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CFA exam / Results




What Do My CFA Results Tell Me? Examples Included.

For All Levels Exam-Takers


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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.

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.

December level 1 exam results available at the end of January

June level 1 and 2 exams results available in August

June level 3 exam results available in August but a bit later


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

Also, you will learn about your performance for given topics relative to other exam takers (go to your CFA Institute account for more details). This information can help you in your preparation for future exams.


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 we assume 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, your exam score message says you FAILED. You feel confused: “How come I failed? All my topic scores are above the 70% threshold which according to CFA Institute is a reasonable signal of topic mastery”.

That is why it is impossible for the MPS to exceed 70%. Otherwise, you could always end up confused about your exam results like in our example.

Why?

To make the situation described above more clear-cut, let’s analyze it bit by bit.

From your topic performance information, you know you scored above 70% for each topic. So, your total score must have been above 70%. But since you know you failed, it must have been lower than the MPS (below 75% for our example). 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 mastery range. Quite an undesirable situation for the candidates whose exam performance is on the verge of mastery, don’t you think?

Conclusion:

If the MPS is above 70%, the grading system fails to be transparent. 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 (see Myth no. 1 above).

However, consider the following example:

You receive your CFA level 1 exam results. You did poorly in 2 topics and moderately fine in 5:

*This is our assumption. CFA Institute never gives you exact scores or 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.

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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:

*This is our assumption. CFA Institute never gives you exact scores or 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.

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Myth no. 4: Topic performance objectively indicates 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 poorly 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 would shift you up quite a bit!

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 poorly 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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As of JAN 2018 results:

CFA Institute introduced a new – more visual – way of informing CFA exam takers about their scores.

More visual means more attractive. It still lacks the concreteness that CFA candidates long for.

For topic performance, you’ll get an estimation of:

  • your topic score in the exam (no exact value given though),
  • your true ability (shown as a range ‘cos different favorable & unfavorable factors can influence your exam score – CFA Institute tries to allow for this, which is good!)

Still, for the AI topic the confidence interval would be the widest owing to the lowest number of AI questions in the level 1 exam. This means that your topic performance would tell you that your true ability for this topic could be much higher or much lower than your AI score obtained in the exam.

Perhaps that’s why CFA Institute merged the DI and AI topics together in the topic performance information.

So, in practice it all still leaves you to your intuition and mock exam scores for the best assessment of your true abilities! Alas…