CFA Exam Results & Pass Rates – How is CFA Exam Graded and Scored?

cfa-exam-resultsCFA exam results are issued by the CFA Institute to Level I and Level II candidates within 60 days of their exam date. Level III candidate results are issued within 90 days of their exam date.

This means that June Level I and II test takers will receive results at the end of July, and Level III test takers will receive results in early August. December test takers (Level I only) will receive their exam results at the end of January.

If you are waiting for your exam results, you might have some questions about the CFA exam scoring process or what the overall CFA pass rates mean for the exam. Let’s take a look at the historical pass rates and how the CFA Institute grades and scores the CFA exam.


CFA Exam Results, Pass Rates, and Grading


What are the CFA Exam Pass Rates for Each Level?

As you can see in the schedule below, the pass rates for each level vary within a very tight band. Level I candidates have the lowest pass rate. This makes sense because this is their first exam.

While Level III has the highest pass rate, do not be fooled that this is the easiest test. Candidates taking the Level III exam include those who have passed Levels I and II or those who are re-taking the Level III exam. Therefore, the Level III candidates pool is more experienced than first-time or ‘casual’ Level I test takers.

CFA Exam ResultsDecember 2017June 2017December 2016June 2016
CFA Level I Pass Rates43%43% 43% 42%
CFA Level II Pass Ratesn/a47% n/a46%
CFA Level III Pass Ratesn/a54% n/a53%

How is CFA Exam Graded?

While the CFA Institute is notoriously secretive in the way they grade the exams, they do give us some details about their methodology and overall process. Let’s take a look.


Who Grades the CFA Exam?

The CFA exams are both machine graded and graded by CFA charterholders. For all multiple choice / scantron sections in Levels I, II and III, the exams are graded by machine. The essay portion of the Level III exam is graded by CFA charterholders that travel to Charlottesville, Virginia for the very purpose to grade these essays.


How is the CFA Exam Scored?

Once the exams are graded, the CFA Board of Governors sets the Minimum Passing Score (MPS) for each level. The purpose of the MPS is to ensure a consistent level of difficulty and fairness across exams. The MPS is NOT released.

Because the CFA Institute does not release the MPS, it is impossible to know your passing score on each exam. In addition, you do not receive one specific score when you receive you results. Instead, you receive a:

  • “Pass” or “Did not pass” result. “Pass” means your score met or exceeded the MPS. “Did not Pass” means your score was lower than the MPS.
  • Summary of how you did by each topic area covered on the exam as well as the maximum amount of points that you can earn in each topic area. Rather than receiving one score for each topic area, you receive a score range of less than 50%; between 50% and 70%; or more than 70% for each topic area.

The exams are weighted across ten different topic areas. The weights differ per exam and are shown below.

CFA Exam Topic AreaLevel ILevel IILevel III
Ethics and Professional Standards1510 - 15 10 - 15
Quantitative Methods 125 - 100
Economics105 - 105 - 15
Financial Reporting and Analysis205 - 200
Corporate Finance 75 - 150
Equity Investments1015 - 255 - 15
Fixed Income 1010 - 2010 - 20
Derivatives55 - 155 - 15
Alternative Investments 45 - 105 - 15
Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning75 - 1010 - 55

Here’s what you should take into account when you evaluate your exam results:

Max Points Available

The maximum amount of points achievable varies for each topic area.   For example, in the Level I exam, a +70% score on the Financial Reporting and Analysis topic area would hold more weight than a +70% score on the Portfolio Management and Wealth Planning topic area.

Score Ranges Are Unhelpful

You cannot use score range from each topic area to figure out your actual scores or whether you passed or not / did not pass result. Because the CFA Institute reports the scores as a range, the same summary score for two separate candidates can result in one pass and one did not pass. This is because, as an example, one candidate could have scored a 99% in one topic area while another candidate scored a 71% in that same topic area.


Want to Improve Your CFA Score?

The best way to improve your CFA score is to study more efficiently and effectively. To do this, you will need a proper review course. You can’t expect to pass the exam on your first try or at all for that matter by simply using the study materials from the CFA Institute. You will need something more than that.

You should look for a study guide that matches your learning style and fits within you budget. Here’s a list of the most popular courses out there. Take a look at each and see which one will help prepare you for the exam the best.

 

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Kenneth W. Boyd is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the author of several of the popular "For Dummies" books published by John Wiley & Sons including 'CPA Exam for Dummies' and 'Cost Accounting for Dummies'.

Ken has gained a wealth of business experience through his previous employment as a CPA, Auditor, Tax Preparer and College Professor. Today, Ken continues to use those finely tuned skills to educate students as a professional writer and teacher.