Got Really Low Scores on a Practice CFA® Exam? Don’t Panic, Here’s How You Can Improve

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By Christine

We’ve written again and again that practice exams are the best things for you if you’re serious about passing your CFA exams. 

But as we’ve mentioned in point #6 in Things We Love to Hate about the CFA Exams, there is a truly unique sense of panic and depression when you’ve graded your first practice exam, probably with a sense of hopeful optimism.

If you’re anything like the rest of us, the score probably wasn’t great.

This is a common point in time where candidates may:

  • Completely lose their heads and freak out
  • Get depressed and ruin the rest of their day
  • Or worse, just give up instead of giving the exam their best shot

Here are four reasons why that low score is not important, and what you should be doing.

1. Everyone scores low at the start. Don’t panic.

It’s like the Jump program in the Matrix. Everybody falls the first time. Even The One.

It’s not at all a reason to panic if you’ve scored an undesirable score in a practice exam. Especially an early one. If you lose your head, you’ve lost the exam. You can’t reasonably expect to start acing it the first few times you take practice exams. 

Do not focus on the low grade, and do not panic.


2. Make sure you learn from every exam.

The first thing you should do about a bad score is to not give a toss about the actual score. The second most important thing is to start learning from where and what you went wrong.

Isolate the questions where you had wrong answers, and answers where you weren’t sure of (but may have gotten right anyway). Categorize them into (1) careless mistakes, (2) misunderstanding the question or (3) not knowing the material enough. Categories 1 and 2 are easy enough to rectify with practice and diligence. But from category 3, make sure you identify the topics you know you’re weak in, and spend the next few days honing in on these topics. 

Make sure you understand the underlying material for you to properly answer the questions you got wrong.


3. Don’t worry about being perfectly prepared – start practice exams early.

In Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to investors when Facebook went public, he cited a Facebook mantra in shipping products: move fast and break things. To stay ahead in the fast-moving tech sector, if you aren’t moving fast enough to break things, chances are you aren’t moving fast enough.

“Moving fast” in the CFA exam sense is simple – get to practice exams fast. The faster you get cracking on practice exams, the more time you have to iron out your trouble areas and get used to the exam format. This of course doesn’t mean that you should dive straight into practice exams before any revision!

“Breaking things” translates to the topic of this post – getting less-than-desired scores, failing. The inevitable downside of jumping into practice exams early is that you would definitely perform less than optimally. But that is no reason to hold of your practice exams – do not be afraid of getting a low grade. 

Jump in, fail fast and iterate. That is how you kill the exam.


4. There may be a factor for your low scores that’s easily correctable.

Besides knowledge about the CFA exam curriculum, there are a host of other equally important factors that you’ll have to practice in order to start spanking that exam. These include:

Understand the peripheral factors that will influence exam performance besides the CFA exam material, and practice the crap out of them.


How have your first-time practice exam experiences been? Share them with us in the comments below!
Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

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1 thought on “Got Really Low Scores on a Practice CFA® Exam? Don’t Panic, Here’s How You Can Improve”

  1. I’ve read this article a couple times now, got a 46% on my first mock, I did feel for a bit that I had just wasted the last 6 months of my life studying for an exam it looks like I was going to fail. Its nice knowing everyone ends up here at some point, and I took your advice, completely went through every single concept and question i didn’t get and understood it and re-did it, once you’ve hit bottom the only way is up!

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