The Truth About Passing the CFA Exams

As an expert in the field of finance and investments, I have seen many aspiring professionals struggle with the CFA exams. One of the most common questions I receive is whether it is possible to fail a section of the CFA and still pass the overall exam. The answer is not a simple yes or no, as there are many factors at play. First and foremost, it's important to understand that there is no specific passing score for each topic in the CFA exams. This means that a strong performance in one subject can make up for a weaker performance in another.

The CFA Institute, which administers the exams, does not release the minimum passing score (MPS) for its exams. This has led to much speculation and debate within the industry about what the real MPS may be. However, recent results from level III of the November CFA suggest that the declining pass rates may have finally stabilized. While this is good news for candidates, it's important to remember that passing all three levels of the CFA exams is no easy feat. Interestingly, some successful charterholders have even claimed that failing a section of the CFA exams can actually be an advantage in life. This is because a group of CFA-accredited degree holders are responsible for determining the difficulty level of each question and how easy it should be to pass.

So if you fail a section, it could mean that you were tested on more challenging material. It's also worth noting that studying for the CFA exams can be quite different from real-life experience. For example, in my case, I found that working on the economics section was actually a disadvantage because the CFA version of the topic was quite different from what I had encountered in my professional career. This is something that many candidates struggle with, and it's important to be aware of this potential hurdle. While the CFA Institute's own study materials are a necessary resource for preparing for the exams, they are not sufficient on their own. The institute uses a method known as the “Angoff standards-setting method” to determine passing rates for the exams.

This means that the passing rates can vary depending on the difficulty level of the questions. So what does this mean for candidates? Well, it's difficult to say exactly what score is needed to pass a CFA exam. The passing rates and estimates are constantly changing with each administration of the exams. However, one thing is clear – a high score indicates that the exams were relatively easier, while a low score suggests that they were more difficult. After taking the exams, candidates can generate and download a verification letter from their account profile to confirm their status in the CFA Program. However, this letter will only indicate whether the exam was passed or not – it will not provide a breakdown of scores for each subject area. Unfortunately, even with all this information, there is no guarantee of passing the CFA exams.

The CFA Institute is well aware of the struggles faced by candidates, especially those who have failed multiple times. Despite claims that the low pass rates in recent years were due to pandemic-related disruptions, the February 2021 level I pass rate remained historically low. It's also important to note that detailed test scores and answers to test questions are considered confidential information and are not released by the CFA Institute. This means that candidates cannot rely on previous study materials or exams to prepare for future ones. So what can you do to increase your chances of passing? As an expert in this field, I recommend focusing on understanding the concepts and principles rather than just memorizing information. This will not only help you pass the exams, but it will also benefit you in your professional career. In conclusion, while there is no clear answer to whether you can fail a section of the CFA and still pass, it's important to remember that the exams are challenging and require a thorough understanding of the material.

By studying diligently and focusing on the core concepts, you can increase your chances of success. And even if you do fail a section, don't be discouraged – it may just be a stepping stone towards achieving your ultimate goal of becoming a CFA charterholder.

Serena Lubahn
Serena Lubahn

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