CFA Exam Day: 8 Game-Changing Dos and Don’ts

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Dos and Don'ts for CFA Exam Day

By Zee Tan

As the exam approaches, we hope you’re finishing up the last of your planned practice exams! How you actually perform on exam day, however, can also be affected by issues that could potentially be avoided. 

We’ve listed the most important dos and don’ts for candidates to follow – pay attention, any one of them could mean the difference between a pass or a fail. Good luck!


Eat well before CFA exam day

1. Don’t eat poorly around CFA exam day.

You don’t want a stomachache on exam day.

On exam day, you’ll be in exams for a total of 6 hours. You want to spend those hours worrying about derivatives and financial statements, rather than wondering which dodgy morsel you guzzled yesterday that’s unleashing this demonic pain in your gut. 

On the days approaching the exam, play it safe. Everyone is used to different kinds of food, so make sure you know what is safe for you to eat and stick to it. You can also try eating more food that is proven to boost mental alertness and memory recall. And in general, stay away from overly spicy or oily foods, or booze of any kind. Save those for after the exam!


Get enough rest and sleep before CFA exam day

2. Do get enough rest and sleep.

Can’t concentrate on your CFA exam if your brain wants to go back to bed.

It has been proven, time and again, that making sure you’re fully rested is key to ensuring your brain is in tip-top condition for the exam. It may be difficult to make the judgement call: which is more important, getting an extra 2 hours sleep, or squeezing in one more mock exam? 

The day before exam day, it will be more worth it to sleep on time instead of delaying to cram in a bit more. Really.

Get better at managing your sleep with our guides:


Plan for heavier traffic on CFA exam day

3. Don’t be late.

You won’t get extra time, and you might even miss the whole exam.

The doors to the exam hall will close a lot earlier than the start time. The proctors need time to check all calculators and show all candidates to their seats. So please, please show up at your exam hall early!

Our studies show that about 5% of candidates (that’s 1 out of 20 of you!) that actually show up on the day will still miss the start of the exam. Don’t let that be you.

Common reasons candidates are late include:

  • Not packing all they need before actual exam day
  • Underestimating traffic – know that in larger test centres, CFA exams create their own rush hour
  • Arriving at the location on time, but not waiting at the actual doors until it’s too late

4. Don’t forget your exam checklist

Trying to pass the CFA exams without your calculator isn’t fun.

When we asked what was the number one forgotten item by candidates, all the CFA exam proctors we interviewed gave the same answer: calculators. By a LONG shot.

Don’t go to a war and forget your rifle.

Forgetting your passport or exam ticket could be even worse – you can’t even borrow these. 

Here is a list of what you need to bring to the exam. Make sure you tick every single one of them!

Required

  • Pencils – sharpened or mechanical
  • Eraser
  • Your calculator, two if you can manage it, in the (highly unlikely) case one runs out of battery
  • Exam ticket
  • International passport

Recommended

  • Small sharpener 
  • Watch
  • Jacket
  • Ear plugs
  • Gum

For the full list and details on what to bring, read this article:


Don't bring too many things to CFA exam day

5. Don’t bring TOO many things to the exam

You don’t want to get written up by the proctors.

Apart from the exam checklist, everything else will not be allowed into the exam hall. Some exam centres are more lenient than others, but leave nothing to chance. Make sure you only bring what you have to to avoid sticky situations where you suddenly have to find a place to hide your brand new iPhone.

There usually is a room to put your things, but it will be very overcrowded and not secured. Keep your things safe in your car (if you drove), or bring a padlock that can go through all your backpack’s zips. If you have to leave it outside the exam hall, make sure it’s nothing you’d miss too badly.

Below is a list of items allowed into the exam hall:

CFA Exam Day Checklist of Allowed Items


Avoid lunch queues on CFA exam day by bringing your own lunch

6. Do bring your own lunch

Lunch queues will be long, or you might even have to miss lunch.

Lunch queues will be long – as expected lots of people descend on the same place at once. In larger exam centres, it can be quite common for queues at food stalls to be too long to actually get any food before you have to return to your exam hall for your PM session.

The best way around this is to bring your own lunch. I always buy two prepacked sandwiches for exam day: one for my breakfast, and one to bring to the exam. Prepacked is important: they’re usually well packed enough to not be soggy by the time lunch time rolls around. If you try and pack them yourself, you may end up with a wet mess when you’re trying to eat it.


Write only on CFA exam question paper and answer paper

7. Don’t write on anything else other than your question papers

You can get your exam invalidated, and even banned from future CFA exams

You’re not allowed to bring in scratch paper for the exam, nor will you be provided any. But the question paper is fair game – feel free to scribble as much as you want on it.

But do not write on anything else apart from the question and answer papers. Do not write on the exam ticket, passport, table, calculator, eraser, or yourself.

You may think this is being a bit paranoid, and you may be right. But if a proctor decides that you’re looking a bit fishy, you’re toast. They’ll write you up, and you most likely will get your exam invalidated, and maybe get a few years’ exam ban thrown in for good measure.

Don’t. Write. Where. You’re. Not. Supposed. To.


Don't discuss CFA exam questions

8. Don’t discuss questions after the CFA exam

Again, exam invalidation and banning awaits those who gossip about the questions.

Besides writing in places where they’re not supposed to, the other common reason candidates get their exams invalidated is discussing questions after the exam.

Don’t do this, be it verbally after the exam, or (even worse) online. The CFA Institute monitors online activity closely before and after the exam, and if there is evidence of exam question discussions on social media or on forums, there will be a swift response.

Here is a more complete list of behaviour that can get you in trouble with the proctors.


We hope this set of tips have helped you avoid some CFA exam pitfalls. If you have any more questions about the exam process, just write them in the comments below and we’ll get right back to you!
Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

300Hours founder

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