Is the FRM exam Difficult? A Student’s Perspective

In the labyrinthine corridors of the global financial sector, where the delicate dance between risk and return plays out daily, stands a certification that many professionals see as the pinnacle of excellence: the Financial Risk Management (FRM) designation. For those unfamiliar with it, the FRM might just be another acronym in the finance alphabet soup.

But what does it take to earn this esteemed badge of honor? Is it the Everest of financial certifications, or is it a more manageable climb? As someone looking to fortify their career or perhaps transition into the risk management arena, these are pertinent questions that deserve in-depth answers.

In this comprehensive guide, we don’t just seek to unpack the intricacies of the FRM certification but to also shed light on the inherent challenges and the potential rewards it holds-

What is FRM Certification?

Imagine you’re the captain of a ship. Before you embark on a journey across the vast ocean, you must assess and understand the potential risks – from pirates to storms to navigating treacherous waters. Similarly, in the world of finance, professionals use tools, knowledge, and strategies to understand and navigate risks that can affect investments, institutions, and the broader financial landscape. That’s where the Financial Risk Management (FRM) certification comes into play.

The Two-Part Journey

The FRM certification isn’t a one-and-done exam; it’s a two-part journey:

  • FRM Part I: Think of this as your foundational stage. It covers the tools and techniques used in risk management, the theory behind them, and the various types of risk. It’s like learning the basics of sailing and understanding the tools at your disposal.
  • FRM Part II: This is a more advanced level, diving deeper into practical application. It’s not just about knowing the tools, but how to use them effectively in specific situations. Topics here are specialized, akin to understanding how to navigate your ship during a storm or through pirate-infested waters.

In sum, the FRM certification is a holistic and rigorous journey through the world of financial risks. It not only equips professionals with the knowledge to understand these risks but also the tools and strategies to navigate and mitigate them.

Why FRM Certification Matters in Today’s World?

In the ever-evolving landscape of global finance, the role of risk management has grown exponentially, making certifications like the FRM more relevant than ever.

The Indispensable Role of Risk Management : Every financial decision made, be it by banks, hedge funds, or investment firms, carries some form of risk. Risk management serves as the lighthouse, guiding these institutions through uncertain waters, enabling them to anticipate, and address them.

Skyrocketing Demand for Expertise : The financial crises of the past have showcased the profound implications of inadequate risk management. Institutions are in fierce competition to get the best minds aboard, leading to a rising demand for FRM professionals.

Empowering Benefits of FRM Certification : Embarking on the FRM journey and acquiring the certification doesn’t just bring with it the satisfaction of accomplishment; it offers tangible benefits like

  • Career Advancement
  • Global Recognition
  • Enhanced Earning Potential
  • A Robust Global Network
  • Staying Ahead of the Curve

The Difficulty Level of FRM

Navigating the vast and intricate waters of financial risk management can be daunting, and preparing for an exam that tests this knowledge can be equally, if not more, challenging. The FRM certification is considered by many as a pinnacle achievement in the finance world, but the journey to obtain it raises a pressing question: Just how difficult is the FRM exam?

Is FRM Difficult?

The straightforward answer is, yes, the FRM exam is challenging. However, the difficulty is multifaceted.

It isn’t just about understanding complex financial concepts but also about applying them to real-world scenarios. The FRM exam doesn’t merely test rote learning; it probes deep into your analytical skills, ensuring that you can address real financial risks in practical settings.

Deciphering the Pass Rates

Historical pass rates for the FRM exams provide a window into its difficulty. Over the years, the pass rate for FRM Part I has hovered around 45%, and for Part II, it’s been around 55%.

While these rates might seem relatively low, they signify the rigorous standards upheld by the Global Association of Risk Professionals (GARP) in ensuring that only the most qualified individuals earn the certification.

Preparation Time – A Testament to Rigor

The time candidates typically spend preparing for the FRM exam is a testament to its difficulty. On average, individuals dedicate 200-300 hours of study for each part of the FRM exam.

This includes not only understanding the core concepts but also practicing application through mock tests and real-world scenarios.

