Why some good candidates fail or this post could save me 9 years if I read it in 2005

My nick here is CFAilure and there is some good reason for it:

L1 2005 - fail

L1 2006 - pass

L2 2007 - fail

L2 2008 - fail

L2 2009 - fail

L2 2010 - fail

L2 2011 - fail

L2 2012 - never happened, studied two years for the next attempt

L3 2013 - fail

L2 2014 - pass

L3 2015 - fail

L3 2016 - never happened, studied two years for the next attempt

L3 2017 - pass

I know what is feels getting bad news several years a row. You are totally alone in the universe. You know that you failed and you saw your matrix. But you also studied your soul off, you put enormous amount of time and effort. What is to be done? Switch prep provider? Put 20% more hours the next year? 50% more? Skip the next year and get a rest? Maybe to drop off the CFA Program?

The problem is aggravated by your emotional state. For most cases you have some kind of selective memory that time: it seems to you that you failed the exam because problems with your self discipline and you really knew you are hitting the wall. Hindsite Bias, you know.

If you come to AF for study advice, you will get one, but people will send you to opposite directions: Curriculum only vs Prep Only, videos vs notes. And… and what if it is your 7th attempt and you have already tried it all and still keep failing?

I have some theory why good candidates fail. Don’t get me wrong! I do not hint that I was that ‘good candidate’ who deserved the Charter years before. No. For me, a good candidate is one who:

  • perfectly understands the material
  • remembers it
  • could apply it in exam and real life

In order to became such a good candidate I used to follow some algorithm, like:

  1. Read the book
  2. Made all the EOC questions
  3. Continue to next reading
  4. Review
  5. Make some mocks during the last week before the exam

If you follow it as I used to you will come to the exam day filled with all that theoretical knowledge. And after the proctor’s command you break the seal. And you read the question. And you recall something. And you grab your pencil in order to recall how to do it and after working with draft for 4 minutes you succeed! And there is another questions you need to work on a minute more in order to connect the nodes in your memory. And another… You find yourself guessing for, say, 20 questions and you are done.

Some will call it a ‘time management issue’, but it is not. You cannot manage your time more wisely. You just put all your heart in - and failed.

The problem with ‘good candidate’ approach is that is time-consuming: both on the exam day and during your preparation. In order to be able to shot the right answer on the exam as quick as possible you need to revisit the material and practice-practice-prectice. If you could study full time that the ‘good candidate’ path will work for you, but most of us still work during the day, we have relations and some of us have kids - most of us end up in the state when we are half-baked, we understand the material but cannot recall 100% of it right now right here.

The solution I found to myself was to ‘go bad’. It works that way:

  1. It does not matter if you remember something from your past attempt(s) or previous Level. DO NOT READ the material at all.
  2. Instead, take a Q-Bank (I mean any Q-Bank, not of specific provider) and make a quiz with all the questions on the Reading you did not read.
  3. Do not count for time. Grade as you go. Read the right answer immediately you answered.
  4. Make it in smallest pieces of time: 3 questions on you commute here, a question in the line on lunch break there, I used to make questions while waiting for kids on playground.
  5. You will see that some questions are testing the same area so before you will hit the book you will learn something from your answers.
  6. Than look on you result. Mine was about 25-30 on average.
  7. Than you hit the books. But believe me, that will be another kind of reading. Same text, but anther version of you: you will remember where you failed on quiz so i is not just boring Reading, it’s exactly where you failed and could be failing on the Exam Day.
  8. Retake the Test. You will typically see you scores comes to 60.
  9. Wait for two weeks (while you are working on anther Reading) and retake it again.
  10. And again.
  11. And again
  12. And several readings combined.
  13. And add the time constraints from the 4th quiz on
  14. And repeat

What is your gain?

  • You can put in lots more time. You do not need to sit in a meeting room or in a library. Even 5 minutes in the restroom could advance you for one question from Q-Bank.
  • You will not need to read the Curriculum twice or three times in order to memorize it. You basically shift your time from reading to practicing. My notes show that I read all the Reading on average 1.5 times: once you read it and revisit it when you do not understand explanation from quiz (on 2nd attempt on).

