The CFA® is a notoriously tough test, and when it comes to average pass rates, historical numbers aren’t encouraging. For years, CFA® exam pass rates have hovered around 40 percent, with the CFA® Institute revealing that, on average, only 4 out of 10 students who sit down for the test walk away with passing CFA® exam results. Those who do pass have to put in a lot of time and study effort.
But it’s so worth it.
Looking at the pass rates and scores needed to become CFA® certified can help you do two things: determine how prepared you need to be and figure out what to do to get there.
Let’s take a look at both.
CFA® Exam Pass Rates
If you’re researching CFA® exam pass rates, then you’re either in the process of becoming one of the CFA® Charterholders or considering. Each level of these difficult exams has a separate grading process that successful candidates must navigate. Those who are successful receive a passing score.
The pass rate is the percentage of candidates that received a CFA® passing score for that exam level during a certain exam window.
CFA® Exam I Pass Rates
According to the CFA® Institute board-released information, the August 2022 CFA® Level I exam pass rate came in at 37%. Although individual candidate scores vary, historically, only 41% of test takers pass this particular exam. This is one of the reasons the CFA® Level I is considered by many to be the most difficult of the three exams.
CFA® Exam II Pass Rates
For CFA® Level II, the most recent CFA® exam pass rates were between 40% and 42%. This is a few points lower than the historical passing percentage rate of 46%. The vignette-style of questions found on the CFA® Level II is different than typical exam questions, which makes this level particularly tricky.
CFA® Exam III Pass Rates
For CFA® Level III’s most current passing rate comes in at 48%. Over the past 59 years that CFA® Charterholders have been taking the exam, the pass rate has averaged 56%.
CFA® candidates often ask why the CFA® Level III pass rates are so much higher than levels one and two. This is in part because CFA® candidates who sit for the Level III exam know the importance of a study plan and are committed to doing what it takes to pass.
Although the consistent benchmark for CFA® Level III is higher than other exam levels, data points are still low as much of the content is in an essay format that test takers find difficult. Also, a 2023 change to how questions are mixed in sessions one and two will likely see changes to exam pass rates.
Low 2021 CFA® Pass Rates
It’s important to note that the December 2020 CFA® exam (Level II) and February 2021 (Level I) pass rates may have skewed the average.
Why is this?
These exams were postponed from their original dates due to Coronavirus. This allowed the candidates registered to sit for the CFA® during these exam windows a longer study period. The result?
A CFA® Level I pass rate of 44% and a CFA® Level II pass rate of 55%.
This is in opposition to the incredibly low pass rates of later 2021 exam windows.
For CFA® Level I, those came in at 25%, 22%, 26%, and 27%.
For CFA® Level II, pass rates dipped as low as 29% in August 2021.
Although the May and August 2021 pass rates of 42% and 39% might not seem too bad when compared to the other levels, this was a 17 percent drop!
There are lots of opinions on why these numbers were so low. It could be that CFA® charter candidates waited too long and studied too little. It could also be that there were fewer no-shows for the exam dates, affecting the passing score.
CFA® Institute Minimum Passing Score
We know what you’re thinking.
What score do I need to ensure that I pass the CFA® exam? Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer to that question.
The CFA® Institute does a lot of things.
One thing they don’t do is release the minimum passing score (MPS) for exams. Unlike most tests that tell you the minimum score you need to pass, the CFA® exams vary from year to year.
We will go into a little more detail about this below (in the scoring section), but for now, we’ll provide CFA® exam MPS ‘best guesses’ for the various CFA® exams. These numbers are based on previous exam administrations and what info we do have from the CFA® Institute.
Let’s look at MPS averages:
CFA® Level I MPS
CFA® Exam I minimum passing scores (MPS) over the past ten years range from 56% to 74%.
The MPS for CFA® Level I in 2022 was estimated at 69%, while in 2021, you had to meet a 72% MPS to become a chartered financial analyst.
CFA® Level II MPS
CFA® Exam II minimum passing scores (MPS) over the past decade have varied from 60% to 71%.
The MPS for CFA® Level II in 2022 was estimated at 69.5%, while in 2021, CFA® candidates had to meet 66.5% for a positive exam pass rate.
CFA® Level III MPS
CFA® Exam III minimum passing score (MPS) over a ten-year period ranged between 55% and 60%.
The MPS for CFA® Level III in 2022 was estimated at 59%. However, data isn’t as clear for 2021 scores because of changes in test formatting.
Because the CFA® Institute does not release minimum passing score MPS numbers, it is recommended that all CFA® candidates shoot for a score that is higher than 70.
How is the CFA® Scored?
With the CFA® exam result, you won’t get a numerical score. Instead, you’ll simply get a pass or fail. Typically, you’ll know if you earned a CFA® passing score 7-10 weeks after exam administration.
The scoring system includes multiple-choice portions that are machine-graded, while the constructed response portion of level three is graded by hand. For this reason, the CFA® Level I and CFA® Level II grading processes move faster, and exam takers usually receive their pass/fail results much quicker.
When is the CFA® offered?
In the past, candidates all over the world took their tests on the same exam day. CFA® exams used to be limited to one to two months out of the year. From 2023 forward, this has changed with the following schedule being provided:
Put the info below in a table
Level I: February, May, August, and November (Four times a year)
Level II: May, August/September, and November (Three times a year)
Level III: February and August/September (Twice a year)
Why do people fail the CFA®?
People fail the CFA® for two reasons. One you can’t control. One you can.
Number one, it’s a hard test. Two, they just don’t study enough. There are some exams that you can ‘wing’ and still have a high probability of passing. The historical CFA® pass rates prove that this just isn’t the case for CFA® exams.
Although you probably won’t be in charge of tweaking the CFA® exam format anytime soon, you decide how much you study and how much you are willing to invest in the best CFA® exam study materials. This is great news for your CFA® exam results!
Due to the amount of material covered on the exams, the CFA® Institute recommends that candidates begin preparing for each exam level at least six months in advance. They also suggest at least 300 study hours per level. Using a recommended CFA® study program can get you there.
Now that you know how others have faired and the estimated score, you’ll need to be one of the passing candidates, enroll in a CFA® test prep program, and get to studying!
What are the pass rates of CFA®?
The average CFA® pass rates are as follows: Level One: 41%; Level Two: 46%; Level Three: 55%. Of course, this average changes with each exam sitting.
Do you need a 70% to pass the CFA®?
Because there is no minimum passing score for the CFA® exams, what you need to pass varies with each exam sitting. Although it is recommended that you shoot for at least 70%, candidates have passed and failed with this score.
What is the passing score for CFA Level 2?
For the second level of the CFA®, you must score a score between 65% and 85% to have a good chance of succeeding. Because minimum passing scores are not released by the CFA® Institute, a standard pass/fail numerical score is not available.