Comparing FRM with Other Certifications

To further contextualize the difficulty level of the FRM exam, let’s see how it stacks up against other reputable finance certifications:

CertificationAverage Preparation TimePass RateKey Focus Area
FRM200-300 hours per partPart I: ~45%, Part II: ~55%Financial Risk Management
CFA300-400 hours per levelLevel I: ~42%, Level II: ~45%, Level III: ~56%Investment Management
PRM100-150 hours per examVaries but generally around 60%Professional Risk Management

While each of these certifications has its unique challenges and focus areas, it’s evident that the FRM, in terms of preparation time and pass rates, stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of CFA and PRM. This emphasizes its depth and the commitment required to earn the designation.

In conclusion, while the FRM certification undoubtedly presents challenges, it’s these very challenges that make the achievement all the more valuable and respected in the financial world. The rigorous preparation and high standards ensure that FRM holders truly are masters in the realm of financial risk management.

Preparing for the FRM Exam: What Makes it Challenging

Delving into the vast and intricate world of financial risk management, the FRM exam stands as a monumental challenge for many candidates. The road to certification isn’t just about cramming pages upon pages of financial theories. It’s a test of endurance, adaptability, and practical application. Let’s explore what makes this journey particularly arduous for many:

1. Grasping the Depth of the Curriculum:

The FRM curriculum is renowned for its breadth and depth. Candidates aren’t only expected to understand basic financial concepts but to master advanced theories, models, and practices. This means going beyond surface-level knowledge and delving deep into the intricacies of each topic.

2. The Commitment to Self-Study:

Unlike many other professional exams, the FRM doesn’t follow a strict classroom learning model. The onus is largely on self-study. This demands immense discipline and consistency, as candidates must create and adhere to their study schedules, often without external motivation.

3. Balancing Act with Full-Time Jobs:

Many FRM candidates are professionals juggling their exam preparations alongside full-time jobs. Managing 8-9 hours of work, followed by intense study sessions, can be draining, both mentally and physically. This makes efficient time management and stress coping strategies vital.

4. Navigating Real-world Scenario-based Questions:

The FRM exam isn’t just about theory; it’s also about application. Candidates often face real-world scenario-based questions that test their ability to apply theoretical knowledge in practical situations. These questions can be complex and multifaceted, demanding a deep understanding and analytical mindset.

5. Subjective Nature of Difficulty:

One person’s mountain might be another’s molehill. The difficulty of the FRM exam can be quite subjective, hinging on an individual’s background. For someone with extensive experience in finance, certain concepts might come more naturally than to someone from a different field. Similarly, individuals with a strong quantitative background might find sections like quantitative analysis more approachable, while others may struggle. Recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses early on can shape a more effective preparation strategy.

In essence, the FRM exam is a comprehensive test of not just knowledge but perseverance, adaptability, and practical application. While the challenges are manifold, understanding them is the first step in crafting an effective strategy to conquer them.

Also Read: How to Prepare for FRM Part 1 | How to prepare for FRM Part 2 Exam?

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Personal Experiences and Anecdotes from FRM Candidates

The journey to FRM certification is a deeply personal one, colored by individual challenges, strategies, and moments of epiphany. To truly understand the intricacies of preparing for the FRM exam, let’s dive into the experiences of some candidates who’ve walked this path:

1. A Quantitative Analyst’s Journey: Lisa’s Story

Background: Lisa, a quantitative analyst, always had a knack for numbers but realized that the FRM exam was a different ballgame altogether.

Experience & Strategy: While she found modules on quantitative analysis relatively easier, the portions on credit risk and operational risk were challenging. She dedicated extra hours to these modules, using a mix of video lectures and practice questions.

Challenges: Working in a high-pressure job meant limited study hours during weekdays. Lisa decided to maximize her weekends, sometimes clocking in 10-hour study sessions on both days.

Outcome: Her dedication bore fruit as she cleared both parts of the exam in her first attempt.

2. The Mid-Career Shift: Raj’s Tale

Background: Raj, with a decade-long career in marketing, decided to shift to finance, with FRM being his first step.

Experience & Strategy: Having been out of touch with intense studying and coming from a non-finance background, Raj initially found the curriculum overwhelming. He decided to enroll in an FRM coaching class, which provided structure to his preparation.

Challenges: Raj found it difficult to grasp complex financial instruments and their associated risks. To overcome this, he created a study group with classmates, facilitating peer-to-peer learning.

Outcome: Raj cleared the FRM Part I in his second attempt, attributing his success to persistent efforts and collaborative learning.

3. The Fresh Graduate’s Ascent: Fatima’s Chronicle

Background: Fresh out of college, Fatima was keen to kickstart her finance career with the FRM certification.

