CFA Results Analysis: Topics You Should Watch Out for in Your Own CFA Level I

Want to pass your exams? Start preparing the right way.
My email is and I'm preparing for

CFA Dec Level I Analysis: Topics You Should Watch Out for in Your Own CFA Level I

By Christine

In the past December 2012 exam, many of you got your instant analytics via our free Analyze Results calculator

For those of you who don’t know, the Analyze Results calculator instantly calculates your theoretical minimum and maximum results based on your CFA results email, as well as an educated guess on what was your likely score.

In addition, we also asked a few additional questions with the idea to analyze the entire dataset and see if we can learn anything more. Well, we’re pleased to tell you guys that we’ve finished the analysis!

Upcoming blog posts will cover many aspects of what we’ve learnt from the analysis. This includes the Minimum Passing Score (MPS), key topics to watch out for (the focus of today’s post), failing band analysis, and the effect of finance-related work and educational background – a new and fascinating aspect to our CFA exam analysis.

If you’ve signed up for blog post updates, you’ll get all our posts as it is published straight into your inbox (plus a whole bunch of other free goodies).

However if you want all our learnings right here right now, you can get our full report in an instant download. This also includes learnings from the June 2012 exams across all levels – pretty much all the data you’ll need to understand how the exam is like!

For this post, we’ll talk about our analysis on CFA topics, and what you should focus on if you’re facing your CFA Level I this year.


In the topic-by-topic breakdown, we observe the performance mix of every topic category provided by the results email. We also will compare this performance across failing and passing candidates.

Topic performance overview

The following shows the percentage of candidates that scored in each score category (<= 50%, 51%-70%, More than 70%) across the topics covered in the exam. If you’ve seen a results email from CFA Institute before, you’ll recognize that the topics and score categories are exactly as given by the email.

This is followed by the breakdown of just the passing candidates. For the Dec 2012 exam, there is a very even performance improvement across all topics compared to the overall sample.
Finally, we get to the breakdown for failing candidates. Note that there is still fair representation in the ‘more than 70%’ category, which shows that to pass, you should not just aim to score a few in the highest category, but rather aim to dominate it.
Strongest topics largely stayed the same from June 2012.

For this part of the analysis, we simply evaluated and ranked topics by the percentage of candidates that scored more than 70%. As the MPS will be somewhere between 60%-70% (more on that later for Dec 2012!), scoring more than 70% is what counts.

The top 4 highest-ranked topics are:

  1. Alternative Investments
  2. Portfolio Management
  3. Equity Investments
  4. Ethics

FRA slid in Dec 2012. Although FRA was a strong-performing subject in June 2012, it has declined significantly in December 2012. 

Alternative Investments and Portfolio Management surged to the top 2 positions in December 2012. However, the light weightings of the topics lead us to believe that the reason for the strong showing is likely attributed to questions set in the December exam rather than a steady trend.

Ethics and Equity Investments maintain a strong performance. CFA Institute’s focus on Ethics continues to ensure a strong performance in Ethics, even in the failing candidates’ pool. Equity Investment also continues to shine.

Weak topics are so consistent, it’s scary.

The 4 lowest-ranked topics (i.e. with the lowest percentage of candidates that scored more than 70%) are:

  1. Quantitative Methods
  2. Economics
  3. Fixed Income
  4. Derivatives

This is almost exactly identical to June 2012. Quantitative Methods and Economics remain very, very weak areas, and with Fixed Income these three subjects total 34% of the exam. Focus on understanding these topics thoroughly.

Some differences between passing and failing candidates

The drop in quality across failing candidates compared to the passing pool is fairly even. However, several observations are worth noting:

  • Heavy-weighted topics, such as FRA, Equity Investments and Fixed Income, show a large difference in performance across passing and failing candidates
  • Ethics remains strong across passing and failing candidates. Although the performance of Ethics is not as strong as in June 2012, it is still one of the stronger topics. The emphasis on the ethics adjustment continues to focus candidate attention to Ethics. This is a right strategy, as Ethics is both high-weighted (at 15%) and has similar content across all 3 levels

Alright, so what are the key conclusions?

Focus on FRA, Quant Methods, Economics and Fixed Income. These are the large troublemakers in the CFA Level I – pay extra attention to scoring big in these topics.

Getting a mid-range score, especially a heavyweight topic, is not good enough. The CFA exam isn’t an ordinary test – 70% and above is the only way to cut it. If you’re scoring 50% on a topic, that isn’t enough, especially if that topic counts for a lot in the exam.

Continue to focus on Ethics. At 15% weighting and with little variation across all CFA levels, start strong on Ethics right from Level I.

I want more information!

We’ll be talking more about the results of the analysis in the coming weeks. But if you want absolutely everything there is to know about our analyses including June 2012 right now, check out our CFA Results Analysis Report. You can get our report in an instant download to read on your laptop, tablet or on print.

Remember, these are data-driven conclusions. How has this changed your approach to preparing for the CFA Level I exams? Let us know below!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

foot1
foot2
foot3

Leave a Comment