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CFA exam takers fearful of whimsical tyrants on $15 an hour

Imagine sitting in a room with thousands of other people where you're only allowed to look up and down, where you're not sure if you can stretch, where someone in the room might subsequently report you and invalidate an entire six months (or more) of your life. Welcome to the CFA exams.

Following last weekend's CFA exams, some of the 170,000 people who took one of the CFA's three papers have taken to the internet to complain - not just about the hardness of the exams (they were hard), but about the tyranny of the invigilators, otherwise known as the proctors.

'Who are the proctors?', asks one candidate on Reddit.  The CFA Institute didn't immediately respond to a query on the proctors' identity, but other candidates claim they're generally not finance professionals who people who've taken the CFA: they're "random locals" trained in temp work and paid $15 an hour, or less.

The identity of the proctors matters. It matters because if a proctor decides to initiate a so-called "PCP Investigation" into a candidate's behaviour during an exam, that individual risks having his/her results delayed. At worst, the paper can be voided. And at very worst, the individual can be blacklisted for the rest of his/her career.

In the past, proctors are said to have initiated investigations into candidates who fidgeted and looked around, who looked at other proctors, who "looked up frequently," who shifted around on a chair around seven times, or who were left-handed and therefore sitting in a different way to their right-handed counterparts.

At the end of this year's exams, one candidate claims to have sat on a bus next to two proctors who were, 'were bragging about how they wrote people up' (ie. suggested exam takers for investigations). One of them reportedly wrote up a candidate for failing to take the plastic cover off his eraser. Another candidate was written up after spending eight minutes in the toilet.

In other cases, proctors appear to have been incompetent or callously unhelpful. One candidate said a proctor looked at her passport and declared it expired (which would have invalidated her exam entry) when it wasn't. Another said a candidate turned up without a calculator and that the proctors refused to let him borrow one from other candidates who had backups.

The CFA Institute told us that some but not all of its proctors are CFA charterholders and that it partners with organizations that specialize in administering exams. Following the recent exam sitting, 800 investigations have been initiated - 0.5% of the total candidates.

Proctors aside, other stories from the weekend of CFA exams include an alleged owl in the Atlanta test centre in the afternoon and foul smells in Vancouver and Singapore. Last year, one test centre was purportedly infused with the aroma of dead rat.

Photo credit: Welcome Back by Tim Ellis is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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