How You Should Be Using Practice Exams to Maximize Your CFA® Exam Performance

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By Christine

Approaching the exam, many candidates are deciding whether to do more practice exams, or hit the study notes again.

Finishing and assessing the first practice exam can be pretty daunting (see #4 and #6 here). Some candidates can be put off by a monumentally bad score. You might also consider hitting the notes again before attempting the practice exams again.

So what should you be doing as the exam day approaches?

We’ve previously mentioned that practice exams are one of the best things you can do for your prep. The more you do, the better, and the best thing to be doing as the exam approaches, is practice, practice, practice.

Here’s why and how you should be approaching practice exams as the actual day draws near.

Tips on Using Practice Exams to Maximize Your CFA Exam Performance

Use them to identify and focus on key topics. In the last few weeks, you may not have enough time to complete a full round of studying again. Practice exams help you weight your attention accordingly, making sure that you get enough exposure and practice in the topics that matter.

Get in a lot of trial runs. Practice exams are as close to the real thing as you can get. You get familiar with the timing (very important for Level I), format, tone and type of questions you’ll be up against in the actual day. I can’t tell you enough how valuable getting used to the format and type of questions are. It’s always a rude shock when you try out a practice exam for the first time (see pet peeve #6 here), and you sure as heck don’t want your first time to be the exams itself.

Punctuate your practice exams with targeted reviews. As you go through the answers, have the study notes handy so that you can look up the few pages that cover concepts that look unfamiliar to you. Many practice exams nowadays even reference the exact pages in your study notes you should be referring to.

If you run out of practice exams, look for some discounts at our Offers page, or you can try doing them again. We’ve previously recommended doing at least 6-7 practice exams. If you need more practice exams than what you’ve currently got, you can either get some more (here’s some deals for 300 Hours readers), or you can redo the practice exams. You’ll be surprised how much you help your understanding even if you’re doing the same practice exam again, and it also can help your self-confidence as the exam approaches.

Don’t ‘save the best one’ until just before the exams. Practice exams are used to focus your studying, and help you assess your current performance. Many candidates have this habit of saving the ‘best one’ for last – usually meaning an untouched practice exam to be taken in proper timed conditions, a day or two before the actual exam. This always occurred to me to be a bit of an ineffective idea, for 2 main reasons:

  1. No time to act on bad results. Timed and strictly-marked exams are designed to assess your performance. Assessing your performance early in the process is more useful, as you can act on it (e.g. study harder if your grades are not up to scratch). If it’s just a day or two before the exam, there’s not a damn thing you can do – except a lot of panicking, probably. So a strict assessment is quite useless as you don’t have enough time to react.
  2. You should be building your self-confidence as the exam approaches. You should always stack the deck so that you enter the exam hall full of drive, enthusiasm and confidence. It’s a similar approach to how boxing coaches would set up their boxers with weak fighters during a buildup to a really big match, giving their boxers the confidence they need. Saving a new (i.e. unknown) practice exam until the last minute throws a wild card into the mix unnecessarily.

Want free practice tests and mock exams?

Remember if you need more practice exams, you should check for any active discounts or freebies in our Offers section, which is always updated. You can also get more practice by claiming your free 300 Hours Practice Tests, and get on our leaderboards!

How are you doing on your practice exams and studying? Share your experience with us here! 


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