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Failed your CFA® Program exam? Here’s how to decide whether to retake


With the CFA® Program exam results due to be announced soon, many candidates are waiting anxiously to find out if they’ve passed. If you passed - well, great! But if you failed, the next practical consideration is whether or not to retake the paper.

With some help from our friends at Wiley, we compiled a handy 5-step guide that will help you pick yourself up and decide what to do next.

Here’s what you should (and shouldn’t!) think about:

#1: Don’t plunge into a deep despair - remember that failing is normal for this exam

Of course, it’s natural to feel extremely disappointed, but do not be discouraged. The paper is extremely difficult and the 3 exams combined are almost as tough as a postgrad finance degree.

Even the most successful candidates take about 4 years to earn their charter. Remember that many others have also failed the paper, and many have retaken it - it’s normal. You are not alone in failing.

[Read also: Want to pass all three CFA® Program exams on your first try? Note these 3 pitfalls! ]

#2: Remember why you wanted a CFA® charter in the first place

Instead of beating yourself up, try to encourage yourself by envisioning your career after obtaining the charter. Remember that being a CFA® charterholder means a big boost in salary. Often, you’ll also be a standout candidate at interviews and have a better choice of employers. Think of what you could gain if you persevere and see it through.

Because the charter is considered one of the best finance certifications in the world, of course the title is hard to earn. Failure could mean you didn't understand the material well enough, so retaking may turn out to be a good thing: it means you will be properly prepared to make important financial decisions once you become a charterholder.

#3: Check the results breakdown to see if you studied the right stuff

CFA Institute has always recommended that candidates study for at least 300 hours in order to be prepared. If you didn’t, maybe a few more hours hitting the books is all you need to pass.

If however, you did study the recommended hours, look at your results breakdown to see which topics are your weak points.

Remember that for the Level I and Level II exams, topics like Ethical and Professional Standards, Quantitative methods, Financial Reporting and Analysis and Equity Investments make up roughly 60% of the score, so performing poorly for these topics is likely to result in a fail. Focus on scoring at least 70% on these topics, which will likely result in a pass.

#4: Talk it over with your loved ones

You could likely use some emotional support, so share with family and friends how you feel: how disappointed you are, and how hard you worked. Sometimes, simply saying these things out can help you feel better. You could also ask your loved ones for their opinion on whether you should retake.

However, it might not be a good idea to share the news with colleagues or bosses. They could end up feeling jealous that you’re getting ahead by going for a CFA® charter - and discourage you from trying again.

#5: Consider taking classes, if you think you can't self-study

Not everyone needs prep classes, but not everyone can self-study either. Typically, three types of students require exam prep courses:

  • Those who want the convenience of someone else making study timetables and keeping them on track

  • Those with busy schedules at school or work

  • Those who cannot absorb info simply by reading a textbook

If you fall in these three categories of students, you may find that taking classes could be the fastest and easiest way to a pass.

[Read also: 5 Ways to Identify a Good-Quality Prep School for the CFA® Program exam]

#6: Decide if you want to retake (and start studying while the exam is still fresh)

After steps 1 to 4, think about what contributed to the fail, and how much you can change that. If you do decide that you’d like to retake the paper, you should quickly iron out a study schedule and start revising - even if you feel like taking a break first.

This is because it will easier to study with the content fresh in your mind, while waiting a while means you might forget some info and waste time re-learning it. Also, the sooner you have start, the fewer hours each week you will have to study - both which give you a better chance of success the next time around.

If you think exam prep courses will be useful for you to pass your exams, check out our classes here. We offer special discounts for students who have previously failed the exams.

See the sign up form for the list of discounts.

CFA Institute does not endorse, promote, or warrant the accuracy or quality of the products or services offered by A.B. Maximus & Co. Pte Ltd. CFA Institute, CFA® and Chartered Financial Analyst® are trademarks owned by CFA Institute.