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How to achieve a 95% pass rate in CFA Level I


It’s not easy to break into an investment bank in the City of London when you’re studying overseas. While local candidates can still count on connections and their attendance of a target school, foreign students are more reliant on academic excellence to impress potential employers.

This may be why particular group of foreign students is maxing its academic achievements. MSc in finance students at Lancaster University Management School are not only adding studying a financial services masters, they’re taking CFA Level I. And they’re not only taking CFA Level I – they’re excelling at it.

Last June, just 46% of students passed the CFA I exam. In December, just 44% did. However, 95% of students taking CFA Level I at Lancaster passed first time. That’s pretty impressive.

Are they walking into investment banking jobs? Not really. Some go to the City, but many return back home to work in China. Grzegorz Pawlina, professor of finance at Lancaster, says having a formidable array of qualifications (eg. a Masters and a first time CFA pass) is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for getting a job in the City.

“If you’re a smart British student with a finance degree, you can generally find your way to a banking job,” he says. “The majority of students on a Masters in Finance are from outside the UK – usually 30% from Europe and 60% from Asia – and for these students having this granular level of knowledge is their route into the City job market.”

Our own CV database suggests that 6% of candidates possess a masters and that 10% have passed CFA Level I. However, only 1% have both a Masters and a CFA I.

What does Lancaster’s near perfect pass rate suggest about getting through level I? Forget the 300 hours of study, Pawlina says it’s all about dedicated tutoring and practice. The university partners with Fitch Learning, which gives the students specialist tutoring in addition to their regular studies. Then there’s the fact that a lot of the CFA subject matter overlaps with what they’re learning on the Masters in Finance course anyway.

While Lancaster’s pass rate is particularly high, an above average pass rate may not be that unusual among a particular cohort of CFA exam takers: students. The CFA Institute tells us that it doesn’t track pass rates for all its partners, but anecdotally students taking level CFA Level I as part of their degree tend to perform much better than anyone else. Conclusion: you’re better off starting the CFA course while you’re still at university. Bearing this in mind, you may be interested to know that Lancaster is offering CFA Level II as part of its new MSc in Advanced Financial Analysis…


Comments (2)

  1. It’s not a CFA – it’s the CFA Level I. Any idiot can pass Level 1, usually without being taught it. My guess is Lancaster are teaching to the L1 syllabus – so I’m actually pretty shocked they don’t have a 100% pass rate.

  2. Quite a straightforward explanation. The most difficult aspect of the CFA programme isn’t the material itself, but the fact that the majority of candidates are also working full-time jobs (and in many cases, gruelling IB hours).

    I should certainly hope that full-time students (particularly those pursuing an MSc in Finance, and likely already have a background in Finance), would have a dramatically higher pass rate than the mean candidate population.

    cembradley, CFA Reply

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