CFA exam passing rate information

Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Published: January 19, 2021

The CFA® exam 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 of the first level isn’t even close to half. Let’s look at the data, and see what you can do to increase your chances of passing.

CFA® 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, but it is never above 70 percent.

In 2019, the passing rate for the CFA exam was as follows:

  • Level I (June): 41 percent
  • Level I (December): 42 percent
  • Level II: 44 percent
  • Level III: 56 percent

2019 is the last year for which CFA Institute had complete data. The 2020 exams were postponed and many of the December 2020 testing centers closed, cancelling many seatings.

Beginning in 2021, pass rates for Level I will be given out four times a year to address the fact that candidates will be able to sit for it in February, May, August, and November (CFA Institute is offering six seatings for the Level I 2021 exam). Also beginning in 2021, pass rates for Levels II and III will be given out for each window (to learn more about why and how they will be scheduled, check out this article).

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?

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. You should be prepared for a challenge. For Levels I and II, you are expected to know the major concepts related to these topics and how they are applied:

  • Ethics
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Economics
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis
  • Corporate Finance
  • Equity Investments
  • Fixed Income
  • Derivatives
  • Alternative Investments
  • Portfolio Management

For Level III, you must use your knowledge to evaluate specific finance scenarios and make recommendations.

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

You should be prepared to allot 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:

  • Lay out a study plan, and start studying early. You should focus on the Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) from CFA Institute because they detail exactly what you are expected to do on exam day. CFA exam preparation classes can really help you stick to your plan.
  • Develop a steady, regular study routine. By having a schedule and a regular routine, you can increase your retention dramatically. Be sure to balance your studying between reading and practicing with breaks in between to enable concepts (and their application) to percolate.
  • Build your confidence by practicing. Practice questions and practice tests enable you to assess how well you understand and apply critical concepts. You’ll be able to address weaknesses and become accustomed to the kinds of questions you’ll be asked on the exam.
  • Take at least one mock exam. CFA mock exams are not the same as practice tests. Mock exams simulate actual exam conditions. They help you assess your mastery of everything you’ll be expected to know and do when you sit for the actual CFA exam, along with how well you handle the pressure of a timed exam.

Ready for the Challenge?

If you’re interested in taking the exam, check out our CFA exam preparation packages. If you want to learn more about the CFA exam levels, this article breaks them down for you.

Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA Exam

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

CFA Fundamentals eBook

Free eBook: CFA® Program Fundamentals, 2nd Edition