Exam Day Prep: Do's and Don'ts for the CFA Exam

The CFA Exams are probably the most intense academic tests you will ever take. Six hours of mental gymnastics that will leave you exhausted. The last thing you need to worry about is whether you brought enough calculator batteries.
Unfortunately, candidates fail the exam every year for small details like forgetting their identification or getting lost on the way to the exam site. This week, I’ll share some of my best suggestions for making it through the day and getting one step closer to the charter.
While I always tried to take the last week off from work to focus on the exam, Friday was always my day for getting everything together and planning my day. No studying this day, just relaxing and making sure everything was ready to go.
First, DO NOT ASSUME that you can find the testing center without prior planning. One-hour before the exam is no time to realize that there is a massive detour that is going to put you behind schedule. Living in the city where the test was held, I always made a run to the site the day before to check out parking and the route. This might not be possible for everyone, but get in touch with other candidates that live closer (or the local CFA Society) to inquire about possible road blocks or where to park. Even living close, I always planned to arrive about 2-3 hours before the exam. This gives you time for those one-in-a-million car breakdowns. If you get to the site early, you can relax or browse through some flashcards.
As far as breakfast, play it safe. Do not eat too much more than you usually do or load up on greasy foods. Do not drink more coffee than usual. On the other hand, don’t forget to have a cup of coffee if you are accustomed to the caffeine pick-me-up. You are allowed to use the restroom during the exam but it comes out of your allotted time.
You will need to print out your exam ticket and show your identification to enter the testing area. I recommend printing two copies of the exam ticket, just in case. You will have an assigned seat, so don’t worry about where to sit. On that note, don’t forget that you need an international passport as identification. Do not wait until Friday to realize that you cannot find yours.
Some candidates bring ear plugs for the test. I never had a problem with noise distractions but it is a good idea just in case. I have heard horror stories of open windows and lawn mowers distracting candidates. If you are at all distracted by small noises, bring ear plugs.
Lunch is always a big question. Should you eat or talk with others? What and where to eat, etcetera. Again, don’t eat too much or eat anything that might upset your stomach. If you have a ‘comfort food’ or something that helps you relax, that is probably your best bet. As with finding the test center, you may want to plan where you will eat or your options the night before.
A lot of candidates obsessively avoid talking to others out of fear that someone will say something that destroys their confidence. I always felt a little more relaxed by socializing with other test-takers. We never talked about the exam, other than to mention whether it was easier or harder than we had thought. Whether you talk to someone else or not, I guarantee you will realize you missed a problem or second-guess one of your answers. GET OVER IT AND RELAX! No one has ever gotten a perfect score on the exam. Worrying about the morning session is the quickest way to fail the afternoon session.
I usually studied flash cards for about 20 minutes during lunch. It helped refresh some of the more detailed formulas, but at this point don’t worry too much about learning new material.
The CFA Institute is always the last word on exam day do’s and don’ts. Linked here is the Main Exam Page, where you will find links to print your exam ticket and other useful information. Linked here is the main page for policies on identification, calculators, materials, personal belongings and the candidate pledge. Lastly, the link here is to the Institute’s FAQ page for the exams.
You have put in enough time studying and worrying about the exam. You shouldn’t have to worry about minor details of taking the exam as well.
Relax, take a deep breath and good luck on Saturday.
Joseph Hogue, CFA

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