By now you are probably freaking out about the upcoming CFA exam on June 7th. Even candidates that have taken the exam before get butterflies in their stomach as test day approaches and if you are not even a little bit nervous, you might want to check your pulse.
Fortunately, very few candidates have problems unrelated to the material on test day. We have all heard horror stories of another candidate forgetting their identification or getting lost on the way to the test site, but these problems are fairly rare.
Even so, the day could be extremely stressful and it helps to know exactly what you can expect. There are also details that can help you have an easier, if not enjoyable, test day.
Test day: T minus 3 hours
I’ve covered the need to plan your route to the test site in other posts but it cannot be emphasized enough. Make sure you know how to get to the test and you may even consider booking a night in a nearby hotel. A nice leisurely stroll to the exam can help calm your nerves and you’ll face no risk of traffic problems.
I always made sure to arrive a couple of hours early to the exam. How early you wake up and arrive at the site will depend on how far you need to go and personal preferences. If you arrive early, you can always take the time to meet other candidates. These will be your peers throughout your career and can be a great source of information and networking.
As far as food, play it safe for breakfast and lunch. Do not eat too much more than you usually do or load up on greasy foods. You don’t want to be hungry but you also don’t want to be so full that it makes you groggy. 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.
Once you arrive at the exam site, you may need to sign in with proctors. This usually begins up to a couple of hours before the exam. If you do not see a registration table, ask other candidates.
About half an hour to an hour ahead of the exam (to tell the truth I don’t remember which it is), you will be allowed to enter the testing area. Any personal belongings not allowed during the test will need to be left in the lobby or in your car, so plan ahead. You may not wear any hats while testing. As you enter the testing room, you will show your admission ticket and find your assigned seat. Lay out all your materials in front of you on the table.
The proctors will begin reading the testing policies and rules. At this point, no talking or looking around! Every year, candidates are removed from the exam for cheating because the proctors saw them talking or looking at another candidate’s test. Whether you are actually cheating or just looking around may not save you from getting kicked out. Don’t risk it.
Test Day: Zero Hour
Follow the rules exactly. Do not open your test booklet until told to do so. This should be obvious but candidates get in such a rush that there is often someone that gets reprimanded for it.
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.
I was always amazed at some candidates that do not quit writing in answers after the session is completed. Some proctors will just warn you or repeat to put down pencils but you run the risk of having your exam thrown out! Do not risk it for a couple of points!
Lunch is always a big question. Should you eat or talk with others? What and where to eat, etc.
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. The safest bet may be to pack your own lunch for test day and eat at the site. Be careful not to pack anything that is going to spoil if not properly refrigerated. Packing my own lunch always seemed too boring and I found that getting away from the test site for at least half an hour helped me to relax and recharge.
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 would often catch about 10 minutes of flash card studying before lunch was over. Sometimes you can guess which topics have a good chance of showing up on the afternoon section by what was not asked in the morning. If there are a few equations or processes that are still giving you problems in topics that were not in the morning section, this might be a good last-minute refresher.
The afternoon session will go exactly like the morning session. You will file into the testing room, showing your admission ticket. It must be the same admission ticket with the proctor’s check on the morning session so keep it with you and do not write on it. Once inside and at your chair, the proctors will read off the testing policies again.
You are allowed to leave the test if you complete early but no one can leave within the last hour of the exam. In my opinion if you complete the exam with more than an hour to spare, you are either extremely smart or rushed through it. Do you really need to be somewhere so quickly that you leave time on the table for one of the most important professional exams of your life? I recommend checking through your exam at least once. Make especially sure you have filled in the correct bubbles for the correct number.
Many local societies have some kind of party after the exam. Try to go to these if at all possible. They will give you a chance to relax and network with local charterholders and candidates.
The CFA Institute is always the last word on exam day do’s and don’ts but rarely changes policies. 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.
‘til next time, happy studyin’
Joseph Hogue, CFA