Now, there is another issue. Remember the hindsite bias? You need to log your time in a spreadsheet. And records like ‘from 5 pm to 7 pm’ worth nothing. Since you will for most use some smallest pieces of time. I used a time tracker to take all the real activity, even it lasted 3 minutes. All those minutes sum up, as well as all the breaks during study sessions. So when you have a toilet break or your boss called and you had to answer the call - stop the tracker.

AM. I think that the main input here is ‘less is more’. I thought of a grader who reads answers for the same question. I thought that the shortest answers are perfect: it is easier to grade them. But I cannot make some solid ‘tip’ here. Just when you made 3000 questions you will find that 2-3 words for the answer on AM. It really has nothing to do with English and almost nothing to do with handwrting. Two-three-five words. Another strategy was breaking writing immediately I reached the ‘value’ of question, like if a question is for 25 minutes no way you keep writing on minute 27.

That is all I can tell you. Unfortunately, I did not know that in 2005, so at last you could read and try it in 2017.


My journey is not over, btw. I think, it’s been starting now.

Believe in yourself and keep looking for the study routing that will work for you.

If CFAilure could, you can do it too.

Take care! :slight_smile:

Hi bro, are you the Ukrainian guy? I remember you when you passed Level 2, a lot of relief than. Respect! Glad for your succsess! I put a lot of efforts similar to you, even though in much shorter journey. I am not the best person to coach beginners/failures. If I had finished the program in 18 months I would be. My short advice is just PRACTICE! Practice! Over and over again. More over for experienced failures. That is my simple formula. Thanks for listening.

Cool story. Particularly like how you sat for L3 before passing L2.


That’s a great idea to do EOC before doing the reading! Awesome!

Honestly that is not a good strategy…

My advice: read the curriculum or third party study guides once and start the questions afterwards. You then see what you have already in your head and what not. Then read again those topics where you lose points until you really understand it.

Worked for me for all three levels

I have huge respect for you CFAilure–much more than those passed it in 18months. Key take away from your experience is its all about practice, the more you practice the more muscle memory you create/retain. I don’t think anyone can pass L3 just by reading.

TLDR - Lol oh man is this a for real…

congrats man

I think your perseverance is a good example and to be admired, but taking tips from someone who did not pass 8 times is not the best idea.


CFAilure, you had a lot of past failures, not because you are not strong. It’s just because your username.

I wish I met you ten year ago to tell you this truth. :frowning_face:

#CFAilure, I salute you!!!

thats intense… I went 3 for 7

I did all of the above using only CFAI materials including the website. Flunked L3 twice and not sure if i want a 3rd punishment. I was planning to book my vacation the night the results came out and didnt - i havent had a vacation for 5 yrs aside from public holidays. The 2017 exam was easy, read all the pitfalls of essay on youtube/AF/articles after my first fail but they gave me a band 9 anyway.

The one thing i didnt do is pay for an exam prep - they cost as much as the exam itself. The amount is huge for a 3rd world salary.

Here is what i did to study over the course of 8 months for the last fail:

  1. Curriculum, EOC questions and 30 loose leaf pages of notes. Was honest with myself and didnt rote what i couldnt understand. This took 5.5 months.

  2. CFAI website question bank for PM. Was honest with myself, gutted out all guesses and repeated once(the repeat is pretty useless since they only randomly switch the A/B/C choices).

  3. Did 8 years of mock for AM with careful emphasis how answers are written. Both notes #2 and #3 are 15 pages.

I had 10 minutes to spare for AM and more than 15 minutes(before the last notice) for PM to double-check for careless mistakes. I remember being excited the final 5 minutes of PM confident of a pass and had flashes of sandy beaches. I had done everything right - no missing tickets, calmed myself down and even squeezed in a few hours of sleep(remember to sleep folks, helps a lot with recall). Still they gave me a 9, the usual ace the pm flunk the am with 6 below 50 for essay.

I suspect it’s how essay answers are written and, while some manage to figure it out, most couldnt cross without paying former exam graders for guidance. If i decided to punish myself again, im definitely coughing up the money.