Once upon a time, 94% of people passed the CFA exam

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Yesterday was the day when people who took CFA Levels I and II in June learned whether they passed.

Desperation to discover their results caused the CFA website to crash. And there was an eruption of Tweets such as, "OH. MY. GOSH!!!!! My husband just passed level 2 of his CFA exam!!! CANNOT CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT!!!", or "" SOOOO ready to celebrate tonight. My man PASSED the CFA 2!! After all the studying. Two down, one to go. He's a frigin GENIUS! LOVE HIM!! -)."

But what if you didn't pass the CFA exam and your spouse didn't think you were a "frigin (sic) genius"?

Plenty of people were in this boat. The CFA Institute released the overall pass rates a few weeks ago: only 39% of people passed level I; only 43% of people passed level II.

There were a few forlorn tweets from the majority who failed: "I cannot remember the last time I felt so rubbish ....", said one.

Compared to last year, this year's CFA results look acceptable. In June 2010, 42% of people passed Level I and Level II.

However, in the CFA's inaugural year of 1963, 94% of people passed. Since then, the trend in the percentage of successful candidates has been downwards.

Why is this? "It's typical professional exam nonsense," says one CFA charterholder. "They ensure that not too many people pass just to keep it selective."

Tom Robinson, CFA managing director for education, says the changing success rate is mostly down to the effort candidates put in. "Pass rates are largely a function of candidate preparation. Further, the curriculum does change somewhat each year," he says - implying some years the exams may be harder than others.

This year, only 75% of candidates who were registered for Level I and 81% of candidates who were registered for Level II actually took the exams, suggesting unprepared candidates are withdrawing before they even make it to the exam room.

If you fail, there's no limit to the number of times you can retake the CFA. John Bolitho, a presenter at BPP Professional Education, advises people to try it at least twice - especially if you want to work in equity research or fund management.

The New York Society of Securities Analysts says there's absolutely no shame in retaking a level and that such things are, in fact, normal - 35% of people sitting the June exam were re-sits. A fair number of those probably still didn't pass.

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