CFA Passing Score: We Reveal the Latest Minimum Passing Score (MPS) Estimates

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[Updated for April 2021 CFA exams. This article is about minimum passing scores, for CFA exam pass rates, see this article instead.]

What is the CFA passing score?

Unfortunately CFA Institute doesn’t disclose the official Minimum Passing Score (MPS), which varies from exam to exam. We get why CFA Institute does this.

That said, we have been estimating the CFA exams’ MPS as an intellectual exercise since 2012, with some help from our readers. We do this as it can be useful for CFA candidates to have a target range of scores to aim for when doing practice exams.

Without further ado, here’s all you need to know about the CFA passing score: what it is, how it is determined, and what our MPS estimates are for all CFA exams since 2012.


What Is CFA Exam’s Minimum Passing Score (MPS)?

What is CFA exam's minimum passing score (MPS)?

Simply put, the Minimum Passing Score (MPS) is the lowest score a candidate can get and still pass their CFA exam.

It is not published by the CFA Institute.

This should not be confused with the CFA pass rate published annually, which is normally lower and represents the percentage of candidates that passed a particular exam.


Do Candidates Have To Beat The MPS For Each Topic To Pass, Or Just The Overall Exam?

There are no topic-specific passing scores.

So as long as your overall score beats the Minimum Passing Score, you should pass.


How Is the CFA Passing Score Determined?

CFA Institute's methodology and process for determining Minimum Passing Score (MPS)

In the earlier days, the MPS was a simple formula – 70% of the highest scoring candidate for that year. If the highest-scoring candidate scored 90%, the MPS would therefore be 70% * 90% = 63%.

Some candidates still mistakenly believe that this is the method used to determine the MPS today.

Presently, the MPS is determined by a custom methodology devised by CFA Institute, and one of the primary inputs is a series of workshops based on the Angoff model.

Here’s how the MPS for each Level are determined:

  1. A large, diverse group of CFA charterholders evaluate the entire exam individually question by question and makes a judgment on the performance of the just-competent candidate. In other words, envisioning a candidate they judge to be just good enough to pass, they estimate the probability that this candidate will get this question right.
  2. Once all the evaluations are done, the charterholders take a look at actual candidate performance and the evaluation process is repeated again.
  3. Psychometricians oversee the entire process and the result of this workshop is the main reference (but not the final word) for setting the MPS.
  4. The CFA Institute Board of Governors then puts all information on the table. All available information is considered including recommendations from the Angoff workshop (the most important input), and then a final decision is made on the MPS. The objective is to set a consistent competency level across years.

You therefore pass by being better than what CFA Institute defines as a ‘just-competent’ candidate.

This may be indirectly influenced by the performance of candidates taking the same exam as you, but it definitely is not a primary driver. So remarks such as ‘bringing down the curve’ are not exactly accurate.


Why Doesn’t CFA Institute Publish the Minimum Passing Score for Each Level?

CFA Institute’s stance is that credentialing programs are designed to measure whether a candidate has the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a certain job function.

They are not designed to indicate the relative performance within those skills. 

The MPS can vary somewhat from year to year based on the difficulty of the questions asked, it is designed to be a consistent benchmark of the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Releasing the MPS would focus on beating a specific ‘score’, rather than acquiring the necessary knowledge to function as a competent finance professional.

Is CFA Institute right? 

We think CFA Institute’s reasons are valid. The exams are just one part of what CFA Institute are about, and keeping that in mind, the desire to deemphasise comparison of CFA charterholders and various exam years by MPS and/or actual scores makes sense. Of course, it doesn’t stop candidates from wanting to know!

Will CFA Institute change this policy in the future? 

It’s unlikely. We’ve interviewed CFA Institute on this before and they’ve responded: “This, among other things, is to prevent the temptation for people (e.g. employers) to compare candidates based on score, and to preserve a consistent benchmark across years.


CFA Passing Scores For Each Level: Our Data-Driven Estimates For 2012-2021

300Hours estimates for CFA minimum passing scores since 2012

So why are we estimating the MPS then?

