No, The CFA Exam Is NOT Getting Harder

I hear it all the time, newer candidates complaining about the exam, especially when they fail. Don’t get me wrong, I feel for everyone that has failed the exam, I really do. Today’s post has nothing to do with that. I often hear about those candidates that passed the exam 5 or 10 years ago and how easy it was back then, especially when they compare the passing rates in those days to the most recent ones (38% passed the most recent December exam).

I know, it feels that way, especially when you’re in the middle of studying for the exam. I would know, I felt exactly that way. You might say that the reason I no longer believe is because I’m actually done with the exam. That’s certainly possible. It’s also possible that I simply have another perspective. I’ll go with that angle for today but I’d be more than happy to hear your thoughts.

First off, what’s the point? I mean, are you guys trying to find excuses for yourself as to why you failed (or think you might fail) the exam? If so, it’s used energy, not worth it, etc.

My Theory

There used to be a couple of thousand CFA candidates for every exam. Then that jumped to tens of thousands and we are now at the point where about 50,000 candidates tried the most recent December level 1 exam. Now tell me, as the exam becomes more mainstream, as the  CFA title becomes more known and as it becomes clear that it’s a great way to get a good job and exceptional pay, don’t you think this also encourages many new “individuals” to try out for the exam?

I’m not saying that they should or shouldn’t, or that they are more or less brilliant. Some time ago, CFA candidates were research analysts, traders and portfolio managers. These days, pretty much all types of candidates show up. Some have a finance background, but a large proportion do not. That is a great thing.

Another aspect though is that since getting the CFA is perceived as a key to get a promotion and more money, that has also attracted a lot of candidates that get involved, sign up and do not know what they’re getting into. Those people are the type of people that open their books a few weeks before the exam and then understand that it’s too little to late but still show up to the exam hoping for a miracle. Can’t blame them for trying but those types of miracles simply do not happen… There are many more unprepared candidates than you could imagine even though you probably do not know many (you probably hang out with serious candidates only right?!). So yes, those types of candidates do tend to bring down the passing rates….

So the next time someone brings up the passing rate as an argument for how difficult the exam is, just think about this.

Passing the exam remains entirely in your hands, it’s all about being properly prepared (hint… shameless plug but our ebook would provide an exception preparation!) 🙂



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