Excel at Constructed Response on CFA Level III

Excel at Constructed Response on CFA Level III

Article by Tong Teh, CFA, FSA on (Updated on ) in CFA Study Tips

Constructed response questions can be a real challenge for Level III candidates. Check out these tips from Salt Solutions instructor Tong Teh!

Because Level I and Level II of the CFA exam are entirely multiple-choice, answering constructed-response questions can be a real challenge for Level III candidates. However, if you master a few techniques, you might find you actually prefer the constructed-response format over the multiple-choice format. Let's talk tips.

Our Tips for Tackling Constructed Response

These techniques will help you get the most out of the constructed-response portion of the Level III exam. Keep these in mind as you practice. Be sure to use these on your exam day as well.

  1. Read the questions first. Don’t jump into the vignette without knowing what you are looking for. By reading the questions first, you will be able to distinguish between which facts in the vignette are relevant and which ones are not.
  2. Read the vignette efficiently. If you have read the questions first, you will get through the vignette quicker than you would if you jumped straight in. However, don’t skim past important details, like a footnote that appears underneath a table. Be aware of the kind of information that is relevant to the questions. If you feel like there is something you have missed, you can look for it when you start answering the questions.
  3. Read the questions thoroughly. Read each question thoroughly before you start to answer it. Too often, candidates rush to start writing answers to questions that haven’t actually been asked. Slow down and make sure you clearly understand what the question is asking before you begin your response.
  4. Answer the question directly. Only answer the question that has been asked. You won’t get extra points for answering questions that were not asked. Keep the exact question in mind, and then write your response accordingly. Note that this includes limiting your answer. For example, if you are asked for two reasons, only write two. Don’t perform a "brain dump" of everything you know, as this strategy may distract from what the question has actually asked.
  5. Be familiar with the command words. Understanding how command words are used is important because exam committees write questions to mean what they say. Command words such as “calculate” or “discuss” mean different things. Make sure you are familiar with the command words used by the CFA Institute and respond accordingly.
  6. Manage your time well. It’s very common for candidates to struggle for time during this portion of the exam, so you can’t spend too much time on a question or even part of a question. At the beginning of each question, you are told how many parts there are and the total number of minutes to spend on it. Be aware of how much time you should spend on the question. This includes time for reading, thinking, and writing. The number of minutes also provides a clue as to the amount of detail needed in your solution.
  7. Show your work and thought process. The constructed-response questions are all about partial credit. If you clearly show your work and thought process, when you make a mistake, the grader will recognize where you made it and continue to check the rest of the problem. Partial credit may be awarded even if your final answer is wrong.
  8. Be internally consistent in assumptions. Don’t provide contradictory statements, such as writing that something is true and then writing that it is false in the hopes of getting credit for the accurate statement. You will likely end up not getting any credit altogether.
  9. Use short sentences or bullet points. When you answer questions, don’t write in complete sentences and paragraphs. The constructed-response question is not an English test and there are no style points. So don’t worry about grammar. Your goal is to collect marks for giving correct answers, which doesn’t require a lot of words. Use short phrases so it is easy for the grader to give you credit. Keep your answers concise.
  10. Write your final answers in bold. An answer in bold makes it obvious that you want the grader to see it. Remember, if the grader doesn’t see it, you won’t get any credit.
  11. Don't delete all your work and start over. If you find a mistake at the beginning of a math problem, you should never delete all your work and start over. Remember it’s all about partial credit. Just write a note to point out where you made your mistake, but don’t bother punching all the numbers in the calculator again. If you clearly showed your work, you’ll get credit anyway.
  12. It's OK to state the obvious. The grader will not assume you know something just because it’s easy. Too many candidates just focus on the difficult parts. You’ll only get credit for what you write, so don’t miss out on the easy points.

Here’s the bottom line.

Success on the constructed-response portion of the Level III exam is all about earning as much partial credit as possible. What does this mean for you?

  • Start with the topics that you know well. Earn those points first and then move on to the topics that you find more challenging.
  • Note that even if you’re not particularly strong in a topic, not every question on that topic is going to be difficult. Even if you feel like you cannot arrive at the final answer to a multi-step question, do as many steps as you can.
  • Don’t leave any parts of any questions unanswered. You won’t get any points if you don’t write anything, but you might get some points if you write something!

We wish you all the best in tackling the constructed-response questions!