Leading up to the exams, I always wondered if my success on practice problems and mock exams would carry through to the actual test. My strategy of taking at least five full-length exams, one that I have written about on the blog, helps to build a confidence interval around your possible exam score. You’ve all been through the quant material so we won’t repeat how to use a collection of scores to estimate an average and predicted score.
Unfortunately, this method of prep is only as good as the tests you use to make the estimate. If the questions within the mock exams or the practice problems are significantly easier than the actual test questions then you’ll get an inflated estimate and may be in for an unpleasant surprise come June 1st.
So how do you know if the practice problems, mock exams or question banks are easier or harder than the actual exam?
From my own experience, the practice problems in the curriculum were probably the closest to the actual test questions in terms of difficulty. The problem with these is that taking a few singular questions provides a poor estimate on how you will do across 120 questions and 18 study sessions. You really need to complete a handful of practice problems from each topic and all at once.
The CFAI mock exams seemed a little harder than the actual exam for the years I took the test (2009-2011). Taking the mock exams each year, I was always a little disappointed in my score but then had no problem on the actual exam. I don’t know if it is intentional, but the Institute did a good job of making me study a little harder in the last couple of weeks.
I used Stalla and another prep provider (which I won’t name but it’s the most widely used) when I took the exams and before I knew about FinQuiz. The question bank problems did seem to be easier than the actual exam and much easier then the Institute’s mock exam. I was usually well into the 80% rate on practice exams through the software and was a little surprised when I took the actual exam.
Having helped prepare some of the questions for the FinQuiz mock exams, I think they are about the same level of difficulty as the actual exam. I have looked at samples across all three exams and there is a good range of easy to difficult problems, similar to the exam.
Your own experience may be different and there are other posts on the forums to help you with the question. One thing to remember when looking at your scores is that you will probably do better on an exam when relaxed in a study area with no consequence to your score compared to the 6-hour mental aerobics on June 1st. This is why I always liked to target a higher percentage score on the mock exams and practice problems than was necessary. If you are regularly making 75%-85% on these tests, you can be confident that you will do well on the actual exam.
As we’ve talked about previously, try not to worry during the exam even if the actual exam seems harder than your prep questions. You’ve done everything you can to prepare and getting nervous during the test will not help. I’ve talked to many candidates you came out of the exam feeling disappointed that it was much more difficult than they anticipated. They spend the next couple of months distraught because they think they failed, only to find out that they passed and put themselves through so much anxiety for nothing.
Spend the next two weeks finishing up your review. Keep to your plan and try to cover as much as possible, then don’t worry about it.
Good luck on the exam,
Joseph Hogue, CFA