“Get back on the horse” is an oft-used expression, usually expressed by those who don’t experience the failure themselves. While it’s nice that other people express their condolences and support when we fail, overcoming this failure and getting back on the proverbial horse is a process that must start within.
Failing the Certified Financial Analyst exam is common—in 2016, the CFA® Institute said that the passing rates were 43%, 46%, and 53% for levels I, II, and III, respectively. So, odds are, you’re going to fail at least one of the levels in your quest to conquer the entire exam. The question is: how will you recover from your CFA® exam failure?
Put the Exam in Perspective
The first thing I would do is to remember that it’s not the end of the world. You’ve likely got a great job, or at least one that pays well, so take some time and think about your future and don’t take things for granted. It’s important to advance your career, but things could be a lot worse!
If you’re happy with your standing in life, but know that passing the CFA® exam will catapult you to the top of the corporate ladder, then saddle up for round two. However, if you really don’t need to take the CFA® test again, and it killed you emotionally, maybe it’s not for you.
Take a look at your life and appreciate the things that you have—if you’ve got a great family, a solid relationship with a significant other, or even just a hobby that keeps you happy and healthy, that’s a great start. Realize that failing wasn’t the end of the world. You can definitely pass the second time around, but think about how you can use your support system (whatever it may be) to help you do so.
Think about the exam and how it fits into your life. Do you need a little more space from friends and family to pass and become a CFA? Are you studying a lot, but maybe your hobby or your social life is taking up more of your time? Try to think about how you can balance all of the moving pieces in your life. If you think you can study effectively without losing any friends, damaging your relationship with your significant other, or killing yourself—literally, be wary of your health—then it’s time to hop back in!
Back to Studying Basics
You’ve decided that you can balance everything, but the test is still SO DAUNTING. With people spending more than 300 hours studying for each level of the test—I may have spent way more time—it makes sense that failing the exam is a devastating outcome. That’s why it’s important to keep your mind on the BASICS. I cannot emphasize this enough; on your studying journey for the CFA® exam, you’ll have one “North Star” in the process: a consistent study schedule.
After you get the news of failure, you should map out your months, weeks, and days down to the hour before you even start studying for the CFA® test again. Think about what you need to do differently the second time around. Did you spend too much time taking practice tests and not enough time learning the material? Or, did you just choose the wrong CFA® review course to begin with?
There’s a lot of things that you can do differently the second time around. This is one of those rare—and it’s not ideal to learn the lesson this way, but still—second chances to do something in life. Use your prior experience to understand what you missed the first time around. Choosing an ineffective review course is a common reason for not passing the first time, so make sure you choose from the top CFA courses before you begin preparation again. Having CFA® study material that aligns with your learning style is critical to your success.
Another solution is to hire a private tutor to help you really understand the topics that you may find challenging. Understanding the key concepts is really important to ensure you will pass your exam and a private tutor is one way to ensure you understand the key concepts on top of giving you the support you need.
And finally, RELAX! It’s a long road to begin with, so what’s another try going to cost you? In 10 years, you’ll look back, count your money and see your current standing, and laugh about this moment in your life. Things will get better, you’ll pass the CFA® exam, and you’ll move on with your life!