Rookie test takers leave angry, emotional following CFA exam

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Historically speaking, CFA candidates who take the Level I exam have a much greater chance of failing than those further along in the process. While the second and third levels are admittedly more difficult, you need to pass Level I just to get there, meaning candidates tend to be more prepared and in a better position to pass.

Level I candidates, on the other hand, often include more people who aren’t fully invested in or prepared for the process, even if they think they are. A year ago, just 38% of candidates passed Level I, compared to 43% and 49% pass rates for Level II and Level III, respectively.

Judging by forum posts following Saturday’s exams, history will likely repeat itself. Level I test takers reported being blown away by the difficulty of the exam, with many publicly predicting their own fate. Candidates who took the two higher-level exams, meanwhile, appeared more mentally and emotionally prepared, though they too admitted to stumbling along the way. They were generally ready for that eventuality, however.

In several Analyst Forum discussions that took place Sunday, nearly every single Level I test taker who participated offered the same sentiment: they went in confident, thinking they were prepared, and got blindsided by the difficulty of the test.

“For many of the questions, all I could think was “I know this concept and THIS is what you decided to ask about it?!?’” said one U.S. test taker. “I knew nearly all of the stuff but then thought, “What? Are you kidding me?’” added another.

“I expected to walk out of the exam feeling WAY more confident than I do,” said a third. “Seems like that is par for the course here though as mostly everyone feels the same way.”

Level I candidates seemed particularly perturbed with the style of the questioning – something they weren’t totally prepared for after completing mock exams. A fourth test taker compared the questions to chicken or egg-style inquiries, where there is no clear answer.

Many said they blindly guessed on dozens of questions – something they rarely did in mock exams. One in a separate forum said they began dropping their pencil and choosing the answer closest to the mark. Several echoed the same sentiment: “The mocks did not prepare me for…. this…. thing.” Most said that the fixed income portion was the most difficult.

Level II and Level III

The mood was much different in forum discussions surrounding the two higher-level tests. Now that’s not to say people didn’t find them difficult or were overly confident in passing – many thought they failed. Test takers just weren’t freaking out near as much. The exclamation point differential was off the charts.

“In the end, we’ll all know in 60 days,” said one Level II test taker. “Really, who knows?” said another matter-of-factly.

Several Level II test takers said they think that they passed. Why? Many put in more than the 300 hours that most tutors suggest. One said they invested 400 hours, and another 550. “Seemed easier than last year, but then again, I was better prepared,” one Level II candidate noted.

The only complaint was about the ethics section. “Even after I finished the exam and tried to look up the answers I still have no idea,” another said of the ethics portion.

Same song, different tune for the Level III. A few people thought at least one section was “easy.” Moreover, unlike for Level I, test takers didn’t complain about the questions or the style of their delivery. They were used to it

Many who believe they fared poorly even took responsibility. “I did not manage my time well in the AM,” said one who reported struggling. “Easiest test that I have ever failed,” added three others.

Clearly, when it comes to the CFA exam, knowing what you’re in for is a major advantage – no matter if that experience helps you pass or simply allows you to keep your emotions in check if you think you failed.


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