77,000 young Wall Streeters took the grueling CFA exam in December - more than half of them failed

77,000 young Wall Streeters took the grueling CFA exam in December - more than half of them failed


One of finance's most grueling exams only continues to grow in popularity - and it's just as difficult as ever to pass.

About 45% of the 77,245 candidates who took the Chartered Financial Analyst Level I exam in December passed, the CFA Institute said on Wednesday.

The test has seen explosive growth in Asia-Pacific in particular, which had about 46,000 candidates for December's Level I exam, a 19% increase compared with the year earlier. About 24,000 of those candidates came from mainland China.

The exam, which asks candidates questions on everything from financial modeling to the ethics of business, is considered one of the most difficult tests in the world. Less than 50% of people pass each year. The Level I exam is administered in both June and December, with 43% of candidates passing Level I in June. The second and third exams are only given in June.


To meet the rising demand, the CFA Institute plans to move the Level I exam online, Business Insider reported in November. The test, currently offered in June and December, would also be administered more often. To be clear, test-takers would still need to head to physical locations for the exam, but the paper test would be replaced with an online one.

See more: The results of the most brutal finance exam in the world have just been released - here are the questions those who took it faced

Test-takers could see different types of questions through online exams than the paper tests allow. For example, an online format offers more options to incorporate spreadsheets into questions, Anne O'Brien, the CFA Institute's head of communications, said in an interview.

The CFA Institute is still finding vendors for online exam administration, so the changes are a few years away, O'Brien said.

Only about one in five people who start the CFA program make it through all three levels and complete the other requirements to become a charter holder. It takes most CFA charterholders about four years to finish the program.


Becoming a CFA charter holder is a huge leg up for anyone hoping to build a career in investment management, with many senior roles requiring either a CFA or a masters of business administration degree. It's also a much cheaper credential than an MBA - a CFA costs about $3,300 in total, while an MBA can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Overall, there are more than 159,000 CFA charterholders worldwide.

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