For All Levels Exam-Takers

CFA exam / Results




What Do My CFA Results Tell Me? Examples Included.

For All Levels Exam-Takers



CFA Results Released

You’ll get your results to your e-mail.* Just wait about 50 days if you took your level 1 or level 2 exam and add two more weeks for level 3 results.

*Results are also available the following day on the CFA Institute website from the level of your account. JUNE 2017 candidates will also find their detailed exam scores in their accounts. In the past, the detailed info was e-mailed.

You’ll get your results to your e-mail.* Just wait about 50 days if you took your level 1 or level 2 exam and add two more weeks for level 3 results.

June level 1 and 2 exams results available at the end of July

June level 3 exam results available at the beginning of August

December level 1 exam results available at the end of January


The e-mail message will tell you whether you PASSED or FAILED.

Also, you will learn about your performance for given topics. The information is given in ranges (0-50%, 51-70%, 70%+).** It is to help you in your preparation for future exams: the aim is to indicate your strengths and weaknesses and let you know which topic areas most likely need improvement.

**Level 3 candidates receive a separate analysis of their essay performance.


Additionally, if you fail you get an info about the score band you’re in. For each level, all unsuccessful candidates are grouped into 10 score bands. Your score band shows your performance relative to other candidates who sat the same exam and didn’t pass. The higher score band, the better. It indicates how close to the MPS your result was. The aim is to convey how much harder you need to try next time to pass and help you decide whether and when to retake the exam if you’re in doubt.*

*Each level exam can be taken no more than 5 times in a lifetime.



What is the MPS?

To pass, you have to meet the minimum passing score (MPS) set individually for each ended exam.

To pass, you have to meet the minimum passing score (MPS) set individually for each ended exam. The MPS may vary across years. Both the MPS and individual candidate score are never released.

So, you will never know precisely how many points you scored or what percentage level you reached. All you can say is that:
if you PASSED you met the MPS or you were close enough for the ethics adjustment to pull you through,
if you FAILED you were below the MPS or the ethics adjustment worked to your disadvantage.

For those who failed, an option of exam score retabulation is available for 30 days after the results are released. It is checked manually if the exam scores were recorded and added correctly. The service is paid (USD 100) and refundable only if your released CFA exam grade is found to be incorrect.

When and How is the MPS Set?

The exact MPS value is set by the CFA Institute Board of Governors who gather about 6 weeks after the exam for level 1 and level 2 and again about a week later for level 3. The set MPS value falls within the valid range established using the modified Angoff method, which provides an empirical basis for the MPS settlement. Applying the method, a large and diverse group of CFA charterholders assesses both the exam difficulty and actual candidate performance before the MPS is finally determined.


So Much Info and You Still Feel Like You Know Nothing?

You’re right. CFA Institute is very secretive about our results and hardly any hard facts can be given to narrow the information gap. Let us, however, wrestle a bit and try to draw some conclusions from what we know.


First, we need to set some common ground.

Let’s take the CFA level 1 exam. There are 2 exam sessions, each containing 120 exam questions. That makes 240 questions for the whole level 1 exam. If every question is worth 1 point, we end up with the maximum total score of 240 points. For an incorrect answer, no points are deducted.

Take a moment and view the estimated maximum value of points you can get for each topic (based on CFA Institute topic weights):



Keeping in mind the common ground assumptions and facts about CFA results we gave above, we are able to analyze some grading-related issues and dispel some popular myths:


Myth no. 1: The minimum passing score is above 70%.


Forget about it!

Actually, the MPS is most likely to be slightly below 70%. To prove this observation, let’s examine the following situation:

Assume the MPS of 75%. You are notified about your CFA level 1 exam result. In the topic performance information, you see you scored above 70% for every topic. Still, the e-mail message says you FAILED. You feel confused: “How come I failed? All my topic scores are in the highest score range!”

For such a situation to be possible, your total score must have been above 70% but below 75%. Perhaps you achieved 72% for each topic. You didn’t reach the MPS and that’s why you failed. Even if our example is just a simplification, it shows well that for the MPS values above 70% there’s practically always a gap for those who may fail their exam despite having all their topic scores in the highest range. Quite an undesirable situation for the candidates whose exam performance couldn’t be better described, isn’t it?

Conclusion:

If the MPS is above 70%, the grading system fails to be transparent. Instead, it’s ambiguous because we can have 2 candidates with identical topic performance information (+70% score range for all the topics) but different exam result (PASS or FAIL) despite reaching the highest score range for each topic. If you were the one with the FAIL score, you wouldn’t even know which topics to improve... That’s why the MPS above 70% is highly improbable.

There’s some likelihood of the MPS being slightly above 70%, say 70,8% (all the candidates with all the topics in the highest range receive the PASS grade). Also the MPS of 70% is plausible. But since the MPS varies from exam to exam and takes the difficulty of the test and overall performance of candidates into consideration, it must fall into an interval broad enough to account for all these parameters. The top values of the 51-70% score range are considered average, just like the lower values of the +70% range. Thus, it’s most probable that usually the MPS fluctuates between 65% and 70%.


Myth no. 2: I have to pass all the topics, to pass my exam.


Do you?

But what does it actually mean to pass a topic? To score over 70%? Or to be above the MPS for the topic?

What you need to do to pass your exam is to meet or exceed the MPS. But it holds true for your total exam score, not for separate topics. That’s a major principle!

Of course, if you score over 70% for every topic, it should ensure your passing the exam.

