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What is the Pass Rate for the CFA® Exam?

By: Kaplan Schweser
October 12, 2021
A graphic representing the CFA exam passing rate

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.

In 2020 and 2021, the passing rates for all levels of the CFA exam was as follows:

2020-2021 CFA Level I Exam Pass Rates

  • December 2020 Exam: 49%

  • February 2021 Exam: 42%

  • May 2021 Exam: 25%

  • July 2021 Exam: 22%

  • August 2021 Exam: 26%


2020-2021 CFA Level II Exam Pass Rates

  • December 2020 Exam: 55%

  • February 2021 Exam: 46%

  • May 2021 Exam: 40%

  • August 2021 Exam: 29%


2020-2021 CFA Level III Exam Pass Rates

  • December 2020 Exam: 56%

  • February 2021 Exam: 57%

  • May 2021 Exam: 42%

  • August 2021 Exam: Results to be announced November 2

When August 2021 CFA Exam results are announced, we will update the latest pass rates here. If you receive your results and have failed the CFA Exam, we lay a tactical plan for what your next steps should be.

Beginning in 2022, pass rates for 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 2021 CFA Exam Pass Rates So Low?

You probably noticed the stark contrast between the 2021 scores and the 2020 scores. In fact, there has 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 preparation 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:

  • 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.

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 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:


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 exam preparation packages.


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

Free eBook: CFA® Program Fundamentals, 2nd Edition

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