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So, this is the minimum score you can get on CFA Level I and still pass…

CFA Level 1 pass score

How low can you go?

If you took the CFA Level I exam in December, you will just have received your results. Chances are that you failed. – The CFA exams are notoriously hard and this December’s pass rate was only 43%.  

What score do you need to achieve to make it through Level I? The CFA Institute, which masterminds the entire process, is notoriously coy when it comes to explaining what constitutes a pass and what doesn’t.

To pass, candidates need to meet the minimum ‘net passing score.’  However, the minimum net passing score is never given and varies year-on-year according to how hard the paper was and how well everyone does.

The CFA Institute uses something known as the ‘Angoff Standard Setting Method’ (explained here) to determine the pass rate. This has something to do with a set of CFA Charterholders sitting down and working out how difficult the questions really are and how easy it ought to be to pass.

To confuse matters further, because the marks allocated to different topics vary (click here to see the allocation for June 2016), strong performance in one topic won’t necessarily compensate for weak performance in another. If you’ve just failed the CFA I exam, you might therefore be confused as to why.

Based on results posted in various online forums, we’ve identified the candidates who passed the Level I exam in December with the weakest scores. This is, seemingly, the minimum you’ll need to pass:

1. You can pass with less than 50% in four subjects (Derivatives, Economics, Portfolio Management, and Quantitative Methods), with 51% to 70% in Alternative Investments, and with more than 70% in Corporate Finance, Equity Instruments, Ethical and Professional Standards, Financial Reporting and Analysis, and Fixed Income.

2. You can pass with Financial Reporting and Analysis under 50%, Economics and Portfolio Management over 70%, and everything else (seven other subjects) between 51% and 70%.

3. You can pass with less than 50% in Derivatives and more than 70% in Corporate Finance and Equity Investments, and between 51% and 70% in the other seven subjects.

4. You can pass with less than 50% in Quantitative Methods, Derivatives, Financial Reporting and Analysis, as long as you have more than 70% in Economics, Quantitative Methods, and Equity Instruments, and 51% to 70% in Corporate Finance, Ethical and Professional Standards, Fixed Income, and Portfolio Management.

In other words, you don’t have to get more than 70% in everything to pass. You don’t even need to get more than 51% in everything to pass. You can get less than 50% in up to four topics, but you will probably need to counterbalance this with more than 70% in at least three subjects and with 51% to 70% in the rest.

Good luck.

Photo credit: Limbo Dancer by Iain A Wanless is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Comments (16)

  1. FRA is not forward rate agreements; it is Financial Reporting and Analysis-the most weighted aspect of the exam.

  2. for the june exam I got above 70% for Ethics and Derivatives and 50%-70% for everything else

  3. I did L1 with only 2 days of study and got a letter from the CFA saying i got 100% in the exam.

  4. I failed with:
    >70% Alt Inv, and Corp Finance
    51-70% Derivatives, Econ, Equity, Ethics, FRA, Fixed Inc, Quants
    <=50% Port Mngt

  5. Passed

    >70% in 6 topics, 50% in Ethics, Port. Mgmt., Economics, Alt. Investment

  6. It looks to be highly subjective regarding a pass. I wonder if CFA is not that ethical since it is so subjective who will pass or not. Maybe they are simply generating more profits by letting people retake the exams.

    Why not simply have a minimum score of 70% and simply scale the results. So if the highest individual would score 95% total than people who would get 65% would pass. This way they scale it if the exam was to hard. If someone would score 100% then the 70% would be the minimum score.

  7. I wonder why I failed when I gave my Level 1 exam back in 2008 because I scored far better than the above passing scores. And at that time we had to choose from 4 choices.

  8. Failed.

    > than 70%: Alternative Investments, Ethics

    51-70%: Derivatives, Equity, Portfolio Management, Quantitative Methods

    < than 50%: Corporate Finance, Economics, Financial Reporting and Analysis, Fixed Income

  9. For June 2015, my Derivatives & Fixed Income dipped below 50%; Ethics and Economics dipped was 51-70%; the rest is > 70%. It is a pass!!!! Good luck everyone!

  10. Passed

    70% in Corp Finance, Equity, FRA (3)

    I think this is really close to a fail, but just showing you the possibilities!

  11. Interesting article!

    That said, I am unsure what the correct info might be for Scenario #4, as it shows one can pass with “less than 50% in Quantitative Methods” but goes on to also say one needs “more than 70% in Quantitative Methods” too?!

    “4. You can pass with less than 50% in Quantitative Methods, Derivatives, Financial Reporting and Analysis, as long as you have more than 70% in Economics, Quantitative Methods, and Equity Instruments, and 51% to 70% in Corporate Finance, Ethical and Professional Standards, Fixed Income, and Portfolio Management.”

  12. dont see the problem here… every question is equally weighted. Therefore, all this if this, if that, etc. doesn’t help at all. Obviously it helps if you are good in the subjects that have higher weighting, but again, each question is equally weighted. And regardinghe minimum % to pass, no person knows. simple is that…


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