Advice for those who didn’t pass the Level II exam

Posted on 27-01-21 at 4:43 pm

If you failed the Level II exam your natural response is probably to feel disappointed. You might even be wondering whether or not you should continue with the CFA Program.

 The typical advice is to keep trying; however, I suggest a more thoughtful approach. Put the result on the side for a moment and ask yourself: Did I really enjoy the subject matter? Try doing a post-audit on why you did not pass. Was it because you did not have enough time to prepare for the exam? Or did you have a very hard time understanding the concepts? Is the CFA Program aligned with your career aspirations? Carefully thinking through these questions will help you decide whether or not to continue with the program.

If you fundamentally enjoyed the material and you have an interest in investment management then I’d recommend that you continue. Start your studies early. Internalize the concepts and practice a lot. Your sources of practice include examples and practice problems from the curriculum, prep provider questions, CFA Institute online assessments, and so on. In the final few weeks, you should work through several full-length mock exams.

Now for the next question: when to take the exam?  If you failed with a relatively high score (your scoreline was close to the minimum passing scoreline), and have time to study/practice over the next few months, then sit for the exam in the next available window, i.e. May 2021. Here are the available paths that you can choose from:

Level II Failed

For the year 2021, the curriculum for all exam sessions is exactly the same. You can also choose to sit the August or November 2021 session, however, this is not recommended by me. I would rather say that you should go for another attempt as soon as possible.

If you failed badly (your scoreline was considerably below the minimum passing scoreline) and/or don’t have much time to study/practice, then I’d suggest retaking the exam in August or November 2021 or maybe next year.

Coming back now to the other scenario: if you did not enjoy studying the Level II curriculum and you are not particularly interested in investment management, then I would not recommend continuing with the CFA Program. This might sound harsh, but in the long run you are much better off pursuing a line of work that you enjoy and where you can make a decent living. However, if you are passionate enough about studying investment management, and feel that you have a better shot this time around, go for it. In fact, start preparing today, there is no time like the present.

Regardless of which path you decide to travel down, I wish you the best of luck.


Arif Irfanullah, CFA