2021 CFA exam results & strategy
The last CFA exam results for the Level 1 exam in July 2021: only 22% passing rate. What happened?


The recent release of the results of the Level 1 CFA exam of July 2021 was, to say the least, an immense surprise. The passing rate was the lowest ever recorded: 22%. Let’s take a quick step back to understand the “shock” for the + 28 000 CFA candidates. 

Over the past years (before Covid-19 and computer-based format) the Level 1 passing rate was extremely stable, between 41 to 45 %. In addition, the recent format (4h30 length, more comfortable computer settings) intuitively made candidates believed it could be a little bit easier.

Thus we can wonder: did the CFA exam questions became harder? Was the minimum passing score raised? Was candidates’ preparation completely disturbed by the several exam-postponements? Has the new window format completely changed the traditional study plan and confused participants in their preparation?

Let’s try to find some explanation and start providing valuable tips for the next exams.

The CFA institute recently published a video explaining that the July 2021 candidates who enrolled directly (for the first time) for this specific exam performed at the same level than previously.

The impact is only observed on candidates who had Covid-related deferrals and scored significantly lower.

First learning : having more time to prepare for your exam is not a guarantee to pass.

The candidates with a deferral had between 6 to 12 months extra time to prepare and despite this “advantage” failed at a higher percentage.

What we recommend: The right learning strategy will make the difference. Start by choosing the right CFA exam window for you, you need to anticipate 6 to 9 months of preparation. Once you are registered you will be more focused on your goal and less tempted to postpone your exam. Design your 300 hours-study plan integrating the proper study materials (courses, study tools, dynamic study groups...) that are key to a successful preparation. Also, do not forget to assess your score all along the way.

Experts have also tried to analyze and estimate the Minimum Passing Score. Results tend to make them think that since the new CBT format was launched (February 2021), the Level 1 minimum passing score has raised.

Second learning : make sure to reach 75% of correct answers on CFA mock exams prior to the official day.

These experts evaluated that the minimum passing scores were closer to 73-74% on the lasts Level 1 CFA exams.

What we recommend: To get better chances at successfully passing the exam, you need to self assess several times using mock exams that simulate the actual interface and conditions of the official exam. You need to target 75% to 80% of correct answers the week before, as we know stress can make you lose a few points on the actual exam. Once you are ready, try to take the last day off to relax so you can be totally focused on the official CFA exam.

Don’t forget, CFA is marathon : you need to control your speed all along the way to make sure you get to your goal.