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COMMENT: This is the real reason the CFA Level I pass rate is so low

If you visit this site a lot, you'll know all about the low pass rate for the CFA Level I exam. After last June's sitting, it was only 41% , the lowest rate for five years.  

Why do so few people pass? It's clearly related to the time it takes to prepare for these exams - the 300 hours studying you're supposed to put in aren't easy to find if you're working full time. However, there's another factor that's often overlooked. The CFA exams are in English.

Last year, I took CFA Level I in Melbourne Australia. Based upon a count I did when I was in the hall and my observation of the passports in the sign-in queues, 90% of the test-takers did not hold an Australian passport. Almost no one in the exam hall was Caucasian. 

On its own the CFA Level I exam is not hard. Passing is simply a question of putting in the study tme and repetitively completing mock exams. If you're a native English speaker and you don't pass you either haven't given yourself enough time to prepare, or you don't know how to prepare.

It's a completely different matter if you're not an English speaker. In this case, you not only need to spend time preparing for the exam, you also need to make sure you speak the language properly. If you don't, the exam is going to be a lot, lot harder.  

Given the increase in CFA exam candidates in Asia, this is the elephant in the room. The organisation is notoriously opaque when it comes to figures, but I'm willing to bet the pass rate would be a lot higher if candidates were allowed to sit it in their native tongues.

James Bradford is a pseudonym

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AUTHORJames Bradford Insider Comment
  • fr
    22 September 2019

    I was in that room in the 'almost no-one' Caucasian category. A very odd experience Giveaway for me was the number of people turning up not having read (or understood) the instructions about BYO calculator/pencils etc. Favourite bit was walking out at lunchtime hearing one of few Australians recount to his mate that after he worked out how to turn his calculator on it wasn't too bad.

  • Pe
    17 September 2019

    I strongly believe, CFAI handicap the score for regions where the program is not popular.

  • sh
    shruti goel
    13 September 2019

    What makes the CFA EXAM difficult to pass?

  • Am
    Ammar Naseer
    12 September 2019


    Most broker docs are in English and almost all global players send fund docs and offering memorandum in English.

    You've got to learn the language anyways to compete in the globalized financial industry.

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