Failed the AM session badly

After passing L1 and L2 in dec and june respectively i was fairly confident that i will pass L3 with around 320-350 hours of study time. I have a habit of maintaining a timesheet for the hours that i clock , for L1 i did 240 and for L2 i clocked 315 and i passed the exams in flying colors, for L3 my study time was around ~350 hours. I have never given a mock exam for any level, i only practice questions from schewzer and the course books provided by the CFA institute. My result in the AM exam was around 30% to 35% mark and in behavioral finance it was even less than the 10th percentile mark, the major topics covered in the AM exam i have scored less than 50% in them. The PM exam result was a hairline above the 70% so around 70-74% i am assuming. I am stunned to see my result, not because i failed, however because i feel that my self assessment is really bad. I am not able to figure out what mistakes i have done. I wrote my answers in bullets. I feel i didnt practice enough for the AM session. Now i am in a dilemma if i should really go for another attempt :frowning: as i am not able to assess my mistakes.

I think you already know what you did wrong; namely, you didn’t really attempt any mock exams. It’s pretty impressive to be honest that you got through Levels 1 and 2 without really needing to. But the AM section for Level 3 is very different from the multiple choice sections of every other exam. Doing a bunch of those under timed conditions is crucial. It teaches you how to answer questions in a manner that will make CFAI happy.

Since you’re so close and since you already know what you need to work on, I’d think the obvious answer would be to try again and make those adjustments.

Best of luck either way!

Hi Maanoj,

This was my first attempt at Level III and I scored high in the 90th percentile for the whole exam and well above 70% correct for AM and PM (I learnt my lesson failing Level II). I don’t think this exam is beyond anyone capable of passing Level II, provided you put in the hours. My advice to you is:

Start on September 1. Read the CFAI books cover to cover and make notes for revision as you go. I didn’t bother with hardcopy Schweser, but I did find the Schweser eBook’s search function useful for quickly pulling up topics I was struggling with.

Watch the online Schweser video lectures each week. Read ahead of the lectures. They are good for revision (occasionally for learning something new) and they keep you on track as you work through the readings. I also attended a weekly three-hour lecture put on by my local CFA Society. Watch Schweser On Demand videos for your weaker subjects. I would often listen to on-demand lectures when I was driving around in the car, much to my wife’s annoyance.

Do the practice questions from the CFA website as you go along. Ideally from a topic you studied a few weeks earlier to refresh. Don’t wait until the end! It’s a good break from reading and helps avoid the panic of discovering you don’t properly understand a topic near the end when you should be focusing on mocks. Forget QBank - waste of time.

Revise as you go - reread your own notes, watch lectures, do practice questions - you won’t remember something you read in November next June without keeping it refreshed.

Finish reading and making notes six weeks before exam day. I started doing mocks at Easter and devoted the last six weeks primarily to mock exam practice.

Mock mock mock. I did more than 20 past papers - the ones I scored poorly on I did twice. 2007 to 2017, six schweser mocks, Boston Exam (which was v poor IMO), one put on by my local CFA Society. Aim to score 75%+ in these. Below 68% is a bad result.

Once you’ve had a go at a few AM papers to get the feel, do the rest timed. Before starting each question I would look at the time allotted and calculate (using my calculator as I don’t trust my mental arithmetic under pressure) what time I needed to be done by. Eg it’s now 9:43, this is a 23 minute question, so I write 10:06 at the top of the question sheet. I didn’t stick to it religiously, but I was very aware if more than two Q had gone a bit over. If I did the next in 2/3 the allotted time I’d relax a bit. Just focus on doing each question in roughly its allotted time. Some will be over, some will be under. Once you’ve done a few you’ll get a feel for the pace and you’ll know if you’re on track. On exam day I answered every question in the AM and finished with five minutes to spare.

Develop and drill your essay writing skill. How can I convey all the information required as concisely as possible? Schweser has some good videos on essay writing technique. It’s a skill, like kicking a football through a goalpost. Do the same essay question over and over again. You have 10 minutes - read the question, circle key words, work out what you need to do, write the dot-point answer. Go! It took 12 minutes or you missed a crucial point? Do the question again. And again. Same goes for long calculations such as EAR or caplets and floorlets. Write down on a piece of paper how to solve the question step by step and tape it to the wall in your study. Then drill, drill, drill.

Know your strengths and weakness, and accept that 10-15% of exam questions, particularly in AM, will be so difficult/obscure as to be virtually ungettable. You need to recognize these questions on exam day so you can skip them and come back if you have time after you’ve answered everything else. I found these impossible questions often came up early and they can throw you off balance if you’re not expecting them. Think of the exam as one of those Cash Grab Booths on a TV game show. Dollar bills are floating around in a wind tunnel and your job is to grab as many bills in the allotted time as possible. Only try to pick up the bill glued to the floor once you’ve grabbed everything else. Don’t leave easy marks on the table.

This tip might seem a bit OTT, but I printed out a lot of the slides from the lectures and stuck them up on the walls around my study. By exam day, I had had the list detailing what each cognitive bias was staring me in face everyday for the past nine months. It was burned into my brain. Also practice recall. I had lists on my wall that I’d read dozens of times but couldn’t remember exactly until I drilled recalling them, over and over.

Finally, and this for me was key, when you mark your exams or CFA online questions, DON’T just look at the answer and think “oh yeah I get it, I’ll remember that”. You won’t. Or at least you won’t recall it well enough to write a concise essay answer under time pressure in exam conditions. This is the hardest bit and takes the most discipline because you’re exhausted and already have so much else to do. But get a Post-It note and write down whatever the idea or thing was that failed to click in your brain that stopped you getting the question right. Eg: “A pension plan’s liquidity requirement is its net cash outflow (benefits paid minus pension contributions). A higher proportion of active lives lowers the plan’s liquidity requirement because contributions from the sponsor will be higher”. Then stick it to the wall in your study. By exam day my study resembled a scene from the film A Beautiful Mind with hundreds of Post-It notes stuck on top of lecture slides, pages of calculations and formulas and option pay-off diagrams. Did I go insane? Maybe a little bit. But on exam day I felt very well prepared and relaxed. All I had to was turn up and kick the ball straight through the goal posts, just like I’d practiced doing everyday for the past nine months.

Good luck!

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How can you put 350 hours in and not spend any of those hours attempting morning mock exams when it is a new format distinct to level 3 and they release previous years papers? Whilst I am sorry to hear you failed, going into the final exam without any official mock practice is a suicide mission.

You know what you need to correct next year, good luck and I look forward to seeing your pass in August 2019!

Maanoj, past 10 yrs AM real exams are the key, you need to get familiar with CFA language. I recommend using CFA official books rather than notes.

Maanoj, past 10 yrs AM real exams are the key, you need to get familiar with CFA language. I recommend using CFA official books rather than notes.

Where d’yall get the 10 years worth of past exam papers? I understand CFAI only goes 3 years back?

yeah… can someone answer this? I’d love to get my hands on that many essay questions.

I think I can help with essays. Here’s the link for essays 1999-2016


You didn’t write any mocks yet you’re surprised you failed.

miss me with that

Be careful, some of the early mocks are less relevant as the test subjects have changed. I believe Ethics used to be in the AM exam, but it hasn’t been in the AM section for a long time.

thank you!! This will be a big help. Essays destroyed me for the second time in a row… I know the material, but can’t beat their game…