  1. Because as ex-candidates ourselves, we also understand the need to have a target score to be aiming for when preparing for the CFA exams.
  2. Because through our awesome readers input, we do have the collective info that no one else has to glean insights like this.
  3. And because we’re curious.

Prior to CFA Institute’s introduction of the new format of results in June 2018, candidates did not receive their score, but they received a ‘score category’ (0-50%, 51-70%, 71-100%) in each topic area.

To estimate the MPS, we analyzed thousands of actual, detailed, self-reported candidate results. We could deduce the MPS by considering extreme cases, i.e.

  • candidates that passed despite showing bad topic area scores, and;
  • candidates that failed despite showing good or decent topic area scores

Our method – in our opinion – was quite robust, and increased in accuracy the more cases we had to analyze.

Even though the results are reported differently now, we’ve developed a new method to estimate the MPS. We prefer to keep things close to our chest for now, but we do believe that our new methodology is equally as robust, if not better, than our old method.

So, here we go:


CFA Level 1 Passing Scores 2012-2021 (Estimated)

cfa level 1 passing score mps

We estimated that CFA Level 1’s MPS ranged from 56%-72% from 2012-2021, with an 10 year average of 62%. The latest estimated MPS for CFA Level 1 Feb 2021, Mar 2021 and Apr 2021 is 72%. This is the first time that our estimates have exceeded 70%.

So if you find that you’re scoring between 60-65% during practice exams, it means you could be a borderline case and best to work a little harder to ensure you scored enough points to pass your CFA exams. The recent 2021 MPS shows that 70% and above would be a safe bet.

Why are Feb’21, Mar’21 and Apr’21 grouped together?

When we performed the MPS analysis for the March and April 2021 CFA exams, we realized that the MPS, 90th percentile, 10th percentile, and topic weightings were the same as the February 2021 exams, so we have grouped them as one exam. This implies:

  • Feb’21, Mar’21 and Apr’21 used the same exam, or the same topic percentage mix, or same pool of questions
  • Feb’21, Mar’21 and Apr’21 used the same candidate cohort to determine the MPS, 90th percentile and 10th percentile. It’s likely that Mar’21 and Apr’21 simply used Feb’21’s pool, which statistically should be fine since Feb’21 has way more candidates.

CFA Level 2 Passing Scores 2012-2021 (Estimated)

cfa-level-2-passing-score-mps-estimates

We estimated that CFA Level 2’s MPS ranged from 60%-67% from 2012-2020, with an 9 year average of 63.6%. The latest estimated MPS for CFA Level 2 Dec20 is 65%.

It’s quite interesting to see recent year’s MPS volatility, although we cannot make any useful conclusion from that itself.


CFA Level 3 Passing Scores 2012-2021 (Estimated)

cfa-level-3-passing-score-mps-estimates

We estimated that CFA Level 3’s MPS ranged from 56%-60% from 2012-2020, with an 9 year average of 58.9%. The latest estimated MPS for CFA Level 3 Dec20 is 56%.

The estimated passing score for CFA Level 3 shows a very stable pattern across the past years with minimal volatility. This could be a useful data point for Level 3 candidates as a minimum score to aim for during practice exams.


Help Our MPS Research, Send Us Your Results PDFs!

To keep this research going, we need your help to estimate future exam’s MPS for each Level.

All you need to do is just send your results PDF to results@300hours.com. Thanks for your help!

We understand the trust that you are giving us when you do so, and will not be sharing your information with anybody else, and will only use it to perform anonymized analyses that continue to help present and future CFA exam candidates.


Fingers crossed for your results day!

Meanwhile, here are some related articles that may be of interest:

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26 thoughts on “CFA Passing Score: We Reveal the Latest Minimum Passing Score (MPS) Estimates”

    • We won’t have one until we get results from the first CFA L3 CBT exams (May 2021). Can’t predict what CFA Institute are going to do – we can only analyze. 😊

      Reply
  1. Hi, i just did the level3 exam, and i found tougher than i expected and was prepared. Essay session was fulled with a lot of questions tha wans’t covered in detailes by Scheweser materials. Second part was relatively easily. Any thoght about the MPS for this year?

