Thirty-six percent of candidates passed the chartered financial analyst program level one exam in December.

The CFA Institute announced Tuesday that 46,644 people globally took the exam, which is the first of three exams required for someone to become a CFA.

To earn the CFA designation, candidates must pass all three levels of the exam, meet the work experience requirements of four years in the investment industry, sign a commitment to abide by the CFA Institute code of ethics, apply to a CFA Institute society, and become a member of the CFA Institute.

Historically since 1963, the CFA Institute said that 44% of candidates have passed level one, 48% have passed level two, and 62% have passed level three. (Check out the historical pass rates.)

The exams cover ethical and professional standards, securities analysis and valuation, international financial statement analysis, quantitative methods, economics, corporate finance, portfolio management, and performance measurement. Level one exams are held in June and December, and levels two and three are only held in June.

According to the CFA Institute, which is based in Charlottesville, Va., it takes most candidates more than three years to complete the program.

John Rogers, the president and chief executive officer of the CFA Institut, said the number of candidates who registered for the exam in 2010 increased 8% to 204,688 from a year earlier, “demonstrating that the CFA designation continues to attract individuals who want to enhance their knowledge and skills to succeed in today’s competitive world of investing and finance.”

The December level one exam was given at 89 test centers in 63 cities globally. Countries included the United States (10,887), India (5,812), Mainland China (5,646), the United Kingdom (3,488), Canada (3,427), Hong Kong (3,203), Singapore (1,814), and South Africa (970).