Experience & Strategy: With no job commitments, she had ample time but lacked direction. Fatima decided to draft a strict study schedule, allotting specific days for each module. She also made it a point to solve at least 50 practice questions daily.

Challenges: While time was on her side, lack of real-world finance experience meant she sometimes struggled to relate to real-world scenario-based questions. Attending webinars and industry talks helped bridge this gap.

Outcome: With discipline and an unwavering commitment to her schedule, Fatima passed both parts of the FRM exam consecutively.

These stories underline the fact that while the FRM journey is challenging, success often lies in understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses, leveraging available resources, and persistently marching forward, irrespective of the hurdles.

Also Read: How I cleared FRM in 4 Months While Working Fulltime – Ayush Jajoo’s Success Story

Overcoming FRM Exam Challenges

Every FRM aspirant faces their unique set of challenges. Whether it’s grappling with the intricate curriculum, managing study hours, or simply finding the right resources, the key to success often lies in effective strategy and preparation. Here’s a breakdown on how to tackle these common challenges:

1. Effective Study Strategies for FRM Exams

  • Diversified Learning: Don’t rely solely on one resource. Mix textbooks with video lectures, webinars, and interactive sessions.
  • Active Recall: After studying a topic, try to recall the main points without looking at your notes. This enhances retention.
  • Spaced Repetition: Revisit topics at increasing intervals. This can dramatically improve memory retention.
  • Mock Exams: Take as many mock exams as possible. This not only gets you accustomed to the format but also helps in time management during the actual exam.

2. Resources for FRM Exam Preparation

  • GARP’s Official Books: Always start with the official reading material provided by GARP. It’s comprehensive and tailor-made for the exam.
  • Online Forums: Platforms like AnalystForum or Bionic Turtle have active FRM communities where candidates discuss doubts, share resources, and provide exam tips.
  • Courses: For structured learning, consider enrolling in courses like Kaplan Schweser or Bionic Turtle. These provide study materials, mock exams, and often, interactive sessions with instructors.
  • Webinars & Workshops: These are often organized by FRM communities or institutions and can provide insights into complex topics and real-world applications.

Also Read: Best FRM Study Materials in 2023 (Courses, Books & Videos)

3. Time Management Tips for Working Professionals

  • Study in Chunks: Instead of long, drawn-out sessions, opt for focused, shorter study chunks—maybe an hour in the morning and an hour at night.
  • Weekend Deep Dives: Dedicate weekends for longer study hours or topics that you find especially challenging.
  • Daily Targets: Set clear daily objectives. Knowing what you need to accomplish can make your study sessions more productive.
  • Stay Consistent: Even if it’s just 30 minutes, ensure you touch upon your study materials daily to maintain continuity.

4. Mastering Difficult Topics through Practice Questions

  • Topic-wise Question Banks: Use these to focus on one topic at a time. It helps in understanding the nuances of each subject.
  • Analyze Mistakes: Don’t just correct them. Understand why you made a mistake, so you don’t repeat it.
  • Simulate Exam Conditions: Occasionally, practice under strict exam conditions. It’ll help you manage stress and time during the actual exam.
  • Seek Feedback: If you’re consistently struggling with certain questions, don’t hesitate to seek help on forums or from fellow candidates.

Exam-Taking Strategies for Success

The moment of truth, after months of preparation, is when you sit in that examination hall. But even with the most thorough preparation, the way you approach the exam can make all the difference. Here are strategies to not only tackle the FRM exam but to do so with confidence and precision:

1. Approach to the Exam

  • Start with Strengths: Begin with questions from topics you’re most comfortable with. This not only boosts your confidence but ensures you secure these marks swiftly.
  • Don’t Dwell on a Single Question: If you’re stuck, mark it and move on. Return to it after you’ve gone through all the questions. This ensures you don’t miss out on questions you might know.
  • Intuitive Guessing: If unsure about an answer after all attempts, make an educated guess. The FRM exam doesn’t penalize for wrong answers, so it’s better to guess than leave it blank.

2. Handling Exam Stress & Time Management

  • Pace Yourself: Be aware of the time. If you find yourself spending too much time on a single question, move on and come back later if time permits.
  • Breathing Techniques: If you feel overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths. It can help calm your nerves and improve concentration.
  • Stretch Breaks: Stand and stretch for a minute or two, especially if you feel fatigued. This can help rejuvenate your mind and improve focus.
  • Clock Watching: Keep an eye on the clock, but don’t obsess over it. Allocate specific time chunks for sections to ensure you attempt every part of the paper.

