The pass rate for the Chartered Financial Analyst exam’s first step in December neared this decade’s highest level as more candidates from Asia piled in, pushing global turnout to a record.

Forty-three percent of participants cleared Level I of the semi-annual exam last month, the institute said in a statement Tuesday. The success rate rose from 42 percent in June, and was just below this decade’s high of 44 percent set in December of 2014. It held steady even as the number of candidates jumped 11 percent from a year earlier to more than 52,300.

Finance workers pursue the CFA designation for the promise of better jobs, higher salaries and a deeper understanding of their industry. The certification is now especially sought after across Asia, where almost 18,200 people sat for the December test in mainland China, India, Hong Kong and Singapore. That’s up 13 percent from a year earlier and dwarfs the 11,676 who turned out this year in the U.S., where the exam started in 1963. More than 7,600 took the test in Canada and the U.K.

Candidates may take the Level 1 exam in both June and December, unlike the two latter levels, which are available once a year. Successful charter recipients spend an average of more than 300 hours preparing for each exam and typically take more than three years to complete all of the tests, according to the Charlottesville, Virginia-based not-for-profit institute.

Financial markets in Asia have been rocked in recent months by slowing economic growth in China. Turnout for the CFA exam also surged after the global credit crisis in 2008, as finance workers looked to burnish their resumes amid industrywide cost cuts. That also produced one of the highest success rates in recent years: 46 percent for the Level I test in June 2009.