There's no shame in retaking a level; in fact, some professional CFA instructors and some of the biggest names in the industry didn't pass one or more levels the first time around. In fact, of the 64,007 registrants for the June 2011 Level I exam, 35% were retaking the exam after a previous attempt, according to CFA Institute.
The rigors of the exam are what gives the CFA designation its value. If it was easy to get, it wouldn't confer such prestige.
So, if you've failed a level, how do you move forward? Instead of fretting over your results, take a thorough assessment of what went wrong by asking yourself the following questions:
- How many hours of study did you put into the exam? According to the CFA Institute, successful candidates report that they put in a minimum of 250 hours studying for each exam. Depending on your personal strengths and weaknesses, some levels may require more time.
- What was your study strategy? Did you tackle the curriculum on your own or did you take a course? If you took a course, how diligent were you in attending class and completing the recommended exercises? Did you study alone, or did you make use of study groups?
- What were your study habits like? Given our busy schedules, it takes a great deal of discipline to reach 250+ hours of study. Blocking out time in your schedule may be helpful, but current research indicates that mixing up the places where you study helps you retain information. Some of the common "wisdom" about memory and studying is actually at odds withcurrent research.
- Did you focus on just the curriculum, or did you also learn about the structure of the test? The trick to passing any test is to not only know the content but also what the graders are looking for. For example, in Levels I and II, how much time should you spend on each question? Is it better to guess if you don't know the answer? What's more important in the Level III essays—quality or quantity? Are the graders looking for a specific answer, or do they just want to see if you can apply the knowledge you've gained?