Did you fail the CFA Exam? Thousands of people failed with you. It actually makes you part of the majority! The CFA Program is notoriously tough. The exams cover a wide array of topics, yet still expect you to master each of them. As we showed in our article on CFA exam pass rates, this causes most people fail. Given that CFA candidates are often highly ambitious and successful, failing may be a new concept to you.

So how do you deal with failing an exam? Use our 7 steps to come back even stronger.

1) Be frustrated and disappointed. It’s OK.

We get it. You worked hard, are an overachiever and did not deserve this. Maybe you were 99% there and JUST missed it. It’s normal to feel “down and out” for a few hours or days. Let it simmer, throw darts at the CFA Institute, etc

2) Realize that it does NOT matter.

You really must ask yourself, who cares? Not passing the exam is just a blip on your professional journey. It does NOT define your career.

  • Is it rare to fail a CFA Exam? No.
  • Does failing go on your resume? No.
  • Will your score be recorded and publicly visible? No.
  • Do you have to be honest about failing? No. (OK this one is questionable!)

You see the trend here? It does not matter as much as you think it does.

3) Tell your Friends, Family, and Colleagues.

Be frank and honest about it. You failed. We’re talking about one of the toughest professional qualifications out there. Fewer people pass than fail.

If it makes you feel better, you can say that you were 99% there but just had an off day. Maybe you felt a little ill during the day causing you to underperform. Perhaps there were one or two topics that you should have spent more time on.

Whatever you do, don’t brush it off like you don’t care. People know you do because you spent a lot of time on it. Also, your colleagues or boss (if they sponsor it) may take offense if you do. Many employers sponsor these educational activities if employees treat these resources respectfully.

4) Identify your weaknesses. Where did it go wrong?

The CFA’s exam performance review document shows your overall score. Did you just about fail the exam? Or did you completely blow it?

If your score was just below the Minimum Passing Score, but your confidence interval shows an area that also includes the Minimum Passing Score, then you may just be unlucky. Perhaps you got a set of questions that covered your weakest part of the subject matter. Maybe you didn’t sleep enough and made some sloppy calculation or reasoning errors? Perhaps you were 99% there, but you scored poorly on Ethics. We actually covered the importance of Ethics in the CFA in this article.

Whether you just, or definitely failed, check your exam topic results! This is absolutely ESSENTIAL. You need to find out your strengths and weaknesses. It is not uncommon for candidates to score very well on a number of topics, and then very poor on a few others. In a way, this is the “best” way to fail, because you should focus 80% of your time on your weaknesses.

5) Plan for a Retake.

Going through steps 1 through 4 you should have already made up your mind. Are you going to retake the exam? Yes? Good.

Your planning for the retake should be focused on what made you fail last time. Were you weak all-around? You have the toughest job because you are required to start from scratch and increase study and review volume. Don’t just study endlessly. Try to understand WHY you failed. Did you really understand all the concepts fully? Did you spend enough time reviewing and taking practice tests?

If you did very poorly on a few subjects, you have an easier task ahead. Make sure you understand WHY you did so poorly on those topics. Was it a lack of studying, or genuine struggle with the materials? In case you need further help, consider 1-on-1 tutoring or enroll in an online/in-person class.

Join THOUSANDS of successful CFA candidates using our 7 Gold Standard studying tips and tricks. We share some of the best-guarded studying secrets.

6) Turn Failed into Fueled.

Failing sucks. But use it as firewood on your campfire. You failed and now you are going to bounce back. Most successful people have endured failure at some point but came back STRONGER. This is exactly the mindset you should adopt.

Empower yourself:

  • The failed exam is a lost battle, but you will win the WAR and get the charter.
  • You are NOT going through the shame of telling your friends, family, and colleagues again.
  • It’s a show of STRENGTH to lose Round 1, but win the match by KO.
  • You were ALMOST there. Now you just need to tip the odds in your favor.

7) Succeed

You are armed with the experience of knowing exactly what went wrong last time. This time you prepared to the fullest. You will NOT fail. The exam will be all yours.

What Now?

Make sure you follow our guidance: