How China CFA Applicants Keep Beating Finance’s Hardest Exam

For three grueling years, Ranger Yu tipped out of bed almost every day at 6 a.m. and studied until midnight to prepare for China’s infamous college entrance test, known as the Gaokao. After that, he said, the trio of exams to become a Chartered Financial Analyst were relatively pleasant.To get more chinanews, you can visit shine news official website.

The Shanghai native used his old prep skills to study on his commute, after work and on weekends and breezed through all three levels of the English-only program on his first try, adding the letters CFA to his resume as a health-care analyst at a medical research group.

Now, Yu may hold the answer to a question that’s arisen in recent years as professionals obsess over the pass rate: How is it holding up so strongly even as applicants facing a significant language barrier pile in?

The CFA has long been renowned as Wall Street’s toughest test — with questions spanning economics, derivatives, complex valuations and ethics written in a financial jargon thick enough to stump the average U.S. college graduate. The Charlottesville, Virginia-based CFA Institute, which administers the exam, warns that each level takes about 300 hours of studying to pass. Aspiring charter holders spend years taking and retaking tests, a slog that’s spawned an industry of textbooks, classes and websites like 300hours.com where hopefuls trade tips, complaints and even conspiracy theories.

In recent years, a trend appeared in the broad statistics published by the institute: Applicants from Asia — and especially China — have been flooding into the exams, overtaking interest from every other region. At the same time, the global pass rate has edged higher.In interviews, CFA holders and applicants from China described surmounting the exams as a warm-down after spending their youth in the marathon run-up to the Gaokao. Many were unfazed by warnings about the hefty commitment, saying they were willing to spend much more than a mere 300 hours.

Yu, who said “diligence is key” to getting ahead in China’s growing financial-services industry, carved out time before and after work, then spent weekends in the library or in an all-day class at Golden Education. That’s one of country’s largest CFA prep schools, many of which tout pass rates of 70% or 80% — far exceeding last June’s global rate of 45%.

According to Nick Pollard, Asia-Pacific managing director for the institute, the uptick in test takers tracks “a growing demand for financial talent” in the region. The average pass rate in Asia “is in line with the rest of the world,” he said.

Golden Education and competitors try to make studying efficient by honing in on material that optimizes chances of passing. A program priced at more than $1,500 on Golden Education’s website starts with a crash course on financial English.

“We have the language barrier,” said Niu Jia, a senior lecturer for the school’s CFA program. But there are also other challenges for Chinese test-takers, he said. “The exam relies on accounting principles and valuation models that sometimes differ than those most often taught in universities.”

The school assigns every customer an “inspector” to track their progress through the curriculum and even prepares a lunch on exam day. It claims its customers in college have a CFA pass rate of around 80%. There’s no way to independently verify the figure.

ZBG Education, based in the southeastern metropolis of Guangzhou, offers 15-day summer and winter camps paired with weekend classes and online courses. The program has achieved a roughly 70% pass rate, in part, because of the caliber of students who enroll, said Jason Pi, a senior lecturer. Even still, instead of 300 hours, he recommends at least 400.