8 CFA Exam Failure Signs that You Should Watch Out For

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If you’re studying for the CFA exam, how do you know if you’re doing OK? 

How do you know you’re not on the path to possibly failing?

Brrrgh.

8 CFA Exam Failure Signs that You Should Watch Out For 1

Sure, some will say as long as you’re regularly putting in study time, you should be fine. But sometimes it’s helpful to have a quick check to see if you’re on track.

If any of these following 8 warning signs apply to your situation, it might be worth having a second look at your study plan.


1) “I haven’t finished my LOS readings or study notes.”

CFA last week prep tips and to do lists

It is very important to try and finish your LOS readings or study notes on time, so that you have enough time to concentrate on practicing for the actual exam.

If you are behind your study schedule and are struggling to finish your readings in time, double your efforts. Work towards a ragged finish if you have to, but don’t be tempted to skip topics (also see later in this article) – it is not likely to work out well for you.

If you need more help, we’ve written a guide on how to finish your study notes on time.


2) ​”I haven’t completed any practice exams.”

8 CFA Exam Failure Signs that You Should Watch Out For 2

Practice exams are important. They prepare you for the actual exam day from multiple angles, and our research shows that successful CFA candidates complete 4-6 practice exams by exam time.

You should definitely plan to complete at least a few practice exams. If you need to find some, don’t forget that you can get the best available deals in our Offers section.


3) “I’m assuming that Ethics is a no-brainer and not bother with it.”

cfa ethics

Apart from showing up at the wrong place for the CFA exam, not a bigger mistake could be made in the CFA exams than underestimating Ethical & Professional Standards.

Some candidates new to the CFA exams may think that Ethics questions are similar to ‘do-the-right-thing’ questions they’ve had back in school. They’re not.

Ethics questions (and their correct answers) can be ambiguous, counter-intuitive, and difficult to discern unless you have studied the Ethics topic area thoroughly. 

And it’s not only that Ethics can be challenging – it’s a significant portion of the CFA exam, and also could be more significant than other topic areas because of something called the ethics adjustment, which basically means that if you’re on the borderline of passing or failing your CFA exams, the CFA Institute could use your performance in Ethics to be the tie-breaker.

If you need more guidance on Ethics, check out our top 10 tips to nail CFA Ethics (for all 3 levels).


4) “I’m just going to throw this annoying topic and hope it doesn’t get tested on exam day.”

8 CFA Exam Failure Signs that You Should Watch Out For 3

Anything in the CFA curriculum can be tested. Anything.

In our opinion, there are no ‘safe’ topics to be skipped. As anything can be tested, you are taking a risk every time you decide to skip a topic.

And if you are a Level 2 or Level 3 candidate, the risk is even higher, as you could end up with a whole item-set question being based on just one topic that you happened to skip over.

Cover the basics of every topic area at the very least. You’re rolling the dice when you skip topics.


5) “I’ll study next week/month – I’ve still got loads of time.”

8 CFA Exam Failure Signs that You Should Watch Out For 4

Usually most candidates start studying about 5-6 months prior to the actual exam, with some candidates starting even earlier.

If you find yourself postponing the start date beyond that, drop everything and start now. Starting is the hardest – once you get going you’ll quickly find your routine and settle in.

As a rule, you should always start studying consistently around 6 months before your CFA exam day.


6) “I’ll take a little bit more time on this topic. Although I’m more or less done, I find it really interesting, and/or I want to really get it perfect.”

CFA exam day schedule computer based exam CBT

Wanting to learn more is a noble thing.

Far be it from us to tell you to stop learning – all we say to that is to keep the main objective in mind, which is to pass the upcoming CFA exam.

Additional knowledge is always a good thing, but if it’s not included in the CFA exam syllabus, perhaps keep it for after the exam and focus on the next topic area.

Keeping to the study schedule is tough enough – resist getting overly engaged in parts of the curriculum.

Time management is a key part of your success to the exam, it’s a good time to practice that!


7) “I’ll just study a little here and there whenever I can. I don’t really need a study plan – they’re too rigid!”

8 CFA Exam Failure Signs that You Should Watch Out For 5

Studying for the CFA exams is far from a small commitment. Candidates need a lot of discipline to get through the voluminous curriculum, and ‘winging it’ is not going to do.

Despite how well you may have done in studies and exams in the past, you most likely need to, at the very least, have a rough study schedule. This can be a simple rule of thumb (such as ‘X topic areas per month’) or an advanced adaptive planner. But making it up as you go along would not be a good idea.

If you’re keen to have a more comprehensive study planner, check out our upgraded, customizable and effective CFA study planner – it’s free to use!


8) “I’ve not considered whether I’ll be able to finish the exam on time.”

CFA Fast Track plan to pass CFA exams in the fastest way

Not having enough time to finish the exam is a lot more common to CFA candidates than you think.

In the CFA Level 1 exam, candidates only get an average of 90 seconds per question (assuming no checks or reviews).

In the Level 2 and 3 exams, candidates get more time, but the vignettes that accompany the item-set questions can span multiple pages and take a long time to read and comprehend.

Training yourself to complete the exam on time is key to doing well in the CFA exam – another reason why practice exams are so important. Make sure you get a sense of how much time you’ll need, and if you need to work on your speed, we’ve got a guide to help you with that.


We hope none of these situations apply to you, but if they do, it’s not too late!

Meanwhile here are related articles that may be of interest:

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