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What To Do If You Fail The CFA® Exam

What to Do if You Fail the CFA® Exam

For this post, we asked our friends at Fitch Learning to share with us different concepts CFA candidates need to know before using online study resources and third party CFA Exam Prep providers. We hope you enjoy this article, and we invite you to contact us and share your thoughts and comments with the community. Enjoy!


What to Do if You Fail the CFA Exam

By: Andrew Jones


It’s a fact: fewer than 50% of candidates pass the CFA exam. You can be certain that many of those unsuccessful test-takers are smart individuals who put in serious time and effort to study for the exam. Maybe you’re one of those people, and you’re starting to experience fears and self-doubt.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone.

What’s more, it’s possible to pick up and recover from a failed exam. Every year, many of those less-than-fifty-percent who pass are folks who have failed before, but gotten right back on the horse and achieved better results.

So how do you make yourself one of these success stories?

Maintaining Perspective

At the end of the day, it is impossible for every candidate to be above average. It’s simply a reality built in to the system. In fact, it is statistically likely that you will fail the exam at some point. In CFA exam preparation as in so many other areas of life, failure can be a building block of success, an essential step on the path to better understanding. It’s extremely common for students to learn most effectively through trial-and-error – and there’s no trial-and-error without, well, error.

And that leads us straight to the next point you need to bear in mind in order to maintain a healthy perspective. Failure is common: the rule rather than the exception. It is the statistically probable outcome. That means you are by no means the only person with this experience. More importantly, failure does not reflect on your intelligence and is not some final indictment of your abilities as a CFA candidate.

It may be a setback and a disappointment. That’s understandable, given the time you’ve probably put in already, and it’s okay to be disappointed. But don’t let surprise, unhappiness, fear, or self-doubt hold you back. A failed exam is also an opportunity. You can take the lessons you’ve learned from your test-taking experience and use them to become a more effective candidate.

Pick Yourself Up and Reassess

Once you’ve gotten over your initial disappointment, take a clear, close look at how you prepared. Can you identify any obvious gaps in your studies? Topics for which you were underprepared, or on which you might have spent too much time? In hindsight, you may be able to evaluate your exam preparation techniques much more effectively.

As you consider what you did last time and what you might do better for the next round, ask yourself the following questions to make sure you’re adhering to CFA exam preparation fundamentals:


  • “Did I know all the functions I needed to know on the CFA calculator?”
    If not, you need to review the functionality of the TI BAII Plus thoroughly. Essential functions include the AOS versus chn mode, ICONV, DEPR, TVM, NPV and IRR, DATA and STAT, and AMORT.
  • “Did I use the CFA curriculum books?”
    These are crucial, comprehensive tools. If the size and scope of the books put you off the first time around, make sure to utilize them fully now. The practice questions in these books are particularly valuable resource.
  • “Did I practice questions enough?”
    One way to answer this is to consider how pressed for time you felt. Generally, you need to answer a question every minute and a half on exam day. If you had trouble keeping up with this pace, then that’s a sign that you didn’t spend enough time with practice questions. Try to get to a point where you can complete ten questions in fifteen minutes.
  • “Did I manage my study time effectively?”
    This question is pretty easy to answer. The recommended study time from the CFA Institute is 300 hours – if you didn’t put in all 300, then there’s a good chance you need to reappraise your study strategy.


Try to think of similar questions that can guide your path forward. Then it’s time to put what you’ve discovered into action.

Moving Forward

As you move forward, remember that you have more data to work with now. Review your results score card so that you can identify the areas where you are weak.

Studying for a re-sit is a different beast than studying for the first time. On this pass, your efforts should be more about fine-tuning your studies than studying the entire syllabus again. Review your weaknesses and focus there. This is the stage at which something like a CFA mobile app or online learning platform could be useful.

Most apps and online tools will be broken into readings so you can easily watch a video recording and focus your studies with relevant questions. Often, listening to a recording will explain a topic from a different angle that may make it easier for you to understand areas that you previously found hard to grasp – or thought you grasped, but misunderstood.

Using an online tool like this to give your studies a kind of precision focus can help you make the most effective use of your time. This kind of learning fits into a busy lifestyle by allowing you to study on the go in bite-size sessions. Very often, these apps have diagnostics or analytics capabilities to help you track your progress and coverage of the syllabus.

It’s easy to forget to study smaller areas of the syllabus, but using an online learning solution may help you track your progress such that you don’t forget those small readings – which count on exam day, regardless of size!


A CFA exam failure is disheartening, but it’s not the end of the road. You have to pick yourself up, look back and understand what has happened – then look decisively forward. By using your experience, adopting best practices for study, and utilizing the available tools to focus your learning in a strategic way, you can be one of the many CFA candidates who have turned a disappointment into a triumph.


About the author: Andrew delivers both CFA® exam preparation courses and non exam finance training for Fitch Learning. Having passed all three levels of the exam as well as gaining a wealth of experience as an industry practitioner he understands the pressures of studying for this prestigious qualification.


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