent exams, but our goal remains the same—to help you become a CFA charterholder. 

For those who passed, congratulations. For those who did not, we will help you take the next best step forward and are dedicated to helping you achieve your professional goals.

Whatever your exam result, the obvious question now is, “What do I do now?”

If you received your results and failed the CFA Exam, we lay a tactical plan for what your next steps should be.

Beginning in 2022, pass rates for CFA Level I will be given out four times a year to correspond with the exam windows (CFA Institute has opened additional seatings for all levels of the 2021 exam). Also beginning in 2022, pass rates for Levels II and III will be given out for each window.


Why are Recent CFA Exam Pass Rates So Low?

You probably noticed the stark contrast between the 2021 scores and the 2020 scores. In fact, there have been all sorts of speculation about the reasons for the low scoring. However, this is still a limited data set among years of data sets. Therefore, it’s best to wait to see if the next round of scores is more on par with early 2021 and late 2020 scores or if they remain low before looking for the cause. If you haven’t taken the exam yet and these scores concern you, this is a good time for you to consider a CFA exam prep package, which can increase your odds of being in the passing statistics.

 

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.

How Hard is the CFA Exam?

Be prepared for a challenge at any level. As you can tell based on the recent passing rates, the CFA Exams are widely considered to be difficult exams. For Levels I and II, you are expected to know the major concepts related to these topics and how they are applied:

  • Ethical and Professional Standards
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Economics
  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Corporate Issuers
  • Equity Investments
  • Fixed Income
  • Derivatives
  • Alternative Investments
  • Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning
For Level III, you must use your knowledge to evaluate specific finance scenarios and make recommendations.

CFA Level Difficulty: Which CFA Exam is the Hardest?

No level of the CFA exam is easy. Each level is progressively harder. In the end, the number of candidates who pass all three levels is a small percentage of those who register for Level I and stick with it. That said, the general consensus of those who have taken all three levels of the CFA exam is that Level III is the most difficult because of the constructed response questions, which are in the format of essay questions.

For those who have gotten used to the multiple-choice format, writing answers can be difficult. Also, there is a tendency for some candidates to think that constructed response questions should be treated like essay questions on a college or graduate school exam, but they are completely different.  

Study Tips: How to Increase Your Odds of Passing the CFA Exam

You should be prepared to allocate at least 300 hours to studying for each level. These tips will help you develop the knowledge and confidence necessary to increase your odds of passing:

Next Steps for CFA Candidates

Learn more about the CFA Exam if you are interested in becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst. If you are interested in taking (or re-taking) the exam, check out our CFA study materials.

Free eBook: Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA® Program Exam

Free eBook: CFA® Program Fundamentals, 2nd Edition

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