Based on monthly average pass rates reported for the year-to-date, the most challenging papers continue to be Papers 1 (Fundamentals of Securities and Futures Regulation: 52.9%) and 9 (Derivatives: 54.6%), however Paper 2 (Regulation of Securities) and Paper 6 (Regulation of Asset Management) cannot be taken for granted.

The Paper 1 pass rate remained above 50% for the first three months of 2020, having been below 50% for two months in 2019.  While the Paper 6 pass rate for August 2019 fell to 51% – the lowest pass rate for many years – it rose to 58% in March 2020, the highest rate this year so far.  The pass rate for Paper 2 fell to 65% in March, while the pass rate for Paper 3 rose to 93% in February.  The pass rates for Paper 5 for the first three months of 2020 were all well above 70%, with the March rate reaching 81%.

The pass rates for the practical papers in February and March revolved around the year-to-date averages:

HKSI Paper






Let’s have a look at some of the individual papers.

Paper 1 – Fundamentals of Securities and Futures Regulation
Average monthly pass rate52.9%
Standard deviation of monthly averages1.4%
Range of monthly pass rates51.6% to 54.4%

All figures year-to-date

The range of monthly pass rates has narrowed compared to 2019 (48.5% to 58.5%) with the monthly mean pass rate rising by less than 1%.  The general trend for the Paper 1 pass rate in early 2020 has been stabilisation in the low 50s.  As ever, Paper 1 cannot be taken for granted.

Paper 2 – Regulation of Securities
Average monthly pass rate68.9%
Standard deviation of monthly averages4.5%
Range of monthly pass rates64.7% to 73.6%

All figures year-to-date

While the Paper 2 monthly pass rate has hovered around 70% for the past few years, the March rate of 64.7% was well below this average.  Indeed, the March pass rate is the second lowest for many years (September 2019: 62.7%).  Paper 2 questions continue to challenge.

Paper 3 – Regulation of Derivatives
Average monthly pass rate84.7%
Standard deviation of monthly averages9.2%
Range of monthly pass rates75.0% to 93.3%

All figures year-to-date

Paper 3 is notable for the wide range of monthly pass rates (almost 20%), which continues to reflect a small sample rather than exam difficulty.  However, the monthly average pass rate is relatively high.  The Paper 3 exam traditionally occurs once a month.

Paper 5 – Regulation of Corporate Finance
Average monthly pass rate77.2%
Standard deviation of monthly averages3.7%
Range of monthly pass rates74.0% to 81.3%

All figures year-to-date

The Paper 5 2020 monthly average pass rate is similar to 2018, and markedly greater than 2019 (73.6%).  The current range of monthly pass rates is relatively narrow and is likely to widen as the months pass.  As the exam is traditionally run once a month, small sample sizes give rise to high variability in average scores.

Paper 6 – Regulation of Asset Management
Average monthly pass rate56.5%
Standard deviation of monthly averages1.6%
Range of monthly pass rates55.0% to 58.2%

All figures year-to-date

The Paper 6 average monthly pass rate has fallen consistently year-on-year since 2017, when the average was 75.7%.  As shown above, it is now 56.5%.  The number of candidates sitting Paper 6 each month is normally greater than 30, which suggests that, statistically, the exam is becoming more difficult.  Candidates should make sure that they are well-prepared.

Paper 7 – Financial Markets
Average monthly pass rate65.8%
Standard deviation of monthly averages3.1%
Range of monthly pass rates63.8% to 69.4%

All figures year-to-date

All Paper 7 average monthly pass rates exceeded 60% in 2020, as was the case for most of 2019.  While the range and standard deviation of the monthly averages reflect large sample sizes, with the exam being run eight times per month, March’s pass rate of 69.4% is the highest since mid-2016.

Paper 8 – Securities
Average monthly pass rate60.6%
Standard deviation of monthly averages4.0%
Range of monthly pass rates56.4% to 64.4%

All figures year-to-date

Paper 8, which is often taken in conjunction with Paper 7, has a wider range, higher standard deviation but a lower average pass rate than Paper 7.  Interestingly, the average monthly pass rate has remained at 60% since 2016.  As with Paper 7, it is run eight times per month, which suggests that candidates continue to find Paper 8 more difficult than Paper 7.

Paper 9 – Derivatives
Average monthly pass rate54.6%
Standard deviation of monthly averages7.0%
Range of monthly pass rates46.7% to 60.0%

All figures year-to-date

Paper 9 has always been the most difficult SFC licensing exam to pass, however 2020 has started relatively well, although February’s pass rate fell to 46.7%.  The average monthly pass rate has not exceeded 50% for a number of years and it remains to seen, if 2020 will be the same.  In 2019, there were two monthly pass rates below 30% – dispiriting for many a Paper 9 candidate.

Paper 12 – Asset Management
Average monthly pass rate55.8%
Standard deviation of monthly averages10.6%
Range of monthly pass rates45.5% to 66.7%

All figures year-to-date

Paper 12 is traditionally run twice a month, giving a relatively small sample size, which goes some way to explain the wide range of monthly pass rates and the relatively high standard deviation of 10.6%.  It is worth noting that the monthly average pass rate of this technical paper did not fall below 50% in 2019, whereas we have already seen 45.5% recorded in January 2020.

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