How Is The CFA Exam Graded? Your Questions Answered

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Have you ever wondered how is the CFA exam graded?

A while ago I actually researched and considered applying to be a CFA exam grader. Although I ultimately decided not to apply, I learned a lot about the CFA grading process and what the CFA Institute goes through to get your results to you. 

That said, given the COVID-19 disruption this year, the usual process and timelines may differ, but here’s what CFA Institute goes through in the exam grading process.


How Is The CFA Exam Graded?

How is the CFA exam graded for multiple choice questions

Multiple choice questions

After the exam, multiple-choice papers are securely delivered and machine-graded. At the same time 5-10% of multiple-choice papers will be graded by hand as a quality-control mechanism. 

For the scantron machine to work, it’s important that your answer sheet is filled in properly with the right pencil lead. This why it is recommended that you use No. 2 or HB pencils to fill out your answer sheet.


CFA Level 3 Constructed Response (Essay) Questions

The Level 3 morning paper will be graded in a 2 week period in Charlottesville, VA by a platoon of selected volunteers, consisting of pretty much the best of the best investment professionals around the world. 

You think the CFA exams are hard? Try applying as a grader for CFA exams. The acceptance rate to be a CFA exam grader is about 15% – we’re talking turning away CEOs of investment firms at the door, saying ‘no, you’re not good enough’. 

Graders are always provided all guideline answers and grading keys well in advance to allow time to prepare and to suggest changes. 

​The graders form teams in which each team grades only one question, or a question part, which tends to be their industry specialty area.

​Each individual answer will go through a hierarchy of junior graders, senior graders, and grader of graders, checking each other’s work to ensure consistency and quality.

After all papers have been graded, the middle 50% is graded again to ensure that the borderline cases would have been double checked.


​Will CFA graders know anything about the candidates they’re grading?

No.

Multiple choice questions (MCQ) answer sheets are graded by machine.

​For Level 3 essay questions, graders only grade one question, and they will not know your name, your test centre, or even how you did – apart from the single question they are evaluating you for.

This is also why you should answer each essay question independently, and not assume any contextual knowledge from a previous question or any of your other answers.

For more tips on how to successfully answer essay questions, read our guide here.


What about the Minimum Passing Score (MPS)?

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The pass mark, or the Minimum Passing Score (MPS) is determined in a series of workshops, also held during the grading process. The methodology used is based on a modified Angoff method – you can learn more about the process here.

The MPS is not determined by a relative curve, so just to be clear, just because someone did well does not mean they made it harder for you to pass!​

The MPS is not made public, but if you’d like an idea of where the MPS is for the CFA exams, you can see our estimates here.


What about ‘ethics adjustment’? How does it affect my CFA exam results?

The ‘ethic adjustment’ basically means that if you are close to the pass-fail border, your performance in Ethics will be used as the tie-breaker. Apart from that case, Ethics contributes to your final score just like any other topic area.

You can learn more about the ethics adjustment and why Ethics is extra important to the CFA exams here.


​What happens if there are errors in the exam questions?

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During the grading, there would also be a reevaluation of questions depending on the results. Complaints about the questions will also be logged.

Question issues can include:

  • They’re unfairly confusing.
  • They have multiple right answers, or no right answer.
  • They were structured wrongly, or have not enough information for a definitive answer.

In every case where a question is determined to be problematic, any candidate that may have been treated unfairly will be awarded points.

This means in the examples above:

  • Unfairly confusing questions? Points for everyone.
  • Multiple right answers? Points for either answer.
  • No right answers? Points for everyone.
  • Not enough information for a definitive answer? Points for everyone.

More questions about grading?

Given the scale of the exam (over 100,000 candidates per exam), it is actually quite amazing how relatively smooth this operation plays out every year. 

So if your results are released a little bit late – do try and wait for a bit, they’re working hard on it. With the disruptions of COVID-19 this year, things may be a little slower than normal for the last paper-based exam’s grading. 

Do you have any additional questions about the grading process? Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments below!

Meanwhile, these related articles may be of interest:

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

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3 thoughts on “How Is The CFA Exam Graded? Your Questions Answered”

  1. Will the new CBT exam results be known at the time you finish the exam? For example, the CFP exam now tells you if you pass or fail immediately after you press the ‘submit exam’ button at the test center.

    Reply
    • Hi Brian, the CBT exam results would not be known instantaneously, as CFA Institute will still need to go through their process of determining the Minimum Passing Score (MPS). That said, results would be announced quicker than the typical paper-based timing, but no information is available on this yet until CFA Institute has done a few CBT exam cycles.

      Reply
  2. What happens if you’ve got a mistake in your filled in details? I’m not sure if I filled in my name correctly.

    Reply

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