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Why Mock Exams Are Important

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“Befitting its Greek roots, the marathon unfolds classic drama, carrying equal doses of comedy and tragedy, euphoria and agony.“ Take out the reference to Greece and substitute CFA exam for marathon and this line from Marathon Training Plan & Schedule by Josh Clark sounds like a perfect description for the CFA exam study experience.

 I’ve said it before—studying for this exam is like training for a marathon. To be successful, you must establish a solid study plan that works with your schedule so that you stick with it. It should be designed to cover all the material in a reasonable and timely manner with check-ins along the way to make sure you are on track. One way to chart your progress is by taking full-length practice exams.

 A New Training Tool Available

And as luck would have it, mock exams from CFA Institute for all levels are now available online (candidate login required). These exams are full-length—meaning you need to carve out six hours to take them—and are designed to mimic the real exam in terms of topic weights and difficulty. 

Incorporating Mock Exams into Your Study Plan

CFA Institute suggests you take the mock exam closer to the date of the real exam. This makes sense since by then you would be through the entire curriculum. It appears to be a perfect time to test your retention of the material.

However, because you can take the exam more than once (there is no limit on the number of time you can take it), why wait until May? I suggest you take a stab at a mock exam earlier.


I don’t mean you should start off by taking a full-blown mock exam. Start by taking the topic-based practice tests CFA Institute makes available to assess your strengths and weaknesses in small measures—especially right after you’ve completed a study session. But after you’ve done a number of them, carve out some time and tackle a full-length mock exam. Here’s why:

  • You will learn early what it takes to sit for a 6-hour exam—without food or drink.
  • You force yourself to answer questions from multiple study sessions—a bit harder than focusing on just one session.
  • You establish a baseline score.


Do not worry if you don’t do well on the first mock exam. Your goal is not to ace the first exam, but rather to gain valuable insight into your knowledge base and your stamina (ability to complete the marathon exam) and then use this knowledge to adjust your study plan going forward. 

A Few Suggestions

  • Print out and record your scores for each exam you take so you can chart your progress.  (FYI: Individual scores are not kept in your online exam planner—only averaged scores are maintained.)
  • You must take the exams online but the Level I exam can be print. Levels II and III exams can be printed or you can request a PDF version from CFA Institute. 

–Linda Lam

Linda Lam is the program manager of the CFA Review Program offered by the University of San Francisco.

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