4 Ways To Overcome CFA Exam Failure And Make The Most of Your Exams

Learn the perspectives that will help you overcome the feeling of disappointment when you have a setback.

Don't worry, it's not the end of the world if you fail the CFA exam. It might feel like it but you're too strong to let this set you back, even a little. You’re feeling like a failure right now, but you’ll feel much better if you let go of your emotions and stay focused on the future. Learn the following perspectives that will help you overcome the feeling of disappointment when you have a setback.

1. You're Not Alone

It’s common knowledge that not all CFA candidates pass the exam. In fact, the average CFA candidate who attempts the Level 1 exam fails it by more than 50%. So, remember - this IS a hard test. This means that failing is NOT a reflection of your ability, nor does it mean you’ll never pass. 

Once you realize that you weren’t the only person to fail the CFA exam, you’ll appreciate the magnitude of the challenge that is passing this intense and rigorous exam. Then you'll let go of your disappointment and shift your mind towards what it'll take for you to become one of the 42% that succeed. After all, it’s your attitude that counts most. If your peers can pass the exam, so can you.

You're just as capable, if not more; it’s all about preparation and doing your best every single time.

2. Learn the Lesson

Failure is a word we all hate because it feels like it’s a judgement on us. But life is not a test; it's a series of lessons. Failing is always an opportunity to learn something, there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Learn to adopt this mindset. Your first attempt served a useful purpose: to help you get familiar with the entire experience. Tell yourself that now that you know what to expect, you will be better prepared in your next attempt and commit to putting in the necessary efforts to improve. But first, take a moment to think about what you've done that went wrong. To get the best score on the next time you retake the CFA exam, make sure you know what you need to do better before you take it. 

Evaluate Your Study Plan: performing an honest evaluation of the plan you used the first time, is the most important thing. How much did you study? Did you do your best, or did you let yourself get distracted? How did you prepare? On your own or in a group? With just the CFA Institute prep materials or with a third-party prep provider? Make sure to be brutally honest with yourself. 

Improve Your Weaknesses: The best way to prep for your next CFA exam is to identify where you need the most help. Spend more study time on subjects you performed poorly on instead of those you scored well. That said, don’t neglect to cover all the materials in your prep. Be thorough, but focus on your weaker subjects, so you can improve overall.

Understand How You Learn: How you learn is different from person to person. Some learn by writing their thoughts down, while others are visual learners and need to see pictures of words. So, how did you study the first time? Did you use your preferred learning style? Have you ever thought about how you retain information most effectively? Is it through reading or maybe listening? Are you a visual learner or someone who learns better by practicing? Understanding your learning style can help you determine the most effective way to study for the CFA exam.

Test How Ready You Are: When you walked into the test centre the first time, did you feel prepared? Did you feel confident enough? In most cases, depending on how well you’ve prepared for an exam, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where you stand. If you felt less than confident on test day, you should be able to overcome that and do better this time. This time around, it might be worth your time to prep with a prep solution that provides you with mock exams. This way, you'll prepare in similar conditions as to when you give the final exam. 

Revisit What Worked For You: Sure, you’re not perfect, but there were a lot of good things that happened to you the first time. Go back to your old habit of revising those topics—the ones you used to do well on. Your new study plan will help you stay organized and motivated to study, making it easier to get good grades and avoid failing. 

3. Back To the Drawing Board

Life is a game of adjustments and often, you’ll get another chance. You didn’t get the outcome you hoped for the first time, but now is your chance to make some changes.

As the saying goes, “try and try again. If at first, you don't succeed, then get up, dust yourself off, and do it again.”

The good news is that no matter how well you've prepared the first time, the result means you can do better. Besides, you didn't really know what to expect until you faced the exam. But having faced the exam, you're now familiar with it and know exactly what to expect this time around. This familiarity should help you make the necessary adjustments.

Consider adjusting your game plan as follows:

  • In addition to the CFAI materials, prepare with a trusted prep provider.
  • Use an exam prep that's well-suited to your unique learning style to help you focus on what's important, remember more and retain what you've learned.
  • Review the CFA concepts with an exam prep that provides flashcards with spaced repetition technology.
  • As you prepare with a prep provider, you should take Mock Exams to evaluate how prepared you are before taking the exam.

4. Succeed Anyway

The honest truth is that you don't have to be a charterholder to enjoy a long and successful career in finance or investment management. You’ve got options. You already have the skills and talents at your disposal to help you thrive in the industry anyway. For example, a strong commitment to learning, a work ethic that will never let you give up, and a lot of experience, make for a solid foundation upon which to build your career.

However, if you decide to abandon your quest for the CFA charter, then trust yourself. Trust your abilities, and your value to your employer, and take the first step toward achieving your goals. Failing to pass the CFA exam will never define your potential and most certainly will never predict your future. On the contrary, the requirements you’ve met to qualify to sit for the CFA exam already make you a viable candidate for many employers, within and without the finance industry.

Like we said before, failing the CFA exam the first time around is NOT the end of the world. Even if it may feel like it. You have the power to take the situation into your hands and spin it into a success story. So try not to feel too disheartened and after a well-deserved break, get back to doing even better the second time. 

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