How to Answer CFA Exam Questions: Debunking Common MCQ Myths

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How to Answer CFA Exam Questions, Debunking MCQ Myths

As every CFA exam candidate will know, the CFA exams are largely comprised of multiple choice questions. This doesn’t mean that they’re easy to pass – as we’ve calculated, you’re statistically more likely to win Euromillions than to pass the CFA exams by chance.

There are many common (and wrong) myths associated with the CFA exam multiple choice question format that CFA candidates still wrongly assume. We’ve covered tips on how to guess intelligently in the exams, and to our regular readers some of these will come as no surprise. But especially for those taking the exam in December, in this post we aim to bust more myths and clear the air for our readers about the CFA multiple choice question format before the upcoming exams.

MYTH 1: CFA exam multiple-choice questions aren’t that hard.

Growing up, MCQs may have been an easy, lazy format. The CFA exams’ questions aren’t.

When I was in high school, I loved multiple-choice questions. They were the ideal exam format for my unrivalled laziness at studying, matched only by my desire to do well. And with multiple-choice, I could serve both interests – reading between the lines, you could sometimes correctly deduce the right answer without much contextual knowledge of the topic, as the wrong answers were not very convincing substitutes. This means you could study a heck of a lot less and still manage to do reasonably well. Exploiting this flaw in the system has served millions of lazy students like me very well through the decades.

The CFA exams, however, is not one of these systems.

The CFA exams have high-quality ‘distractor’ answer choices

I think it’s fair to say that CFA Institute probably puts as much effort into every wrong answer (distractors) than the right one. Creating the right answer is relatively easy for CFA Institute – you just answer the question correctly, and that’s it. To design the distractors, it’s a process of testing for most common mistakes made when one attempts the questions and offering them alongside the correct answer – meaning that two of the most common wrong answers among candidates tend to accompany the right answer.

This makes CFA exam multiple-choice questions as tough and as confusing as multiple-choice questions can ever hope to be.

Time and time again, you will be surprised at how well-designed the distractors are, including high-quality third-party materials. Of course, you wouldn’t even know in the case of the real exam as you don’t get any answers back, just an approximation of your score and the pass/fail grade. So although it’s ‘just’ multiple-choice, it’s not going to be straightforward, or easy to answer.

Of course there are still ways to utilize logic to your advantage – for example, if you’re unsure about the right answer, you can start by eliminating distractors. If you know that A and C are definitely wrong, then the remaining (right) answer is B, et cetera, et cetera. But knowing A and C are wrong also requires knowledge about the topic, and the question has served its purpose.

Multiple-choice does not indicate simplicity and ease, and the CFA exams are the best examples to prove this.

MYTH 2: When answering MCQs, trust your first answer. If you change it, you’re likely changing it into a wrong answer.

The theory that you should always trust your initial instinct with multiple choice questions, is mostly bullshit. Studies show that although candidates often believe that changing answers is bad, it generally results in a higher test score. 

The data across 33 separate studies indicate that there is absolutely nothing wrong with changing your initial answer. In these studies, the percentage of “right to wrong” changes is 20%, whereas the percentage of “wrong to right” changes is 58%, nearly triple. 

Changing from “right to wrong” may be more painful and memorable (Von Restorff effect), but it is probably a good idea to change an answer after additional reflection indicates that a better choice could be made.

MYTH 3: If you’ve got absolutely no clue which answer to go for, always go with B (or A, or C).

There is no evidence whatsoever to support the fact that any one answer option will statistically be more likely to be right than the others. None.

If you’re stuck, always check to see if you can eliminate any of the distractors. Quite often even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the particular topic, you still can eliminate one of the questions (either by logic or knowledge about another topic), thus increasing your likelihood of being right to 50% instead of 33%.

Other mistakes to avoid include:

  • Choosing an answer which material seems vaguely familiar to you
  • Choosing the longest answer

If you’ve got more myths to contribute, or would like to ask a follow up question, just comment below! Meanwhile you may be interested in these other articles:

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


5 thoughts on “How to Answer CFA Exam Questions: Debunking Common MCQ Myths”

    • Hi Romain That’s right – the titles show the myth, which is not the thing you should be doing. I’ve amended the titles to make this clearer – thanks for pointing it out!

  1. Another myth is that I thought the choice of 3 answers would be easier than the usual 4 answers! I left practice questions quite late, a rude awakening indeed when I discovered that they’re really hard! The questions are also quite error-free compared to other exams.

    • Omg totally right about the 3 answer thing. I thought it would be much easier but the CFAI qbank is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.


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