What to do after Failing the CFA Exam

So you got the bad news that you failed the CFA exam last June and you’re feeling pretty low. Even though you’ve got plenty of company with between 47% and 58% of candidates failing one of the CFA exam levels, it still feels like a personal defeat.

First of all, don’t stress out over a CFA exam fail. Over a 20- or 30-year career, one year doesn’t make much difference at all. Having to repeat the material may even make you a better professional by really cementing the curriculum in your mind.

The most important thing is that you learn something from the experience and understand how you can avoid it in the future. I talked with five candidates that failed the CFA exam in June, three that failed the CFA level 2 exam and two that failed the third exam. Each candidate had something different to share and a different strategy for passing the CFA 2016 exam.

Check out their story and relate it to your own and your chances of passing your next CFA exam will improve significantly.

Why did you fail the CFA Exam?

Take a moment and evaluate your CFA study plan. What band did you appear in for the exam results? The ten bands are approximately equal score so each is likely between 3% and 5%, meaning the band 9 and 10 candidates missed passing by only a few questions.

For many candidates, it is just a matter of time spent studying. The average passing candidate spends around 300 hours studying for the exam. That’s just over ten hours a week on a six-month schedule, but try to cram it into three or four months and your commitment increases to 20 hours a week or more.

A lot of candidates plan on putting in 15 or more hours a week studying and decide to wait until February to start but then have something come up that takes their time away.

That’s what happened to James from Portland. He started studying in late February and thought he would have plenty of time. He got a job offer in March and was working more hours than he expected through June.

Besides James’ story, I hear the problem from a lot of candidates. Between heavy workflow around the end of the quarter and other life events, you never really know how much time you’ll have to study.

That’s why you need to start as early as possible, even in December, to give yourself plenty of time.

The CFA level 3 essay section catches some candidates by surprise. Arnav of Mumbai told me that he was extremely confident of his knowledge of the material but just couldn’t write fast enough on the essay section. His hand started hurting after a couple of hours and he ran out of time before he could finish.

You absolutely must practice the essay section for the level 3 exam. Besides learning how to write down your thoughts quickly, you need to train your mind and muscles to be able to do it for three hours. It can be really tiring for candidates that don’t practice.

The CFA Institute makes this as easy as possible by publishing the actual morning section exams along with guideline answers. You can sit down and take the essay questions just as if you were sitting for the exam.

We’ve covered a lot of the old CFA essay exam questions on the blog. Click through to this post on How to Pass the Level III CFA Program Essay Section for strategy and links to individual essay questions.

What could you have done differently to pass the CFA Exam?

I know a lot of CFA candidates that neglect doing practice problems, something that tripped up Jennifer of Miami. She told me that she meant to work the problems but it was just so much easier to read the material and not do the work.

Working practice problems can be a pain sometimes but they are absolutely critical. Not only is it an active learning technique, proven to help you retain information, but it also keeps you from zoning out as you read the material.

Paul from New York fell into the trap of having too many distractions during his study routine. I am guilty of this one as well. When I was studying for the first CFA exam, I would often study in front of the TV.

I would be distracted often and would spend much of my study time just focusing back in on where I was in the book. Beyond the TV distraction, a lot of other things in the home are going to distract you from really focusing on the material.

That’s why it’s always better to find a quiet place outside the home, maybe at the library, to do your studying.

Koki of Tokyo thought he would pass the exam by just reading through the curriculum once and working the practice problems. Many candidates believe that because they did well in school, always remembering things for the test, then they will do equally well remembering the CFA material for the exam.

The CFA curriculum is an incredible amount of material and you have to remember it all in one six-hour sitting. It’s entirely different than having to remember a few weeks worth of lectures for a college exam.
Studies show that you need to review something between five and seven times to commit it to memory.

Besides reading through the curriculum and working practice problems, you should consider other ways to review such as flash cards, study guides and talking your way through it.

Finquiz Notes are designed to be used with the official curriculum so you can review and highlight important information while you are studying. The more times you can cover the material, the more likely you’ll be to remember it on the exam.

Taking an honest look at what happened on your CFA exam is the first step to passing the next exam.

Check out these five stories from candidates and reevaluate your own study plans. With a little work, you’ll be well on your way to earning the charter.

‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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