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Failed the Level III Exam? Sorry To Hear That…

By Arif Irfanullah, CFA

Posted on 12-04-24 at 6:45 pm

Level III is a strange exam. In fact, this is the only exam where I come across some very smart and hardworking people failing. This has to do with the format of the exam. Those who study a lot, know a lot and end up writing a lot.  The problem with this approach is that a candidate might do half the paper really well but scramble through the rest… possibly leaving a few questions altogether. The most you can get on a good response is 100%.  If you leave an answer blank you get 0%.  The bottom line is that poor time management during the exam is perhaps the most common reason for why intelligent and hardworking candidates sometimes fail Level III.  My advice to such candidates is that you must learn from your mistakes. Before your next attempt make sure you work through several practice exams under time pressure.  Learn how to manage your time during the exam.  The time you spend on every question should be based on the marks for that question.  If you spend 20 minutes on a 10-mark question you are setting yourself up for failure.

Another reason for failure has to do with a lack of adequate preparation leading to the exam.  Often Level III candidates are at relatively senior positions in their respective organizations and have significant workload. Given a choice between studying for the exam and job-related deliverables, the job wins. If this is your situation then I suggest you start early and plan your study schedule with work and personal commitments in mind. Leaving your studies for the last few months might have worked for Levels I and II but this strategy is not likely to work for Level III.  You should try to finish the course at least 6 weeks before the exam.  The final six weeks should be spent on practice 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. August 2024. The good news is that candidates who retake the Level III exam in 2024 will sit for the exam with a curriculum that has only minor changes. This means that the study materials and knowledge they acquired during their previous attempt will still be relevant and applicable, providing a sense of comfort and familiarity as they prepare for the upcoming exam.

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 later in 2025.

While I’ve suggested a few reasons, the onus is on you to diagnose what happened. Do some soul-searching to gauge your motivation level.  If the motivation is there and you feel that you’ll be able to give studies sufficient time despite job-related and personal commitments then sign up for the exam, make a plan, and start your prep.

Good luck with what you decide to do.


Arif Irfanullah, CFA

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