CFA: “What if I fail the exam?”

It’s a common thing that you hear when you spend time with CFA candidates. They worry about what a failure would mean for their life, their career, the perception of others, if they would ever recover, etc. There is no end to this list it seems. In a way, we all understand why they worry… but in another, it does not serve much purpose. Here are the main things that you should remember or that you should tell those who spend too much time worrying about the “What if scenario.”

No Pressure

Doing a difficult exam involves a lot of pressure, no doubt about it. But I would argue that the pressure is much lower than if you were doing almost any other exam. Why? Because those that fail form the majority. It’s easy to think about all of the doom scenarios and forget that most candidates actually do not pass the exam. Less than 50% of level 1 candidates pass the exam and a very small proportion of CFA candidates actually end up finishing the program. That is GOOD NEWS. Why? Because you have less pressure. It’s easy to get caught up worrying but please don’t.

There Is No Point

I know, I know, it’s much easier to say than to do. But so many candidates lose time and energy worrying about all of the “what if” scenarios. Nothing good will come out of it and it could actually hurt your chances. Start by making a solid study plan that you will adjust over time. Then, every time that you sit down to study or do a practice exam, focus on that. Nothing more, nothing less. You can only do your best in all of those individual study sessions. Worrying about the “big picture” will seem overwhelming at best and make you panic at worst.

What Would Happen If I Fail?

I will write one post about this but I think it’s important to remember that failing is far from a disaster. As mentioned above, most candidates fail to finish the program. Among those who do, the majority failed at least one exam. So failing an exam is no cause to panic.

Perception Of Others

I think you must classify those between two groups. Those who know what the CFA is about and those who don’t:

Those who know: Even if they passed every exam on the first trial, I doubt you will find someone who will call the exam “easy” – Even after passing, I think it’s easy to imagine  for anyone involved in the CFA program how things could turn bad.

Those who don’t: Honestly, think about when you meet someone who’s failed a CPA exam or any other non-related exam. There’s no way you can pass judgment since you do not know what the exam is, what it involves, etc.

We All Have Our Own Circumstances

I think it’s critical to remember that passing or failing the CFA is not about being smart or not. Sure, that is part of it… But everything else in our lives has a huge impact as well. Try judging someone who passed or failed the exam. Now think about the fact that this person is working 70 hours per week… or that this person just graduated from school and is studying full time. Think about someone who is taking care of a sick loved one, or who is going through a breakup. The point? We all have different circumstances and those have the biggest impact on passing or failing.

The Lesson

Do not worry about failing the exam because, it’s not worth it. Simply do your best every single day to maximize your chances of passing.


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