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How a Failed CFA® Exam Is Your Blessing in Disguise

How a Failed CFA Exam Is Your Blessing in Disguise

When we fail we feel unhappy. That’s perfectly normal.

But today I’d like to convince you to be glad because you FAILED your December 2019 CFA exam. Yes! Be happy! ‘Cos a failed CFA exam – though surely not cool right now – is an opportunity for a meaningful change in your life!

Just think about it. By failing your exam you gained some valuable (though bitter) experience and it would be a pity to waste it… I’d even say that what you decide to do now will substantially affect your whole future life (read on to find out why ).

That's the way I see it: you need to act upon your failure to make it into your 3 personal successes:

  1. mindful acceptance of the unfortunate fail score,
  2. fruitful CFA exam prep that builds on your failure,
  3. desired pass score in your next CFA exam .

Just strictly follow this chronological and hierarchical order: from the small through the big to the GREAT success of yours and enjoy all the awesome things you are capable of.

Learning From Failure

First of all, the small success is something you must go for. Coming to terms with your failed CFA exam is essential for you as a human person. Psychologically, every failure is a difficult experience and to deal with it successfully, you need to work your way through it (ideally, towards acceptance). That’s objectively how we – humans – function.

So, take a moment to grieve.

Make a sad face and sympathize with yourself. Call your friend with the bad news. Moan and groan. Cry if you will. It’s your privilege of the moment.


  • 1. Accept your failure. Then, find determination not to make the same mistakes next time.
  • 2. To this end, be frank with yourself about the successes and fiascos of your previous exam prep.
  • 3. Find out what you can do to turn your previous fiascos into your future successes.

After you’ve taken a while to grieve your failed December 2019 CFA exam, it’s time to move on. The best thing you can do about this failure is to learn from it. Do that and you’re in for the best study time you’ve ever had.

Psychologists say it’s an attribute of a growth-mindset to learn from mistakes. I think it’s an admirable quality worth following suit. You can definitely have a more fruitful CFA exam preparation before your next exam if you choose to learn from your Dec failure. All it takes is some introspection. An honest self-analysis that unveils your weaknesses and helps you develop your strengths.


  • 1. Reflect on your weak points as a student.
  • 2. Hold yourself accountable for your study planning and execution
    (mark your reading assignments green, yellow, and redwhich color dominates?).
  • 3. Build your study routine.
  • 4. Focus on small goals.
  • 5. Control weekly (sum up your weekly achievements and react if there are too few).

Controlling Inconsistent & Messy CFA Exam Prep

The self-reflection story is yours to tell, not mine. But I bet I know some of your major study pains [because I know what it means to plan for something big and eventually fail ].

If I were to bet 2 things that defeated you during your Dec 2019 exam preparation, I would go for:

inconsistent studying
messy planning,

which basically means total lack of control over your exam prep and study plan.

Without CONTROL it’s never going to change – your exam prep is always going to be inconsistent and messy.

To make a real change, you need to find means to hold yourself accountable both for your study planning and for your execution.

For accountability purposes, you can make an excel file where you’ll put all your reading assignments planned for a given week and then mark them green for done, yellow for partially done, and red for overdue. What’s great about this approach is that you can see (A) how well you’re doing – if there’s lots of green and yellow or (B) how much you’re lagging – when it gets too red.

Study Plan: Control & Accountibility

And if you don’t want it to get too red, you need to build your study routine.

My recommendation would be a 3-step week-to-week study routine with:

  • - planning at the beginning
  • - execution throughout the week, and
  • - summing up your plans and their execution at the end of the week .

A week is a perfect time frame – weekly plans are something you can easily control, carry out, and react to. If it works for client meetings, taking children to school or laundry, it can surely do the trick with studying as well.

I’d say that the 3rd step of this study routine is particularly important – it urges you to confront the reality (so don’t skip it!). Because one thing is your study plan and quite another is execution. I’m confident you agree with me on that. If you want to stop being inconsistent and messy, you need to hold yourself accountable on a weekly basis by assessing your weekly study achievements (summing up how you executed your plans). React if needed while planning your next study week – with flexibility understood as sound management, and not easy excuses, you are still in charge of your CFA exam preparation.

Benefiting From Weekly Study Routine

So, getting into such a weekly study routine benefits you because:

  • it gives you small goals to focus on and control,
  • it provides enough structure to dive into your exam prep,
  • it allows for a lot of flexibility if some things come your way,
  • it urges you to regularly confront the reality.

Focus on your small weekly goals, like for example:

  • My 1st goal: until 3 February – do QM* Reading 6
  • My 2nd goal: until 5 February – do QM* Reading 7
  • My 3rd goal: until 7 February – do QM* Reading 8
  • My 4th goal: 9 February – sum up how I’m doing
    (following my study plan or falling behind?)

Block the time in your calendar according to your weekly plan.

* QM – Quantitative Methods

With small and concrete goals, execution becomes easier. At this stage of your preparation, you can build on your previous experience with CFA exam topics. After your December exam, you know which topics turned out to be a problem and which were OK with you. Devote more time to those which have proven hard and reasonably less to those you can handle better.


As soon as you complete an assignment – mark it green (for partially done – yellow). If you fail to do it over the week – mark it red (and preferably move it to the next week). That’s how you practice your everyday accountability.

Both color labelling and summing up your weekly achievements hold you accountable for and put you in control of your study planning and execution. That’s exactly what you need to avoid inconsistent and messy exam preparation.

You can follow this ‘weekly control’ approach on your own, e.g. based on your excel file, or you can spend your CFA exam prep with us by creating and following your free personalized "STAY-IN-CONTROL" study plan that holds you accountable:

on a daily basis – you can mark readings green, yellow, and red
[change the *done* status of your readings when you achieve your small goals >>
>> recognize your little successes]

on a weekly basis – you can sum up your study week on Sundays
[click the SUM UP button and see which color dominates >>
>> confront the reality]

flexibility-wise – you can edit your study week if you need
[add (+) or remove (-) readings after clicking the EDIT button >>
>> manage competently or your overdue CFA exam readings will build up your red wall of shame]

With such control and accountability (plus fair analysis of your previous prep), you’re bound to have a fruitful preparation time. The next natural step for you is to pass your next exam .

While striving for this GREAT GOAL, remember the saying: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just as Rome was built brick by brick, also you need to go reading by reading from week to week. All throughout your CFA exam prep, your goal must be something you can control. It has to fit in your everyday perspective. Your GREAT GOAL: "Pass my next CFA exam" is simply too big for you to control from where you stand now. But you can surely control the goal: "Do my QM Reading 6 today".

That’s why it is so crucial for you to take your exam prep in weekly chunks. Your ultimate goal of passing your next CFA exam is distant and difficult to pursue. Unless... you do it week by week.

When I said at the beginning that your failed CFA exam can be your opportunity, this is exactly what I meant. Confronting the problem and learning some ways of doing things better. You have 2 choices: either leave it as it is and simply have another inconsistent and messy exam prep OR use your failure as a wake-up call and do something about it.

Let your failed December 2019 exam teach you a lesson and you’ll see your skills and character develop. Adopt the growth mindset style when preparing for your next exam. This way you’ll be able to cope better not only with your CFA exam but also with other long-term goals you’ll be pursuing later in your life (you’ll already know that the strategy of weekly control works ).

After all, maybe this failure was something you needed. Something you’ll be grateful for when you eventually see how much good it did to your life.