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You failed Level I of the CFA exam. Here's what to do next

If you fell short of passing Level I of June’s CFA exam, you are not alone. Just 41% of Level I test-takers earned a passing grade, the lowest figure in five years. Fortunately, the other 59% don’t have to stew for too long before getting another chance; the next Level I exam date is just four months away. But before you jump right back into study mode, consider these post-fail tips.

Take a long, hard look in the mirror

The very first thing a test-taker should do after failing Level I is assess whether signing up for another go is actually the wise decision. Are you really motivated enough to invest the time and effort required to earn a CFA charter? More importantly, are you sure you’re passionate about the work itself?

“If you aren’t fully committed to a career in investment management, you might not want to reregister for the exam,” said Steve Horan, managing director and head of credentialing at the CFA Institute. A desire to put three letters on your resume won’t provide near enough motivation to do what’s needed to pass all three levels. There’s a reason more than 55,000 registered candidates didn’t bother showing up to the June exams.

Conduct a quick autopsy

While you don’t want to get caught up in the past, jot down some notes on what parts of your preparation worked and what didn’t, said one test-taker who passed Level I after first failing. Should you have crammed more at the last minute Would it have been better to take time off work? Did you get the right amount of sleep leading up to the exam? – Or anything else you learned the hard way that you may soon forget, he said.  

Let your postscript drive your study strategy

As strange as it sounds, failing Level I comes with some significant upside: you now have access to personalized data that can help inform upcoming decisions, including whether you want to sit for the exam one more time. First, look at the confidence interval – a year-old tool based on the “any-given-day” concept, said Horan. It looks into the performance of a test-taker and provides a range of potential outcomes based on favorable and unfavorable factors, including lucky/unlucky guesses and whether the exam authors sampled more or less from topics for which a candidate wasn't as prepared.

In short, it drowns out some of the randomness and noise to offer a clearer window into how far off a person really was from passing. “If the confidence interval overlaps with the passing score, you’re likely not far off base – maybe you just need to run through a few more mock exams,” Horan said. “If it falls below the passing score, you should probably make more significant changes to your study strategy, like signing up with a prep provider or taking part in study groups.”

And don’t just open to page-one and start reading again. Use the score report to identify topic areas that you struggled with most along with those that may not require near as much studying this time around.  

Give this new adaptive learning tool a spin

A brand-new platform that wasn’t available for June test-takers, the Institute’s learning ecosystem platform puts all CFA curriculum, study materials, mock exams and other tools under one roof. But none of that is the real selling point for failed test-takers. The program is adaptive, using pre-assessments, practice tests and self-reported confidence rankings to identify a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and automatically adapt the material to focus on areas of need.

“Candidates that just failed Level I didn’t have any of this available to them,” Horan said. If you couldn’t figure out how best to spend your prep time during your first attempt at passing Level I, try allowing this new platform to start making some of those decisions for you.

Get right back on the horse, maybe

If your schedule allows it, Horan highly suggests registering for the next available exam date rather than sitting on the sidelines for a full year. “The material should still be fresh in your mind. You don’t want to feel like you are starting from scratch again,” he said.

The anonymous exam taker disagrees: “If I had to jump right back into study mode after finding out I failed, I probably would have lost my job and my girlfriend,” he said.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by actual human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t).  

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor

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