Getting the most of Mock and Practice Exams

Two weeks before the CFA December exam and candidates are starting to get nervous. Results of recent mock exams and practice tests are coming out and the outlook does not look good for everyone. I surveyed a group of candidates that had taken mock exams recently, both those provided by Finquiz and mock exams from other providers, and the average across the group was about 60% with a fairly wide range.
But how much faith should you place in these scores and how should you be using mock exams leading up to the test?

Survey says –

I wasn’t surprised at the range of results I saw from the ten candidates I surveyed about mock exams. The sample size wasn’t very large and results tend to vary quite a bit at this point. At about a month to the exam, there are candidates that are very well prepared and then there are those that need to step up the pace quite a bit.
You should actually be thinking about two resources here, practice tests and mock exams. To me, the difference has always seemed a matter of semantics. Practice exams are shorter than the actual exam and normally based on a specific topic area. Mock exams are full six-hour long exams that cover all the topic areas and are meant to be taken as you would the actual CFA exam.
In talking with candidates and through my own personal experience, I have found that mock exams are a good source for studying but not necessarily a good predictor of success on the actual CFA exam. It is one thing if you consistently score very high (>75%) or very low (<50%) on mock exams. This would likely confirm what you already know anyway, that you have been diligently studying or that you need more work. Results on any one mock exam can vary widely though and I would use it more as guidance than a predictor of how you will do on the December exam.
Mock exam difficulty tends to vary from year to year and by provider. The mock exams I have seen from the CFA Institute seem to typically be more difficult than the exam while other third-party exams vary. A limited number of practice and mock exams are available on the CFA Institute website now and included in the price of your registration. Finquiz has available six full-length CFA mock exams for candidates of the CFA Level I exam as well as a question bank that can be used to construct your own practice tests and additional mock exams.

A tool for CFA exam prep, both mental and physical

Mock exams should be one of your biggest resources right now. These tests are going to help you see how mentally and physically prepared you are for the December exam. You can break them up and take several 3-hour exams but you should take at least two full-length six-hour exams. Taking a six-hour test with just a small break for lunch is nothing to underestimate. You need to develop your endurance through practice or you might just find yourself struggling during the real test.
Besides testing yourself physically, the benefit to mock exams is that they test your retention across all the topics at once. Many candidates approach the CFA exam by only doing practice problems related to a specific topic directly after studying that topic. Of course you are going to remember something if you test it alone and immediately after studying.
I recommend taking at least five or six mock exams over your last couple of weeks. Each one can be used to guide your study plan over the subsequent few days, making sure you cover topics where you scored poorly. You can also average the scores together to get a more stable idea of where your score is across the topic areas and on the overall exam.
I usually recommend you take practice tests earlier in the season, after studying the specific topic areas. You also need to be using them in these last two weeks though to really focus on a few topics where you need the most help. If you are regularly scoring less than 70% on mock exams within core topic areas like ethics, financial statement analysis, and equity investments then you need to hit these individually with a practice exam.
For practice and mock exams both, remember it isn’t enough to just take the exam. You need to go back through the questions you missed and those where you only guessed to master the concept. Failure to learn from your mistakes means you are just going to repeat them on the actual exam.
If possible, you should be thinking about taking the week off work next week to really put your nose in the books and get those last few points you need. We’ll do a quick summary next Monday and cover some key points to get you ready for the exam.
‘til next time, happy studying
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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