How to Overcome Failing the CFA® Exam

Believe it or not, failing the CFA Exam is not the end of the world. Sure, you feel lousy right now, but think of it as a temporary setback, not a permanent defeat. Check out the following perspectives that can help you overcome this feeling of disappointment so you can succeed the next time around.

1. You Are Not Alone

For starters, you are not alone. On average, around 40% of CFA candidates who attempt the Level I CFA Exam pass, despite several months of rigorous studying with various prep materials. Remember—this is a hard test. Not passing isn’t 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 come to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge that is passing the rigorous exam. Then you can start to let go of the disappointment and shift your mind toward what it will take to join the ranks of the 42%. After all, your attitude should be that if your peers can pass the exam, so can you. You are just as capable; you just need to prepare yourself to do better the next time.

2. Learn the Lesson

Some believe that there is no such thing as failure; there are only lessons. 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 reflect on what might have gone wrong. Before you attempt to retake the CFA exam, learn the lesson so that you can identify ways to perform better on your next attempt.

  • Assess your study plan: Perform an honest evaluation of the study plan you used the first time. How much did you study? Did you give it your all, or did you allow yourself to 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?
  • Improve your weaknesses: As you prepare for your next rodeo with the CFA Exam, focus on improving your weak areas. Spend more dedicated 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 do concentrate on your weaker subjects so you can improve overall.
  • Understand how you learn: How did you study the first time? Did you use your preferred learning style? Have you ever thought about 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 the learning style that best suits you will help you determine the most effective way to study for the CFA Exam.
  • Test your readiness level: When you walked into the testing center the first time, did you feel ready? Did you feel confident enough? Most of the time, 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, try your best to change that this time. This time around, preparing with a prep solution that offers a Mock Exam might be worth it.
  • Revisit what worked for you: Surely it wasn’t all bad; some things went right for you the first time. Revisit those things—those habits that helped you perform well on certain sections of the exam. Try to repeat those habits in your new and improved study plan.

3. Back To the Drawing Board

Life is a game of adjustments, and many times, you do get a second chance. You didn’t get the outcome you hoped for the first time, but now is your opportunity to make adjustments. As the saying goes, “If at first, you don’t succeed, dust yourself up and try again.” The good news is that no matter how well you may have prepared the first time, the result means you can do better. Besides, you didn’t truly know what to expect until you faced the exam. 

But having faced the exam, you are now familiar with it and know what to expect this time. This familiarity should serve you well as you make the necessary adjustments. Consider adjusting your game plan as follows:

  • In addition to the CFAI materials, prepare with a trusted prep provider such as the UWorld CFA online learning platform.
  • Use an exam prep that aligns with your most effective learning style so you can give yourself the best chance to retain the information.
  • Review the CFA concepts with an exam prep that allows you to use flashcards with spaced repetition technology.
  • As you prepare with a prep provider, take Mock Exams to assess how ready you are before taking the exam.

4. Succeed Anyway

The truth is, notwithstanding the career opportunities and benefits associated with the CFA charter, you may not need to become a charterholder to enjoy a long and successful career in finance/investment management. You’ve got options; you have skills and talents at your disposal to help you thrive in the industry anyway. Plus, your commitment to learning, your work ethic, and your experience together make a solid foundation upon which to build your career.

So, if you abandon your quest for the CFA charter and decide to pursue an alternative path to advancing your career in the industry, trust in yourself and your capabilities. Failing to pass the CFA Exam doesn’t define your potential and most certainly doesn’t predict your future. On the contrary, the requirements you’ve met toward qualifying to sit for the CFA Exam make you a viable candidate for many employers, within and without the finance industry.

However, if you decide to give the CFA Exam another go and you’re ready to elevate your CFA® prep, click here for a FREE 15-day trial of the UWorld CFA Level I learning platform. We’ll have you prepared to pass on your next attempt.