10 Top Pointers for a Trouble-Free CFA® Exam Day

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By Zee

As the CFA exam draws near, there are a few extra things to think about that can really influence the outcome of your exam.

There’s no point investing all that effort into FRA and Fixed Income if you’ve forgotten your BA II Plus for the actual exam day, and can’t borrow one off another candidate. Or improving your answering speed for exam day, if you show up late and aren’t allowed to start on time.

There are a few simple pointers that if addressed, will save you a load of trouble on CFA exam day, and ensure that you’ll be free to do the best you can in the exam. Read on and make sure you take a few minutes to address these 10 pointers for your CFA exam day. 

We’d also like to wish you a huge ‘good luck’ from all of us at 300 Hours. Thanks for being an awesome reader, and we’ll see you when you’re done. Go forth and kick ass!

1. Don’t eat questionable food before exam day

I know we’ve written about this before, but really I’d like to put in yet another warning. I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s a really bad idea to indulge in spicy food before CFA exam day (let’s just leave it at that). Oily foods are also a firm no-no: likely to wreak havoc on digestive systems. This is actually a reaction to a high acidity stomach content: spicy and oily foods sharply increase the acidity level of your stomach, leading to insomnia, stomach upset incidents the following day, and so on. Not really the kind of stuff you need on an important day.

So if CFA exam day is the next day, avoid spicy and oily foods, and resist having food from sketchy places. Keep it simple and safe.

2. Plan your journey

Even if you are familiar with the route to your CFA exam center, CFA exam day will not be your ordinary journey. Thousands of candidates converging on the same spot will slow trains, clog up roads, and form queues where you least expect them. Ensure you know how you’re getting to your exam center, and build in enough extra time to counter the expected lost time due to congestion.

3. If you must bring a bag, make sure it locks itself

It’s best to assume that there won’t be a safe place to stash anything you’re not allowed to bring into the exam hall. Teh best thing to do is to minimize the number of things you bring along with you. But if you do need to bring a bad to put your wallet, phone and other miscellaneous items in, bring a lock that secures all of that together. Even a simple solution (as pictured) will help.

4. Be in front of your exam hall 30 minutes before showtime

Even if you’ve arrived on time, quite a few candidates still end up being late to their exam hall. The main reason for this is that many candidates don’t realize that you have to enter your exam hall 30 minutes before the actual exam starts. This is necessary as there is a check-in process where proctors will check your exam ticket, passport, calculators etc, and show you to your seat. 

Exam halls usually close their doors 30 minutes before the start of the exam, so if you don’t manage to get in before then, you’ll have to wait until the exam has fully started before you can enter the exam hall, losing valuable minutes where you could already be starting on your paper. Don’t let it happen to you.

5. Don’t forget your passport, calculator and exam ticket

When interviewing proctors, we found that ‘missing calculator’ was by far the most common issue among candidates. In addition to that, your passport and exam ticket are also paramount to exam day. Without these 3 items, sitting for the exam is impossible. It will also be impossible to borrow these items on the spot from anyone on exam day.

So to ensure you don’t commit exam suicide before it even starts, remember to bring your calculator, passport, and your exam ticket.

6. Don’t fidget – it may get you disqualified

If you’re a regular 300 Hours reader, you’ll know that proctors are very strict during the exams, as per CFA exam guidelines. The penalty if you cause any kind of incident is most likely disqualification from the exam, and probably a multi-year ban from future exams in the bargain.

Disciplinary cases due to cheating, or the appearance of cheating, are by far the most common. Even something simple as fidgeting may be enough to get you in trouble, so really go the extra mile to ensure that the proctor doesn’t have any reason to think you’re acting suspiciously.

7. Remember to answer intelligently

When you’re sitting in the actual exam, the aim is to make the best out of what you have retained, remembered and learnt from all your studies.

As your exam is multiple choice, make sure you’ve made the most of logic to help you deduce the best answer given what you know. The CFA Institute puts a lot of thought into the ‘wrong answers’, or distractors, so your traditional high school / college multiple answer tips will not be effective. 

Make sure you read our guide to intelligently answering CFA exam questions before you enter the exam hall!

8. Don’t write or answer past the exam time. Again, possible disqualification

The second most common disciplinary offence is writing past time. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to finish before the time is up. But if you do find yourself in a dead heat, resist the temptation to write past the called time. It is unlikely to end well.

9. Prepare for lunch

There is a lunch break several hours long between exam sessions. It’s a really good idea to bring your own lunch, as the queues to buy lunch are very likely to be insanely long. Queuing for them is likely to take most, if not all, of the time allocated to your break.

Being something that keeps well in room temperature and you’ll be set for lunch, and can spend your break time leisurely watching the lunch queues.

10. Have a bathroom strategy

While discussing queues, another one to watch out for are the lines to bathrooms. As you may expect, the lines to these will be longest during the lunch break. It is more of a personal preference on how to best deal with this one.

I find that going to the bathroom DURING the exam works best, as I waste no time on queues, and usually can afford to spend the few minutes of exam time. If you find that time is most likely not going to be an issue for you during the exam, this method may work for you.

If you must save every exam minute, then a lunch break queue may be for you. If so, make sure you go early!

All of us at 300 Hours will be crossing our fingers for all our readers. All the best for exam day, and we’ll see you on the other side!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

300Hours founder


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