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Dealing with Failure

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CFA Exam Prep

The CFA® exam is no ordinary exam, so the high failure rates generally mean that there is significantly more disappointment than the average qualification. Also, CFA candidates tend to be overachievers—i.e. not used to failing. I had my own bittersweet experience in this once in Level II.

Here are the steps you should take if you didn't manage a pass this time around:

Feel sorry for yourself for a while. It's normal and allowed, and you should go through this phase. You've put a lot of effort into this, so it would be absurd if you weren't disappointed. Allow yourself a week or so to mope.

Pick yourself up, and realize that in the grand scheme of things this is just a blip in your path to success. A useful trick I've learned is: think of yourself 10 years ago. What crisis were you going through at that age that made it seem like the world was ending? Chances are your "crisis" 10 years ago seems very silly to you today. That's how you'll look back on today 10 years from now; so really, it's not a big deal.

CFA Prep Discount

In telling your friends, family, and colleagues, the best way to approach it is straight up, frankly, and without shame. No one is going to belittle you or judge you any worse for not managing to pass one of the toughest professional qualifications there is. This time. Try not to brush it off as a small thing, or like you didn't care—normally it has the opposite effect to outside observers. Elicit respect.

Analyze your results. Look at your results and see which Band were you in—Band 10 would mean you were closest to passing. Also remember that you can calculate a detailed breakdown to see how close you were to passing. Knowing how close you were is important in deciding how/when/if you want to retake.

Properly decide if you're going to continue or give up. Personally, when I failed, I got raving mad and decided I wouldn't rest until I wholesomely beat this CFA level. In one of my weekly polls, an overwhelming majority of you voted that you would retake immediately, so I'm guessing you would lean towards this too. The good news is that if you register and retake immediately, revising again is going to be much easier than the previous time, so your chances are greatly improved!

If you have not passed this time around, don't beat yourself up too much. It happens to most of us, it's just that some of us prefer to pretend it didn't.

–300 Hours

This article was reposted with permission from 300 Hours, a site dedicated to CFA candidates and charterholders.

As an impartial, nonprofit forum for the finance and banking industries NYSSA encourages discussion and debate among its member and other professionals. Commentaries, however, should be taken as the sole opinion of the author(s) and not of NYSSA. If you would like to submit a commentary to the Finance Professional's Post, send your article to the editor.

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I liked the CFA program so much that I stayed in it for six year, not three! I passed L1 on the first try, failed L2, passed L2, failed L3, took a year off, and passed L3 following a threat from my wife that it would be the last time I would be forgoing what should have been our spring holidays. Like most people, I'd intended on passing all three levels neatly in three years' time. I didn't, but I wanted the charter badly enough to keep coming back. I attribute my failures primarily to one factor: not sticking rigorously to a study schedule. Once you fall behind, it's hard to make the time up. Deciding whether to pack it in or keep trying can be a tough decision given the time and cost involved. But for anyone who truly wants the charter, sticking to it will pay off - even if it takes a few tries.

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