How to Pass the Financial Risk Manager (FRM®) Exam

Posted By: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: August 9, 2018

You’ve decided to become a certified Financial Risk Manager (FRM®). That’s great! Offered by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP®), this designation sets you apart in the global marketplace and prepares you for a career as a credit risk manager, market risk manager, regulatory risk manager, operational risk manager, or a related position.

To earn this designation, you will need to take two FRM exams: Part I and Part II. Both are offered in May and November, and both are multiple-choice format. The cost ranges from $750 to $1,050 for each part, based on when you register. Of those who took Part I and Part II between 2010–2017, the average pass rate was 46% for Part I and 57% for Part II. Here are 5 tips to help you join the ranks of Certified FRMs.

Tip #1: Become Familiar with the FRM® Exam Topics

Part 1 of the FRM exam consists of 100 questions that focus on four topics, weighted as follows:

  • Foundations of risk management (20%)
  • Quantitative analysis (20%)
  • Financial markets and products (30%)
  • Valuation and risk models (30%)

Part 2 of the FRM exam is 80 questions, and its topics and weights are:

  • Market risk measurement and management (25%)
  • Operational and integrated risk management (25%)
  • Credit risk measurement and management (25%)
  • Risk management and investment management (15%)
  • Current issues in financial markets (10%)

You should try to know a little bit about every concept included in these topics. For example, you might encounter a question that could be answered with a formula and a calculation. However, you may also be able to identify the correct answer without having memorized a formula if you truly understand the concept or relationship being tested. By remembering basic information on exam day, you will be able to narrow your answer choices and better distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.

Tip #2: Start Studying Early

For both parts, you need to study a minimum of 200–240 hours. Don’t put those hours off. The FRM exams are nearly impossible to pass if all you do is last-minute cramming. Instead, you should start studying as soon as you’ve registered. You’re going to be tested on your ability to read a question, analyze it, and apply concepts to it. Although most exam takers occasionally run into questions that at first don’t appear to relate to anything they’ve studied, if you cram, you can be overwhelmed by them. The topics you’re being tested on require a type of knowledge that can only be gained over a structured, careful course of study—not last-minute, frantic reviews of core materials.

Tip #3: Structure Your Study and Preparation

As Tip #1 noted, to pass the exams, you need a good grasp of the concepts and how to apply them. In addition, you need to practice answering questions because the FRM exams expect you to apply analytical techniques to arrive at your answers. Although there are motivated candidates who can construct their study plans with ease, it’s more likely that you’re not sure how or where to start. FRM prep packages are a great way to turn the unsure into the confident. They offer online and classroom courses, calendar tools that organize the curriculum and materials for you, access to banks of practice questions, and realistic mock exams. All the organizational work is done for you, so you can concentrate on learning the curriculum and how to answer questions.

Tip #4: Focus on Practicing In the Final Weeks Before Each FRM® Exam

If at all possible, try to take some time off from your job in the final weeks before the exam and save at least one FRM practice exam for that time. Treat this practice exam as if it were the real thing. Don’t look at it or study questions from it beforehand. Time yourself so you can get a feel for the time constraints and pressure of exam day. You have an average of about 2.5 to 3 minutes per question. When you finish, grade your answers and use the results to identify where you should focus over the last few days. Although working on the areas where you performed poorly is crucial, don’t neglect your stronger topics. They need to stay fresh in your mind. Finally, at some point during the last week, visit the actual exam center. Figure out how long it will take to get there and where you can park. The fewer surprises and distractions you have on exam day, the better.

Tip #5: Have a Game Plan for Staying Calm on Exam Day

The secret to staying calm while taking the exam is to have a game plan before you walk into the exam center. For example, consider answering short or easy questions first to get going and build confidence. For the questions that give you trouble, first reread them to make sure you understand. Then, if you still can’t find the best answer, try to eliminate at least one and take an educated guess. Even if you really don’t have a clue, you should still mark an answer. That’s better than leaving it blank because even a guess gives you a 33% chance of being right.

Whatever you do, don’t panic if you’re struggling with several difficult questions in a row. It only makes thing worse. You won’t think clearly, you’ll miss easy questions, and you’ll start second-guessing yourself to the point that you change answers that are likely correct. Instead, put your pencil down, take a short break, and take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself that the estimated passing score for the exam is 70%, which means you can miss 30% of the questions and still pass. The 30 seconds or so this takes may very well help you think clearly enough to answer several additional questions correctly.

Increase the Likelihood You’ll Pass the FRM® Exam

Although passing the exam is ultimately up to you, you don’t have to prepare or study alone. Participating in classes (online or in-person), practice exams, and study groups increases the likelihood that you’ll pass the exam. Investing in FRM exam prep is one of the best things you can do to ensure that you go on to the next step—certification.