3 Reasons Why Practice Exams Are Crucial to Passing the CFA Exams

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By Zee

How important are practice exams to the CFA program?

We ran a poll asking first-time CFA candidates how many practice or mock exams that they were aiming to complete when prepping for their respective CFA exams, and below is a pie chart representing the breakdown to the responses to the poll.

Looking at the chart, almost half of respondents are targeting 4 exams or less for their CFA preparations.

This is simply not enough practice to ensure a pass.

Here is a list of the number of mock or practice exams Christine took in each year of CFA exam process – she amazingly has all her books so we could properly verify her recollection as well. 

  • Level I (passed): 6 exams (5 Schweser, 1 CFAI mock exam)
  • Level II (failed): 3 exams (3 Schweser)
  • Level II (passed): 6 exams (6 Schweser)
  • Level III (passed): 7 exams (6 Schweser, 1 CFAI mock exam)

Christine attempted a slightly-higher-than average number when anecdotally comparing among the team. But compared to some of the more enthusiastic candidates, 6-7 exams may not even be considered a lot. Many of our longer-term readers have targeted more than 10 exams. Although we’re not saying everyone should get through at least 10 practice exams, I can’t emphasise enough how important they are are to passing.

Here’s why:

#1 – They teach you which are the key topics

Practice exams, be it from CFA Institute or a third party prep provider, will be weighted with the similar topic weightings as stated by CFA Institute. By working your way through practice exams your mind automatically gets taught what topics are important. This will come in handy as you review topics – as you encounter key topics you will remember ‘ah, I came across something similar in Practice Exam B, better pay more attention to this’.

#2 – They give you an idea of the exam structure

Looking back on Level I, I was extremely lucky to have passed Level I the first time. I had absolutely no idea what the exam format was a mere 3-4 weeks before my exam. I didn’t bother even thinking about it. 

As a result, the importance of answering questions speedily (Level I gives you 1.5 minutes to read and answer each question on average) was lost on me until the very end. What probably saved me was that I was a natural time-worrier to begin with. I tend to rush through questions in any case, and so I was naturally better-prepared for Level I.

Doing a practice exam (or even better, a fully timed and marked practice exam) early on obviously alerts you to all these kinds of niggles that you may have overlooked. Timing, exam formats, wording style, question types – you get a feel for all of this when you hammer out practice exams.

#3 – They help you retain concepts that you’ve studied

Reading through the study notes is obviously important – it introduces you to new concepts, formulae and calculation methods from each chapter. But going through practice exams is what drives it fully home into your brain. Due to the amount of material in each CFA level, there is also a tendency for candidates to forget earlier chapters they’ve read. Practice exams brings it back as it tests the entire curriculum at once.

You can read all about riding a bicycle, or how to swim from textbooks all you want. But in the end, you need a certain amount of practice to get used to the feel of how the real thing is.

By simply aiming to complete more practice or mock exams, you can massively improve your passing chances. Don’t pass this up – try and get through as many as your prep time will allow.

You can check out our practice/mock exam guide here if you’re looking for the best recommendations and deals. What’s your own practice exam plan? Share your story with other readers in the comments!


9 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why Practice Exams Are Crucial to Passing the CFA Exams”

  1. Appreciate the post and the comments.I am writing this December 2019 and spending all of November doing Mock exams / practice questions and end of chapter questions.planning on doing at least 10 mock exams and about 2000 practice questions.not taking any chances

  2. Personally, I think taking practice exams, at LEAST 6, will be the most productive method to help a candidate pass. Knowing the material is one thing but getting the correct answer is what will pass the exam.

  3. I’m currently studying with Elan and am planning on taking 7 mocks (3 Elan, 3 Schweser, 1 CFAI) – any recommendations on the order in which I should take them and how spaced apart they should be (1 or 2 per week, etc)?

    • I would take the CFAI test early (maybe 6 weeks before, recommend at your own pace and open book) to get a feel of how a CFAI exam is like, then proceed with Elan/Schweser (no particular order). I would then retake the CFAI near the end to cap off the prep. Leave most of your practice exams to the end – 2 per week is a good pace. If you run out of practice exams you can always purchase more, or redo them (you’d be surprised by how redoable they are after you’ve had a week or so to forget the questions). Good luck!

      • Very true, the questions are very reoable, I took around 7 exams for level 1 plus 3-4 thousand extra questions and I passed on my first attemp, for level 2 I’m focusing even more on questions, planing to use the last 4 moths only for exams and questions.

  4. Hi Matty J That’s a great idea – thanks for that! Will definitely add that to the Dec Level I analysis. 9.5 exams is some pretty serious prep!

  5. We had a similar discussion recently on AnalystForum, where there is an underlying theme of ‘I failed band 6, I don’t know why, I read for 300 hours and did 1 practice exam’. At a glance, the biggest difference between passing/failing seems to be the number of practice exams people took, so the importance of these cannot be underestimated. I personally took 9.5 for the recent L2 exam (6 Schweser, 2.5 CFAI, and 1 7city invigilated mock) and I was still intending to purchase some more had I not run out of time. Perhaps next year it would be interesting to add the question into your analysis tool, so that you could plot pass rate vs practice exams taken?


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