CFA Level I Pass Rates Rise, But Fewer Make the Attempt

Number of candidates taking exams remains far below pre-pandemic levels


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Candidates for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation who took the first exam in the program's three-step process in February passed the test at a rate of 38%, up two percentage points from November.

However, the number of people taking the test fell, extending a decline in the wake of the pandemic—even with the program now offering more opportunities to take all three levels of its rigorous exams.

The CFA Institute said Tuesday 16,959 people took the Level I exam in February, down 11% from 18,992 in the same period last year and 41% from 28,683 in February 2021.

The February dip means the number of Level I candidates taking the test in May, August, and November would need to increase in order to top last year's total of 82,435.

Falling Numbers

The program has struggled to attract the number of candidates—at all three of its exam levels—that it did prior to the pandemic.

The number of people attempting to pass Level I, for instance, fell 35% last year from 2021 and 48% from 2019. Similar declines occurred for Level II and Level III exams:

CFA Exam Candidates Dwindle
   Level I  Level II  Level III
2022 82,435 40,120 22,760
2021 127,733 61,678 40,558
2020 26,212 18,136 11,330
2019 157,344 74,735 38,377

Source: CFA Institute

Prior to the pandemic, the CFA Institute offered two Level I exams per year, one in June and one in December. It only offered Level II and Level III exams every December.

Beginning in 2021, when the CFA transitioned to computer-based tests for the first time, the CFA also expanded the number of tests it offers annually.

Candidates now can take Level I four different times each year, enabling those who fail to retake tests sooner. In addition, they can take three Level II and Level III tests annually.

Because of the pandemic, the CFA offered one additional Level I and Level III test in 2021 after canceling a Level I test in June 2020.

Falling Pass Rates

When the 2021 changes occurred, pass rates plummeted. The Level I pass rate fell to as low as 22% in July of that year, down from 49% in 2020. Level II and Level III pass rates fell to 40% and 42%, respectively, from 55% and 56% the previous year.

Pass rates improved last year but remained below long-term averages. Level I, II and III pass rates equaled 36%, 44%, and 48%, respectively.

Since the CFA began administering the program in 1963, Level I, II, and III pass rates have averaged 41%, 46%, and 56%, respectively, with a total of 2.1 million, 963,594, and 543,322 separate exams taken at those respective levels.

Perhaps the most prestigious designation in the portfolio management and investment industries, the CFA charter requires candidates to pass each of three successive exams covering a variety of financial, economic, mathematical and ethical topics. Candidates routinely average about 300 hours of academic study for each individual exam.

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  1. CFA Institute. “CFA Exam Results and Pass Rates.”

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