The real reason why the CFA pass rate is so low

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The CFA Level I exam isn't easy. With a pass rate of around 45%, it ranks as one of the most challenging hurdles that anyone aspiring to work in finance needs to overcome. However, it's quite possible that the CFA Level I pass rate is deliberately understated.

How so? Candidates taking the exam claim to be sitting even though they're not ready, just to keep the pass rate down.

"By showing up and failing you help lower the pass rate, which might deter people from taking the test in the future, increasing the value of your charter if you eventually get it," says one of the CFA candidates on Analyst Forum, a website popular with CFA students.

Nor does he appear to be the only CFA student with this approach. "I did not study at all. Went in a filled bubbles randomly. Did it for the experience and to bring the pass rate down," says a candidate who took Saturday's Level I exam on the Reddit CFA forum. 

The CFA exam is notorious for its no-shows. Last year, 20% of CFA candidates failed to turn up. The CFA Institute told us these absentees aren't included in the pass rate, which only covers people who attend both morning and afternoon sessions, irrespective of whether they finish the exam or not.

Some CFA candidates have speculated that the real pass rate for Level I is even lower than the 45% average. The average includes candidates who've sat the exam multiple times.

"I have heard, anecdotally, that the pass percentage for first time test takers is closer to 20%," suggests one candidate on Reddit's forum. The CFA Institute doesn't break out the pass rate for first timers, so we can't say whether this is spurious or not...

"floater" by Thomas Levinson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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