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Minimum Passing Scores

Since too many people ask the same question about the passing scores required for CFA, I have put together some info in below for your reference.

The Official Story

Grading the CFA Examination (p.12, L1 study guide 2003.)

"....After the examination, all examination materials are returned to AIMR for grading. All answer sheets are initially scored by machine. The accuracy of the electronic scoring is confirmed by a random sampling of papers that are again manually graded to verify the scanning.

The AIMR Board of Governors, the body responsible for establishing the CFA examination and grading standards, sets the minimum passing score for each examination level. Pass rates are a result of, not a determinant of, the minimum passing score. You should note that AIMR does not release the minimum passing scores for any examination level.

KK.Candidates should understand that the score matrix provided with examination results is an indicator of overall performance and cannot be used to determine approximate scores or pass/fail status. The <=50% range is considered poor; 51%V70% is considered poor to average; >70% is considered average to above average... "

Setting the Minimum Passing Score

( )

"...From 1963 through 1977, the MPS was described as being 70 percent of the total points. From 1978 through 1989, the MPS was publicized as 70 percent of the average of the several best papers (It should be noted that the several best papers operationally referred to the top 1 percent of the papers). Since 1989 , no one method of establishing the MPS has been utilized. The CFA charterholders among the AIMR Board of Governors, who set the MPS each year, use a combination of performance metrics X 70 percent of the maximum points, 70 percent of the top paper, 70 percent of the top 10 papers, and 70 percent of the top 1 percent of papers X and a reading of specific samples of marginal examinations to determine the MPS for each level of the CFA exam. The governors meet, in person, and often spend multiple days analyzing data, reading papers, and deliberating on the MPS. In addition, at Level I the results of a standard setting workshop, described below, are utilized as one of the criteria.

In 1996 , a methodology for arriving at the MPS was introduced to the AIMR Board of Governors: the Angoff Standard Setting Method. The Angoff method was specifically developed for multiple-choice examinations, and has been employed as a supplemental criteria for the establishment of the MPS for the Level I examination. AIMR has retained psychometricians X experts in the design and measurement of examinations X to conduct standard setting workshops. Workshop participants are practicing CFA charterholders. These individuals participate in a systematic process that adheres to sound psychometric practice and typically yields a workable range of MPS values. It should be extremely comforting for both charterholders and candidates to note that the results of the Level I standard setting workshops have been remarkably consistent with previously utilized performance metrics (i.e., 70 percent of the top 1 percent, etc.) .

For several years, a process known as the Modified Angoff Standard Setting Method was performed for Levels II and III. However, prior to the 2001 CFA examination, the AIMR Board of Governors determined that the methodology did not function as hoped for essay examinations and has discontinued the Level II and III standard setting workshops..."

Result Slip

CFAI gives the results on individual sections/questions in terms of 3 grades:

No candidate knows exactly how do he/she do in the exam.

Both the pass rates of L1 and L2 hit the historical low in 2004 at 34% and 32% respectively. CFAI gave a news letter to explain the situation.

The Unofficial Story

CFAI never release the minimum passing scores required for the exam. 
CFAI use the top one percent candidates' result as the benchmark for all other candidates. That is, if these top one percent people got 90% scores, we can get only 45% correct on the questions to have a result of 50%.  


Level 1

We can get a rough indication on how much we needed to pass L1 from other candidates' exam results over past few years. The lowest scores I've heard:
1 section <50%
1 section >70%
4 section 50-70%
- the candidate passed L1 for his 2nd attempt with the above result same as the 1st yr.

Another case I knowed: all section 50-70%, the candidate failed.

Therefore, I would guess the passing score is around 55%-60% for L1.

Level 2

My guess for L2: Most people with result above 240/360 will pass L2. If you got scores below 200/360, you probably will fail the exam.

Here are some candidates' messages on Dugan's board:

"Chris2000 Jun-03-02, 08:42 AM (CDT)
Passing score.. From CFA exam grader

A client of mine is a grader for CFA exam... based on what she told me, it is extremely rare to get a score above 300 points out of 360.

If we assume the top 1% got 300 points, and take 70% of that, we need to get 210 points, or 58.3% overall to pass.

I spoke to a few friends who passed CFA level 2 last couple years.. the lowest passing score, is roughly a third above 70%, a third between 50-70%, and a third below 50%. Using the 80-60-40 formula, assume equal weighting, the total comes to 216 points.. or 60%. which is pretty close.

I believe I got 65-70% right for both morning and afternoon section.. I am confident I passed!
I bet this years passing score for Level 2 will be over 50%.. anyone in NYC want to take the bet?
See you in Level III!"


K Man Jun-03-02, 10:48 AM (CDT)
"RE: Passing score.. From CFA exam grader"

I had this confirmed at the Windsor seminar by an instructor who graded level 2 and wrote questions for about 5 years. It is in fact 70% of the highest percentile score which he suggested was usually in the 290's. You won't need more than 210 points to pass.


Level 3

Sophia Jun-05-02, 10:32 PM (Dugan's board)
"RE: Any Idea of the Passing Score?"

A friend who graded level III exams for 5 years said the actual passing score ranged from 185-195 points (yes, that's out of 360), although she hasn't been grading for the last few years. Someone else posted a guess of 196 based on feedback from a recent grader. Things are not as dismal as they appear - enjoy summer in the meantime!