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CFA exam day, and how to survive it

Next Saturday is the June sitting of the 2018 CFA exams. If you're one of the tens of thousands of candidates enrolled to take the exams then good luck. They are not easy, as the low pass rate reflects. 

However, as someone who has passed all three exams, and achieved the Charter, I want you to know that there are several things you can do to help yourself.

Mind blank? Go to the toilet!

Mind blanks during the CFA exams are more common than not. During each level, I remember opening the exam booklet, flicking through the questions and periodically having a memory blur. If this happens to you, my advice is to answer a few questions in areas you're strong on, to build confidence and hopefully bank some marks. If your mental block reaches the stage where you can't remember a particular formula or topic, go to the toilet or to the water dispenser (even if you don’t need to). The walk away from the paper will reset your mind, hopefully allowing you to regain mental clarity when you come back.

Get some earplugs 

Earplugs are permitted in the exam hall. They are especially useful if the person next to you has a cough, and intermittently needs to clear his or her throat. As the London Excel test centre is pretty close to London City Airport, earplugs help drown out the noise of the occasional plane that flies by.

Put your pencil down when asked to 

When the proctor says “Stop writing and put your pencil down”, this means STOP AND PUT YOUR PENCIL DOWN. If you continue, you have failed to follow very simple instructions, in addition to being in violation of the CFA code of ethics. At the end of my level III exam, there was a guy a few rows in front who carried on marking on his MCQ sheet. He was followed by a proctor who who noted his candidate ID. Imagine the pain of getting disqualified at the final hurdle.

Let the procters know if you're being distracted 

When I sat my level II exam, the person in front of me was vigorously shaking his leg. I could only imagine how disruptive that was for the person sharing a table with him (at the Excel centre in London, it is two people per long table). In these situations, telling a proctor (as he did) does not make you a grass. You want to optimise your exam conditions, and don’t want one person’s nerves to cost you six months of hard work.

Have breakfast and have lunch, but eat sparingly

These will be two of the most important meals you have on exam day. Don’t eat anything that will upset your stomach. I saw a guy wolfe down two large burgers during the lunch break (probably stress eating). I then saw the same guy in the exam hall disappear for a whole 15 minutes (most definitely to the toilet) in the afternoon session. I'm not sure he managed to finish his paper.

Avoid your phone during lunch

This one is a personal preference, but one worth bearing in mind. Use the lunch break to eat lunch. There was a guy who spent 45 minutes of his break on the phone, talking about how tough the morning paper was. Before he knew it, it was time to go back in, and I’m sure his stomach didn’t thank him. In addition, talking about how tough the morning session was probably had a negative impact on his confidence for the afternoon session. Be warned.

Jai Doshi is a Hedge Fund Researcher at Mercer Investment Consulting and a CFA Charterholder. 

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AUTHORJai Doshi Insider Comment
  • Wa
    Washroom worries
    20 June 2018

    I am writing CFA Level 1 exam this June 23rd. I have a question. Are we allowed to go to washroom during exam?

  • Mr
    Mr N Will
    18 June 2018

    Solid advice, absolutely agree with all your points

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