10 things to do when you don’t know the answer in the CFA exam

Description about 10 things to do when you don’t know the answer in the CFA exam

These tips should never undermine your knowledge. Instead, they are the last resorts during the CFA exam when you have no way else to get the answer.


Let say you solved 110 questions in the CFA exam and there are 10 left that you have no idea about. When there is nothing else to try, guessing the answer will be the undesirable yet potential way to make some small differences in the percentage. And there are not quite a few time that just a small percentage can push the candidate into the pass territory. Thus, this writing will now show you the tips to intelligently guess the answer in the CFA exam. You will see that some of these tips come with no surprise.

Universal qualifiers are not favorable

If the answers offer some words like none, never, always, in every case, etc, they may not be the correct ones. In predicate logic, universal quantifiers demonstrate the logical constant relating to “for all” or “given any”. However, in real life, there is rarely anything is such black and white.

Thus, to choose among the available options that you already have no idea about, a common advice is that you may not want to go for the answers containing these words. Instead of going for such “black and white” things, you may want to go for something like a red herring. Or maybe it’s not, just so you know, guessing is not science.

It’s ideal to be able to eliminate the wrong

It’s great to know the right answer after the first or some first attempts. But if there is no way you can proceed to any of the available options, it will help a lot if you know what the right answer is not. Try to use your knowledge to eliminate the wrong answers, and the likelihood of approaching to the correct one will significantly increase.

However, this supposition seems to apply more effectively in CFA level 1 exam than the CFA level 2 and level 3 exams. In fact, the exam creators have so many years of experience in making the wrong answers not immediately look wrong. And the wrong answers come with the most common mistakes that CFA candidates usually make.

The outliers are not potential

There are many cases in which the answer that is completely incongruent with others is the wrong one. But please don’t take this as a rule of thumb of any rule while solving the questions. Instead, it’s best to try to calculate with as many formulas as you know. And if all of them do not work, it’s time for this guessing.

For example, if the answers include 13, 198, 203, and 1287, the two extreme numbers – 13 and 1287 may not what you want to choose. You can eliminate them as they are too far away from the rest of the number options.

It’s highly advisable to watch out for the repeated answers

Many people think that if two answers are offering the similar statements, one of them must be right. In fact, Poundstone recommends us to leave out the answers that look similar. You many think this advice may not really help. But guessing is yet very far from science. If it works, it deserves to be in use.

The exam creators always have to ensure the correct answer is definitely correct, and the wrong ones must be definitely wrong. Thus, if there are two answers that similar, there is somehow a hint for you that none of them is what you want. Too much overlap may mean that both of them are wrong.

It’s ok to trust your instinct

The theory suggests that you should always trust your initial instinct when looking for the answer. Many candidates believe that changing the answer may make some difference. In fact, if you change the answer, you are likely to switch it with a wrong one. Let alone it’s just a guesswork; you shouldn’t hang yourself for so much time on it.

Also, it’s such a bad feeling when you know you change the right for the wrong one. So if you don’t know the answer, just go with your first instinct, and stick to it. There is no guarantee that the change will have a good effect. But you surely feel a lot more anxious about doing this.

Reading the question again may shed light on something new

Whether you are guessing or not, reading the questions carefully is an important task. And to guess the answer better, you may want to read the question again when the first time of reading does not bring much to your mind. Try to figure out the keywords and recall what you learn about it, you may remember something that even leads you the correct answer without guessing.

Whether it is the exam for CFA level 1, CFA level 2, or CFA level 3, many candidates make stupid mistakes just because they are too rush in finding the answer. As a result, they fail to understand what the question is really about. And among all reasons to fail, carelessness is the stupidest one.

It’s not advisable to apply the definition outside the curriculum

You should just apply what you learn from the course to answer the questions. It’s not advisable to base your option on any other education background that you have. We are not talking about whether that knowledge is correct or not, but the appropriateness is what really matters.

Again, if the question seems vague to you, read it one or some more times, and try to solve it with the knowledge from the CFA course. This advice may sound against the spirit of education. But in whatever exam, the questions are always based on the information according to the curriculum.

The longest may be the one

Noticing the length of the answers may help to solve the question. As we already know, the exam creators have to ensure the correct answer is definitely correct. Thus, they make it categorically right without any room for doubt.

In other words, to ensure the answer is correct, they may make it longer than others to offer for details. So if there is one answer that is longer than others, you may want to consider it as a good choice.

When everything fails, just go for the best sentence of your thought

This is the last of the last resort to make when guessing the answer in CFA exam. Sometimes, your feeling can lead the way to the correct answer. You feel that it makes the best sense out of the available, and it’s fine to go for what you like.

Particularly for the questions that require you to complete the sentence, this guessing tip may work with great result. Try to read the entire complete sentence and opt for it if it sounds best to you. This is not a powerful solution, but what else can you do when it’s all about guessing?

If you absolutely have no clue and you are running out of time choose a letter (A, B, or C) and stick to it

The time is running, and you do not even have enough time for the guess work, just stick to A, B, or C for the rest of the questions you left it undone. There is, of course, no evidence on which letter comes with the higher number of correct answers. So just go for one, and you may have around 25% of correct answers.

The bottom line

Again, all of these tips should never trump your knowledge about the course. And none of them work all the time, use them if there is nothing else that you can do. There’s no excuse for sitting the CFA exam without thorough preparation. But in case you tried so hard, and the answer is still too far from you, these guessing tactics hopefully help you out.

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