Our regular readers would have heard us banging on about this at some point: mock or practice exams are paramount to CFA exam success.
But as you attempt your first CFA practice exam, and your next, you may look at your graded scores and think: what the hell? How am I going to improve this to the required level?
Although it doesn’t seem like it right now, but improvement will come fast. You just need to keep at it, and stick to a few important rules when attempting your practice exams. Here are 10 crucial dos and don’ts, tried and tested by our charterholder team and readers on how to improve your practice exam score as you build up to the all-important CFA exam.
It is very normal for a first attempted practice exam to have a low score. You’re still getting used to the exam format and struggling a little to remember the earlier topics – don’t worry about it. A low score is normal: move on to improving your score.
2. DO review the given model answers
Every practice exam you attempt should have model answers. Don’t just grade them and move on. Have a look at the model answers: for questions that you got wrong, understand where you made your mistake. Also read model answers for questions you weren’t too sure about – you often find some questions you got right, but didn’t necessarily mean you mastered the material!
3. DO read up questions you got wrong, or are unsure about
If there are questions around a topic that you clearly need to read up more about, reach out for your study notes! For example, if you realise that often have difficulty with bond pricing questions, take some time to read up about the section through. Focused, fast reviewing of topics is the key here: quickly review, because you need to be moving on to the next practice exam.
4. DO read the damn question
A large majority of mistakes made in the CFA exam (and practice exams) are due to misreading or misunderstanding of the question. Pressed for time, candidates can sometimes make this same mistake: reading halfway through the question, thinking “yeah, I got this, I know what this question is about and the answer is C!” only to realise that the question said LEAST ACCURATE, not MOST ACCURATE, or something equally obvious.
Read the question. Please?
5. DON’T get distracted from completing
Some candidates attempt a practice exam halfway, then decide to stop to review a particular topic. Do not do this. It’s much more important to make sure you get the experience of completing the exam. Finish the practice exam, then do the post-mortem and review if you have to. But approaching the exam, completing more and more practice exams is always the right thing to be doing. Don’t push it aside for something else.
6. DO stick to exam timing
One of the main aspects why practice exams are so important is that it gives you a sense check on whether you need to work on your answering speed. With as little as 90 seconds per question in Level I, do check to see if timing would be an issue for you during the exam.
Related to answering speed, don’t get stuck on questions you have a bit of difficulty with. Learn to skip over questions you know you might take a bit more time on, or even questions you just developed a mental block with. Mark them out clearly, skip over them calmly, and get back to them later. You’ll find that you’ll cut down your exam time drastically.
8. DO make use of CFA Institute mock exams
The CFA Institute provides each candidate with one free full mock exam for each level, which is downloadable from their website. Make sure you take the time early in your practice exam sessions to do this! The CFA Institute mock is the closest you get to the actual exam in terms of difficulty and tone, so it is a very useful tool to calibrate your practice.
9. DON’T make your exam ‘open-book’
The actual CFA exam isn’t open-book. So when you’re practicing for it, stick to the same rules. Practice at answering the questions without help: there’ll be plenty of time for review and learning up later. You’ll also retain the information better, as your mind focuses more on the question when it doesn’t have a safety net (i.e. “I can just open a book and get the answer!”) to fall back on.
Of course, if you’re really rushing to finish the pile of practice exams you enthusiastically bought five months earlier and need to speed up, there are open-book methods that you can use.
10. DO keep attempting more practice exams! Here are some free ones and discounts for even more.
You should be aiming to start practice exams a month before the actual exam, and continue attempting more and more. Practice exams take more time to check and review than you think, so you might find that your budgeted time might not be enough for your planned number of practice exams. If you run out, you can always get more from providers (check our Offers section), redo your earlier practice exams, and remember to claim your free practice test from us and get on our leaderboards:
It really is getting to crunch time now, so double your efforts, with the promise that it’ll be over soon! If you have any questions, always remember you can get a quick answer at the Forum, and we’ll all be behind you every step of the way!