3. Review and Understand Mistakes in Practice Exams

  • Post-Exam Analysis: After every practice exam, do a thorough review of your answers. Understand not just what you got wrong, but why.
  • Note Common Pitfalls: Are there patterns in your mistakes? Maybe you consistently misinterpret a particular type of question or forget a specific formula. Recognizing these patterns can help you rectify them before the main exam.
  • Consult Resources: If you find certain questions or topics consistently challenging, revisit your study materials or discuss them in online forums. Often, a different perspective or explanation can make things click.
  • Iterative Learning: After identifying mistakes, redo the problematic questions without looking at solutions. This reinforces the correct approach.

The Rewards of Overcoming the FRM Difficulty

Tackling the FRM examination, with its rigorous curriculum and real-world scenario questions, is no small feat. But once this challenging journey is completed, a plethora of opportunities and rewards await. Let’s delve into the myriad benefits and doors that the FRM certification can open:

1. Enhanced Career Prospects

  • Diverse Roles: An FRM certification is a ticket to a variety of roles in the financial sector, including risk management, trading, asset management, analytical roles, and even consultancy.
  • Global Recognition: As a globally recognized certification, FRM paves the way for opportunities not just in your home country, but around the world.
  • Career Advancement: Many FRM holders report accelerated career progression post-certification, with enhanced responsibilities and more strategic roles.

2. Reputation and Credibility in the Financial Industry

  • Mark of Expertise: The FRM designation is a testament to your expertise in risk management, signaling to employers and peers your dedication and competence.
  • Networking Opportunities: Being a part of the FRM community connects you with a global network of professionals, fostering opportunities for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and career advancement.
  • Ongoing Learning: The financial world is ever-evolving, and GARP’s commitment to continuous professional development ensures that FRM holders stay updated with the latest industry trends.

3. Expansive Job Opportunities

  • Banking Sector: Many banks, given their exposure to a myriad of financial risks, actively seek out FRM-certified individuals for roles spanning credit risk, market risk, and operational risk management.
  • Corporate Finance: Large corporations, especially those with international operations, require risk experts to navigate the complex world of foreign exchange, interest rate risks, and more.
  • Consulting & Advisory: With an FRM certification, one can also venture into consulting roles, advising firms on risk management strategies and frameworks.

4. Salary Boost and Financial Rewards

  • Higher Salary Packages: Numerous salary surveys indicate that FRM holders tend to command better salaries compared to their non-certified counterparts.
  • Bonus Potential: Given the strategic importance of risk management roles, many firms offer performance-linked bonuses, which can significantly augment the total compensation.
  • Job Security: The rising importance of risk management in the aftermath of global financial crises means that risk professionals, especially those with recognized credentials like FRM, are in high demand.

Also Read: FRM Jobs in India – Scope, salary and Recruiters


The journey to achieving the Financial Risk Manager (FRM) certification is undoubtedly demanding, weaving its path through intricate subjects, countless hours of study, and the pressure of real-world scenario questions. However, as we’ve explored in this article, the challenges of this journey are dwarfed by the immense rewards that lie at its end.

Earning the FRM designation is not just about gaining a certificate; it’s about signaling your commitment, expertise, and dedication to the world of risk management. It’s a passport to global opportunities, a marker of professional excellence, and a tool for networking with the best minds in the finance industry.

While the question “Is FRM Difficult?” might be subjective, with answers varying based on individual backgrounds and experiences, one thing remains universally true: the returns, both in terms of career growth and personal development, far outweigh the hurdles. For those contemplating or currently navigating the FRM journey, remember that every challenge faced is a stepping stone towards a brighter, more promising professional future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the FRM exam difficult to crack with a job?

Yes, you can clear FRM exam along with a full-time job, provided you have a proper study plan.

What is the pass rate for FRM exam?

FRM part 1 has passing rate of more than 50%, FRM part 2 has passing rate of 55-60%

How should one prepare for the FRM exam?

Preparing for the FRM exam requires understanding the depth of the curriculum, commitment to self-study, and regular practice with real-world scenario-based questions.

Bain & Co.
5000+ Students Trained in the field of Investment Banking, FRM & CFA

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