However, consider the following example:

You receive your CFA level 1 exam results. In the topic performance information, you see you scored below 50% for 2 topics. 5 topics are listed in the 51%–70% score range and 3 topics are labeled as +70%:

*Of course, you will never know the exact results. But let’s assume these are your real results hidden behind the score ranges given in your CFA results notification.

**This is our assumption. CFA Institute never releases the MPS.


Does it mean the e-mail message says you FAILED?

No! The example illustrates how various scores for different topics still give you a PASS because you managed to meet the MPS of 69% set for your exam.

Conclusion:

Your total exam score is what counts! As a rule, to pass you must meet or exceed the minimum passing score set for your exam. The math is merciless, however. If you do badly for any of the topics, you have to excel at some other. In other words, every topic scored below the MPS has to be offset by another topic scored way above the MPS. This way, your total score can meet the MPS criterion and you pass.


Myth no. 3: I can’t do badly in Ethics! There’s Ethics adjustment!


We’ve just said that the major principle behind passing the exam is meeting or exceeding the MPS.

So, even if you do badly on the Ethics questions but do great overall, you’ll pass your exam. Take a look at our example:

*Of course, you will never know the exact results. But let’s assume these are your real results hidden behind the score ranges given in your CFA results notification.

**This is our assumption. CFA Institute never releases the MPS.


In the CFA level 1 exam, the maximum value of points for Ethics is 36. You must have gotten only 12 questions right because you scored only 33%. But wait a minute. Other scores are great! It’s impossible you failed your exam. Your total score exceeds 70% by far, so it also exceeds the MPS of 67% set for your exam.

Be careful, though.

You may not manage to exceed the MPS much enough. If your final score just borders the MPS, poor performance in Ethics will definitely contribute to your failure in the exam. That’s because of the Ethics adjustment explained in our post: Why Your Ethics Score Matters.

Conclusion:

You do not have to excel at Ethics to pass your exam. However, here are 3 reasons for which it is surely worth paying attention to Ethics:

1. The significance of ethical conduct at a workplace is unquestionable. The better you know the CFA Institute Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Conduct, the more sensitive you’ll be to possible violations and better equipped to handle various situations.

2. You will be tested on Ethics at every level of the CFA exam. Both at level 1 and level 3, Ethics is counted among the three most important topics.

3. Ethics adjustment is applied to borderline cases. A good grade for the Ethics questions may pull you through if your total exam score borders the MPS. But if your Ethics performance is weak, it may cause you to fail the exam.

I want to take Ethics seriously:
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Myth no. 4: The topic performance ranges objectively indicate which topic areas definitely need improvement and which are fine.


It’s not all that easy.

The information about your performance in different topics is meant to identify your strengths and weaknesses. However, there’s no objective truth about it. To prove the point, we analyze two opposing situations:

SITUATION no. 1:

You scored below 50% for Alternative Investments. Before the exam, you felt quite strong on the topic. What to trust: the numbers or your intuition?

The CFA level 1 exam includes only about 10 AI questions, while the topic runs for about 100 pages in the CFA Curriculum. So, the AI exam sample is quite small relative to the overall material on the topic. Notice that if you had answered correctly just one more question, your AI score would be higher by as much as 10 percentage points. That could even shift you to the middle score range.

So: Is AI definitely your weak point or was it just bad luck?

Before we can answer this question, we need to consider another example:

SITUATION no. 2:

You scored below 50% for Financial and Reporting Analysis. Weakness or misfortune?

This time the exam sample is bigger. The topic is quite extensive and the test is expected to contain even as many as 48 FRA questions. Every correct answer improves your topic score by roughly 2 percentage points.



Conclusion:

For some topics, there are too few questions on the exam to definitely categorize them as your weakness or strength. In such cases, it may be hard to decide whether you know the topic poorly indeed or if it was just bad luck (or good luck for that matter because although you scored over 70%, you feel you still don’t know much about the topic). For topics with a bigger number of questions, exam results are more representative. It is more likely that they really indicate whether you need to improve the topic or if you managed to master it already.

You have to stay rational about it. To resolve doubtful situations in which your exam performance contrasts your intuition about a topic, an additional parameter may come in handy. Your mock exam scores can serve as good indicators. If you usually scored rather low for AI, and now your AI exam score is also poor, you definitely need to improve this topic area. If, however, you scored high in all the mock exams you took, the low exam result for AI may be just an accident. Still, it can’t harm you if you study even harder before your next exam.

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Myth no. 5: I failed but I was in BAND 10. Certainly, I’ll pass next time.


It’s a good thing you were in BAND 10. It means you were in the strongest group of those who failed.

However, there is no guarantee you’ll pass next time only because you were that close.

Of course, the higher the better. But the next exam is a totally new experience and everything may happen. Intuition tells us that your chances to pass next time are higher compared to someone who was e.g. in BAND 6. Still, there’s no objective justification that could warrant this.

What you can be certain of is that you’ll need to work hard before the next exam. But the same is true for the other candidate. Which one of you passes next time is not dependent on what score band you were in last time but on how well prepared for the next exam you are.

You can’t ignore it because obstacles are many. And they include not only the voluminous study material and time organization. You need to be aware that from exam to exam you’ll forget much. For some things, it may be as if you had to learn them anew. Also, the curriculum may change a bit, which will require studying the brand new chunks of material. Finally, the next exam is a completely new challenge and it is best to take it even more seriously than the previous one. This way, you secure your chances of success.

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