What to read from your CFA® exam results banding

It is one of the harsher things about the CFA® Program that there is only one type of pass but 10 shades of fail. However, with such high stakes exams it is vital to use the fail band information to guide your decisions as to what the next stage will be.

To understand what the band is telling you, it is important to think about the mark clustering. If you think back to Level I quants, the marks will be approximately normally distributed. Given that the average overall pass rate tends to hover around 40% that means that the bulk of the distribution is to the left of the pass mark cut off. I don’t want to get too technical, but that does of course mean that there is a big peak of people who have just failed. So when you get your bandings, the top 2 or 3 fail bandings will actually mean that your mark was very close to the pass mark.

The way the CFA® decides the pass mark is well documented. However the pass mark itself is shrouded in secrecy. It has never been released, but for the sake of illustration let’s assume it is around 70%. The banding describes your decile within the fail population. With the high clustering of people just below the pass mark, the difference between a band 8 fail and a pass may be just a case of 2 or 3%.  And that can just be a few definitions missed, or nerves if this was your first experience of a CFA® exam. At Level 3 it could be simply a matter of time management in the written paper.

The CFA® blog site 300 Hours does a statistical analysis of pass rates and if you enter data on their blog you can receive an estimate of your percentage score. Please see their web page for details.

Whatever you decide to do, here are some things to bear in mind. First, you’re unlikely to have to study everything from scratch again. The syllabus will change slightly each year but you’re going to be familiar with the vast majority of it because of the work that you’ve put in this year. Secondly, now that you have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses, you can plan your time accordingly. Start studying again in towards the end of the year, give yourself more time to cover the syllabus in detail, and be well ahead of the game by the time May comes along

7-10: Close call:

So if your banding is 7-10, you should consider your self a marginal fail and prepare yourself for your resit accordingly. If doing Level I June you should almost certainly go straight through to December Level I as the syllabus does not change in a calendar year. Plus the exam fee is reduced as you do not need another copy of the curriculum.

Remember that if you are borderline, it is your ethics score that determines if you pass or fail, so it may be that you can immediately see what the issue was. If you fell down in ethics, make sure you go back to the CFA® books (not Schweser) and read through every case study and practice all the ethics questions in the CFA® books.

Then focus on any areas where you are <50% as those areas need significant work. Don’t underestimate the importance of learning definitions! A good tip can be to work through the glossary at the back of the CFA® curriculum books.

For levels II and III, give yourself a break for a few months, then hit the books again properly at the start of next year. Think about where to pick up marginal marks through definitions, and we would strongly advise that you spend more time in the CFA® books, especially on the worked examples and end of chapter questions.

 4-6: More work to do

There is no getting away from it, a score of 4-6 means that you will have a reasonable amount of work to do before resitting. Use your detailed score breakdown to direct your time. If this was your first attempt at Level I you may wish to consider doing the CFA® UK’s IMC qualification first, especially Unit 2.

You should think about a change of approach to your studies – did you spend enough time on question practice. Did you learn the definitions? Did you simply not spend enough time studying?  The 300 hours target is a reasonable one, and anything significantly below that means you just have not had the time to get ready for this exam. At least if you know you didn’t spend enough time studying, it is in your power to fix it next time through, and you already have a good chunk of study hours under your belt.

If you need a bit more help from tutors, remember you can come to BPP for revision courses or mock days if you want to top up your knowledge to be ready for the next attempt.

4: Ask yourself some serious questions

There is no getting away from it, you were quite a long way from the pass mark. If this is because you didn’t have time to study, you know what to do next time. If you weren’t studying smart, just hard, think about changing your approach. A common mistake is to just read the books and overlook application. You need to focus on question practice. The third reason could be that CFA® is just not for you. There is no shame in admitting this rather than putting yourself through the process again.


CFA® Institute does not remark exams as they trust the rigour of the process. And from what we have seen, the process is indeed very thorough. However you can ask your paper to be re-tabulated, which is essentially an administrative check. Anyone close to the pass mark will have had their paper looked at several times (especially important at Level III where the morning is hand marked), so it is unlikely that re-tabulating will result in a new mark. If you do wish to go through with this, it costs $100 and needs to be done within 30 days of your result notification. For more information see CFA® website . You have 30 days to lodge this request.

Keep watching our blog as we will be posting information on syllabus changes along with more study tips and daily questions.

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