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Angst, nerves and intense pressure: a window into the CFA waiting game

The horror

From an outsider’s perspective, the CFA exam process is brutal. There are three different levels, it takes a minimum of 300 hours of studying just to have a chance of passing one and, even if you are eventually successful, the entire process can take years.

With all that said, the worst part of the CFA marathon may be the waiting game that takes place after the exam is finished. Despite the exam being graded by a computer, the CFA Institute takes a month to get back to test takers with a yay or nay. How do they handle it? From the look of it, not particularly well.

We took a peek at some recent posts on the CFA Analyst Forum, which provides a unique window in the psyche of prospective CFAs.

One particular forum showcases the sheer angst and nerves that accompany the waiting game. It led off with one user expressing their feelings one day before January’s were results due.

“Just 1 day to go peeps, waiting anxiously… wish it could be today so that I will get over this anxiety…”

It was followed by similar sentiments. “Agreed. I’ll finally see if those 1200+ $, countless evenings and weekends spent studying and taking 3 weeks off work and out of my holiday allowance were a worthwhile investment or all just time and money down the drain.”

Users than began asking others who received an email with their notification to forward on the pass rate, as if that would “relieve this enormous pressure,” according to one test taker.

Then someone offered an update. “T-minus 20 hours and 21 minutes, but who’s counting.” A South Korean test taker opined about the brutality of the results being announced at 9 a.m. EST. “I’d rather be asleep and wake up to find out the result than waiting for it the whole day. I tell you, time is going too slow!” Clearly, he didn’t have a productive workday.

Then, inexplicably, an Indian user linked to a Business Insider post containing the scores…from last year. “Another anxiety attack for no reason!! Three minutes to go now…”

Then, after 9 a.m. EST, the emails started flooding in, with people sharing their stories of relief or pain. But, with any mass email system, not all go out at the same time. This did not sit well with many test takers.

“No email yet. The way I had done the exam I know I failed for sure.” Then panicked questions. “No mail yet! Does anyone know if there is some prioritization – result (pass/fail) or location?” And then pleas from others. “Please guys post the exact time that you got the email.”

Eventually, everyone got an email. But the forum, containing hundreds of posts over just a day’s time, shows how important the CFA is to test takers. It also shows what kind of pressure, anxiety and nerves the exam can create. Oh, and this was level I. Imagine what these people will go through moving forward.

Frankly, it makes you wonder if, as a company, you want your employees chasing the CFA? Late night studying aside, the toll it puts on young finance professionals has to have some effect on the work they churn out during the process — at least during the month leading up to when the scores are announced.

One financial pro who passed Level 1 but failed the second level multiple times said exactly that, talking to us anonymously. “It just began to interfere with my work,” he said. “Not the studying but the pressure and the unbelievable disappointment after failing.” Interestingly, he said he preferred having a full month to wait for the results.

“If I knew I failed the minute I walked out, I don’t know what I would do,” he said. He preferred a month filled with warring senses of optimism and pessimism, rather that having his balloon immediately popped.

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