    Reply
    • We will estimate MPS scores some time after the exam results are released. If you want to help us on this, just send your PDF result to results@300hours.com. Your results will of course only be used for analysis purposes, and never be shared with anyone else.

      Reply
  2. I’m not sure if this was discussed before, but what’s your best guess in how the MPs will be calcuted based on so Many differnt versions of thr cbt test this year? For Example what if a group got a harder version vs a meduim vs easy version how do they make it fair for all?

    Reply
    • Really can’t tell. The Feb 2021 MPS really bucked the trend so I’d say anything between the historical average to 75-77%. Although I have trouble imagining they would really bring the MPS for L3 that high.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Hi guys, any idea about the online exam which took place in April? I wonder how the MPS will be calculated as very few number candidates were given the option of online testing.

    Reply
  4. Do you think the MPS for level 3 will remain pretty steady for May / June? I heard a lot about a revision of the MPS for L1/2?

    Reply
  5. Why this new way to calculate MPS hadn’t been publicized before? If CFA Institute just would like to keep passing rate as normal from previous years and hence, change the method like this, is it reasonable and equal for candidates who got score exceeding 70 but a little below 72 towards Level I? They estimated and believed that the maximum passing score must be at 70% and tried best to hit this rate, but finally, failed.

    Reply
    • 72% MPS is just our estimate, although most agree that the MPS is definitely high this year.

      It is also possible that the exam this time was easier than past years, even implied, if you assume that CFA Institute’s methodology for determining the MPS is the same.

      So the logic that candidates that scored 70-72% ‘should pass’ could be flawed – in past exams they might well have also scored below the (lower) MPS.

      Reply
      • Haha Danilo Alencar,
        This is a violation of code of ethics. I recommend you take down this post or you gonna get screwed real bad.

        Reply
  6. What do you think is behind the recent spike in MPS? Do you think it is solely due to an easier exam or are they looking to fail candidates that were previously considered qualified in order to maintain the low 40s pass rate and thus the exclusivity?

    From the CFA Website:
    “The MPS process should:
    […]
    Seek consistency over time in methodology and continuity in results while allowing for
    flexibility based on evolving circumstances.”

    Previously I thought the Angoff Method strives solely for continuity year over year in the kind of candidate who passes, but the part about “allowing for flexibility based on evolving circumstances” has me thinking.

    Reply
    • We’ve been discussing this on our forum here: https://300hours.com/f/cfa/level-1/t/how-to-appeal-if-your-cfa-result-is-close-to-passing/

      I agree with your interpretation – the Angoff method is supposed to be independent of candidates’ ‘performance curve’.

      So if you assume that is true, then the only explanation for a high MPS is that the Feb-2021 was easy, i.e. the ‘just competent enough’ candidate should have scored a high score in that exam.

      But unlikely to get confirmation on this point as CFA Institute I imagine would not be commenting on this.

      The important lesson I would be taking from the Feb-2021 exam results is that until a stabilized trend emerges, 70+% is no longer a guaranteed pass. From our data received from the Feb-2021 exam cycle, I would recommend aiming for a consistent (i.e. last 3 mocks) exam of around 80% or more to have a good pass chance.

      Reply
    • Our current methodology does not require crazy amounts of datapoints, but pre-2017 (before the current PDF chart format) our sample sizes were about 5,000 per CFA level.

      Reply
  7. Very interesting. But where does the volatility comes from? Lets say you take the exam in June 2019 instead of December 2018. You need to score 5% higher than in december 2018.. thats a huge difference.

    Reply
    • Hi Romain, the volatility in MPS comes in the setting phase, where a bunch of charterholders go through all the questions and make a judgement of the minimum score of a just-competent candidate should achieve.Once this is done, they compare the actual candidate performance for each question and repeat the process again.

      So the volatility comes from the different question ‘difficulty’ each exam cycle. It could be that Dec18’s questions are perceived by charterholders as particularly challenging (for a typical ‘good enough’ candidate) given the syllabus, hence a lower MPS is set.

      Hope this clarifies!

      Reply

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