Why the importance of mocks is overstated

Taking some mocks is no doubt an essential step as you prepare for the CFA exam. In my experience however, the common perception that doing as many mocks as possible improves your chances of success is misleading. In what follows I explain why I believe this is the case.

  • The opportunity cost of doing mocks is too high. To replicate exam conditions most candidates will practice mocks under the 6 hour-time frame with an hour break. This is physically exhausting meaning that you cannot properly review your answers during the same day. In my experience, for an effective review you need to spend almost as much time as you spent on the exam. That pretty much takes your weekend off. Most candidates will start doing mocks a couple of months before the exam when every weekend (especially for those who work full time) is critical and should be mostly spent on your weaker areas. Given that serious candidates should expect to answer 40-50% of a mock exam questions with a high degree of confidence this is clearly time wasted practicing/reviewing areas where you are already comfortable with.
  • Mocks won’t help you identify your weaknesses. There is a common belief that mocks will reveal your weaknesses. That is simply not true in the sense that you will already have a good idea of your weaknesses by doing the practice questions from either the CFAI or any alternative provider. In fact, both CFAI and Kaplan (that I have been using) will give you a break down of your performance per subject area. These are a lot more representative than your mock level score for the simple reason that the sample is much larger. Statistics aside, even by going through the curriculum in the first place you will have a good idea of the areas where your understanding is limited. Do not expect the mock to provide any additional insight. If anything, mock scores can be deceiving. A 50% score on a 6-question vignette on economics does not necessarily mean that you need more work in the area; a 50% score in the CFAI q-bank does.
  • Time management is not critical. Going through forum discussions, most people are under the impression that the 3-hour time frame per exam session is tight and that doing plenty of mocks is a critical part of the exam preparation. This is clearly not the case and serious candidates (those who put in the 300 hours recommended) should expect to comfortably finish the exam with plenty of time to review. CFA exam questions can be tough but are usually straightforward (you either know the answer or not) and involve limited calculations. Surely you can spend more than the 3 minutes recommended trying to come up with the right answer but typically this is because you do not have a good grasp of the subject rather than due to the complexity of the question or the calculations involved. Doing mocks will not improve your speed; knowing the material will.

To sum up, in my experience 2 mocks are more than enough to get a good feel of the exam and confirm your timings. I believe you are better off practicing individual vignettes from the mocks whenever you get the time (allocating 18 minutes to answer + 18 minutes to review), prioritizing the high weight areas and areas where you consistently score below 70%

Thank you for sharing your experience LeoLon.

I like this point that you made “A 50% score on a 6-question vignette on economics does not necessarily mean that you need more work in the area; a 50% score in the CFAI q-bank does.”

I just use mocks as a source of more questions. I don’t see any real difference between them and the CFAI Q-bank other than how some people will recreate exam conditions for mocks.

I went through all 240 questions of the CFAI mocks just like they were any other questions.

I think this is how you really improve: answer as many questions as you can

“I think this is how you really improve: answer as many questions as you can”


I disagree. The questions in mocks tend to have a more generalist aspect to them. Qbank and EOC questions go more in-depth. IMO, nothing beats doing as many mocks as possible. The more of them you do, the more you cover all the areas of the curriculum.

I could go even as far as to say that doing just 1-2 mocks has very little benefits. You need to do at least 4-5 of them to really see where you stand.

The problem with doing only a few mock exams is that there is far too much material in the curriculum to cover in a few mock exams. A candidate taking, for example, two mock exams, might find that those two exams covered only material that he/she knew well, and that a third exam would cover material that he/she didn’t know as well.

The advantage of many exams is the increased probability of covering areas where the candidate needs improvement. However, as with pretty much everything else, there is diminishing marginal benefit for each additional mock exam.

Good input - I know in my previous attempt I didn’t complete enough problems. I did a lot of reading and note taking but not enough problems. I am working on fixing that this time around.

Very true.

Try Level 3 AM without doing mocks. Good luck with that.


well guess what? I did just that and absolutely crushed the exam. Expecting 90% + in all topics just as was the case on level II!

It’s funny how people are always saying things like “oh yes this worked for level 1 but level 2 is a complete different animal blablabla…” I could not agree more with the initial post, mocks are so over rated and I cannot believe how much time most people devote to them. If you have even the slightest experience taking exams (everyone should via their university degree right?) then your time is 100% better spent on covering the curriculum for the 2nd, 3rd or whatever number of times. Every year it’s the same thing, you then have all these people who are complaining the exam was “not representative” or “not fair” because the questions were not the same as in the mock exams hahaha. Well trust me, if you had studied the curriculum inside out, the exam would have been 100% representative!

I also did not do any mock in L3. However did past papers multiple times also not in exam like conditions but topic wise. Having said this, i think i am very lucky to clear in first attempt. I should have done mocks also and in exam like conditions. Completely agree with S2k!

For level 2 I did number of mocks though. So mocks are important!

thank you for sharing and great job!

I’m going to follow your lead.

This is not the popular opinion on preparation. I’m sure you’re a very smart guy with excellent personal study habits, but this advice will get the majority of regular people failed on exam day. Also on your note about “studying the curriculum inside out”, some people have full-time jobs and a family, so they don’t have time for 600-700+ hours to peruse everything. But I’m sure you only studied 100 hours.

Level 1: read Kaplan material once and 3-4 Kaplan Mocks plus CFAI Mock exam and review

Level 2: Read Kaplan material once and review once. 6 Kaplan Mocks plus CFAI mock exam and review.

Level 3: Read material. then read it again. do 4 kaplan mocks. review. then read material again.then do CFAi 2010-2018 mocks. Have grading sessions. review. Then watch videos and review. Work curriculum problems. Review. Take test. Have anxiety and read analyst forum until results come.

It’s good to start doing mock exams as early as possible. The initial few mock exams can be done with an open book. When you have finished studying most of the curriculum, you can start doing Mock Exams with closed book.

There is no set rule as to how many Mock exams should candidates do. It depends on how much time you have with you for the Mock exam and then to review the exam answers. It usually takes 1.5x time to review a Mock exam. For example you spent 6 hours to do one full mock exam, then usually it might take approximately 9.0 hours to do a proper mock exam review.

But just doing 2 full mock exams are not at all sufficient for the D-Day. This is only my opinion though.