8 Curious Facts You May Not Know About the CFA Exams

Want to pass your exams? Start preparing the right way.
My email is and I'm preparing for
By Mike

There are a lot of things you learn while taking the CFA exams. Some time back, Zee’s listed a multitude of points you should know about the CFA exams, especially if you’re new to it.

And today I’ll try and add on to that, adding 8 more facts that certainly even candidates may not know. I must admit – I only knew about fact #7 before I started this article!

If you’ve got any to add to the list, don’t forget to drop them in the comments below.

1. About 1 in 20 candidates will miss the start of the exam, despite already being in the test center


During exam day, the doors close 30 minutes before the actual exam starts. This is to ensure all candidates are properly settled in, calculators and belongings checked, and ready to open the test booklet at the set time.

However, many candidates, despite already being at the exam center, either misjudge or are nor aware of the closing time, and end up waiting to be let into the exam hall, which will only happen after the first 30 minutes have elapsed.
Don’t let it happen to you!

2. Early candidates weren’t allowed a calculator

Up to 1975, you weren’t allowed a standard calculator in the CFA exams. Candidates originally had to make do with a slide rule (I had to look up). Then you could bring an electric calculator, which unfortunately needed to be plugged into a wall outlet, so many candidates didn’t bother.

Treasure your TI BAII Pluses and HP 12Cs, people.

3. In the Level III exam, exam graders only grade one question, or one part of the question

The Level III morning exam, being essay-based (or structured response format as CFA Institute calls it), is graded in a 2 week period in Charlottesville, VA by a platoon of highly trained investment professionals from around the world.

The graders form teams that grade only one question, or a question part, which tends to be their industry specialty area. There is a whole hierarchy of junior graders, senior graders, and grader of graders checking each other’s work. After all papers have been graded, the middle 50% is graded again to ensure that the borderline cases would have been double checked.

So if you’re taking the Level III exam, don’t assume that your previous answers give context to your current answer. You’re writing to a new person every time.

4. You used to be able to smoke while taking the exam

John Privat, CFA, gave a humourous exam anecdote when he was taking the exam in the early 1970s. Although his story was about a candidate getting his exam ticket stuck in his car door, I was also struck by this sentence in his letter:

“He was totally agitated and proceeded to chain smoke for five minutes before he even opened the blue book.”

Stroll into the exam hall, slam your 15-pound electric calculator on the table, fire up a Lucky, then pass your CFA exam. Doesn’t get more Mad Men than this.

5. Forgotten calculators are the most common problem on exam day

​In our research, we’ve also interviewed proctors in exam centers. All proctors agree on one thing – the most common issue for candidates is a forgotten calculator. We’re not sure what is the cause (I would have thought forgetting your passport would be more common), but make sure you don’t make that mistake! Make sure you bring two.

6. You couldn’t go to the bathroom during the exam in earlier days

Originally candidates weren’t allowed to use the bathroom during the exam. Pretty weird – this was only relented and rules changed when a pregnant candidate was ready to call their bluff during one memorable year.

7. There ARE CFA past year questions and model answers. Just for the Level III essay paper

The CFA exams are somewhat unusual in the sense that there aren’t much past exam papers to practice with. But there is one instance where you can find past papers – for the CFA Level III structured response AM session (or the ‘essay’ section). Not only that, model answers are also included! These are hosted and downloadable for free from the CFA Institute as examples of how essay questions are, and how they should be answered.

Although you can’t find past papers for other levels, all candidates get a free mock exam from the CFA Institute as part of their registration. Make sure you go through that before your actual exam!

8. CFA results are always announced on Tuesdays

This was noticed this by the team some years back while covering the results, and we finally got an answer from CFA Institute on why: Tuesday is an optimal day for their contact center and client services – gives enough time to respond to weekend queries and get themselves prepared for the heavy flow of communication accompanying a results release.

Do you know any more?

We’d love to hear more if you’ve got something else people might not have heard about. Drop them in the comments below!

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


Leave a Comment