A few weeks ago, we ran a Weekly Poll asking readers how many practice or mock exams that they were aiming to complete when prepping for their respective CFA exams. Usually the responses aren't too far from expected, but the results from this particular poll were rather illuminating.
This is simply not enough practice to ensure a pass.
Here is a list of the number of mock or practice exams one of us took in each year of CFA exam process - she amazingly has all her books so we could properly verify her recollection as well.
- Level I (passed): 6 exams (5 Schweser, 1 CFAI mock exam)
- Level II (failed): 3 exams (3 Schweser)
- Level II (passed): 6 exams (6 Schweser)
- Level III (passed): 7 exams (6 Schweser, 1 CFAI mock exam)
Compared to some of the more enthusiastic people, 6-7 exams may not even be considered a lot. I can't emphasize enough how important practice exams are to passing.
They teach you which are the key topics.
Practice exams, be it from CFA Institute or a third party prep provider, will be weighted with the similar topic weightings as stated by CFA Institute. By working your way through practice exams your mind automatically gets taught what topics are important. This will come in handy as you review topics - as you encounter key topics you will remember 'ah, I came across something similar in Practice Exam B, better pay more attention to this'.
They give you an idea of the exam structure.
Looking back on Level I, I was extremely lucky to have passed Level I the first time. I had absolutely no idea what the exam format was a mere 3-4 weeks before my exam. I didn't bother even thinking about it. As a result, the importance of answering questions fast (as Level I gives you 1.5 minutes to read and answer each question on average) was lost on me until the very end. What probably saved my ass was that I was a natural time-worrier to begin with. I rush through everything like a maniac anyways, and so even though I was late to realize the importance, I was lucky enough to already be an anal-retentive time-saving freak.
Doing a practice exam (or even better, a fully timed and marked practice exam) early on obviously alerts you to all these kinds of niggles that you may have overlooked. Timing, exam formats, wording style, question types - you get a feel for all of this when you bash out practice exams.
They help you retain concepts that you've studied.
Reading through the study notes is obviously important - it introduces you to new concepts, formulae and calculation methods from each chapter. But doing practice exams is what drives it fully home into your brain.
You can read all about riding a bicycle, or how to swim from textbooks all you want. But in the end, you need a certain amount of practice to get used to the feel of how the real thing is.
By simply aiming to complete more practice or mock exams, you can massively improve your passing chances. Don't pass this up. (This is covered and much more in the Resources section)
If practice exams helped you make the difference in your prep in the past, share your story with other readers in the comments or the community!