If you’re just starting down the lengthy path toward earning your CFA charter, your first of three exams is just over two weeks away. By now, you should have the majority of the 300 hours of recommended studying under your belt. The homestretch before Level I is usually reserved for review and nervously gnawing on your fingernails. It can also be a good time to put a final plan together for before you walk into the testing facility. We spoke to several past CFA test takers to learn their tricks of the trade. What to do and, more importantly, what not to do.
Drive the route
Unless you failed Level I previously, the closest test center is likely new to you. Veteran test takers advise practicing the drive from home to know exactly how long it will take you, but also if there is construction or your GPS takes you the wrong way. Do the drive on the same day of the exam (Saturday) and leave at the same time you would otherwise plan to in order to know what traffic will be like. Time it, and then add an extra 10-15 minutes just in case.
Most people put new batteries in their calculator a day or two before the exam but bring a backup set for peace of mind. A little-known fact: one of the select few items you can bring with you into the test center is a small screwdriver to open the battery door of your calculator. Bring a manual pencil sharpener too, but have all your pencils pre-sharpened so you don’t need to waste the time.
One of the other somewhat random items that are allowed to bring in are ear plugs to help drown out the noise of mass erasing and communal panic in the room. However, don’t just use them on the day of the test. Get used to the feeling while doing a practice exam and ditch them if you are uncomfortable.
Practice your sleep
It’s hard to fall asleep at 10 p.m. if you are up until 2 a.m. every night. Take at least a week to get into a routine of falling asleep and waking up at the same time so you don’t find yourself tossing and turning.
Take Friday off, or don’t
There wasn’t much agreement on this point, but it’s worth at least considering. One test taker said he took the whole week off from work before Level I. Another said he just took the Friday before the test. A third found the idea to be unfathomable as he said he would just waste the day worrying when his mind could otherwise be occupied. Go with your gut.
Pack your lunch
Bring your own lunch so that you don’t need to bother finding something nearby. If you think you’ll want a coffee for the afternoon session, scope out a spot during your test drive and make sure they’ll still be open at lunchtime.
Whether you want to listen to a podcast or music, bringing headphones for the waiting period before the morning and afternoon sessions can keep you in a zone. “Do not bother speaking to anyone,” said one Charterholder. “You’ll end up talking about nothing but the exam and freak yourself out.”
Go with the old reliable the night before
The Friday night before the exam is not a time to eat spicy food or try the new Thai place down the block. Go with a meal you’ve had before and know will treat you kindly. The same goes for lunch the day of the test.
Have a bathroom strategy
If you need to use the bathroom before either session, go early. There may be a line. In June, the lines were so long in Toronto that people went outside and used the bushes.
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