CFA Exam Day: 7 Game-Changing Dos and Don’ts

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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 4.5 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.

Even with the new CBT exams, CFA Institute recommends that you arrive 30 minutes before your exam start time for check in procedures.

If you arrive late for your exam appointment you may be refused admission. If you are refused admission, your exam fees are non-refundable, and non-transferable.

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

CFA exam day items allowed in the exam room

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 could be even worse – you can’t even borrow this.

With CBT exams, there is no longer any admission tickets needed, unless your test provider requests that you print a confirmation email with your appointment confirmation number in it.

For most, all you need is your passport ID and calculator for the exam. 

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


  • Your calculator, two if you can manage it, in the (highly unlikely) case one runs out of battery
  • International passport

If you have any questions, for the full list and details on what to bring, read our complete checklist of items to bring to CFA exam day.

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 CBT exam room, but will be left at a separate locker outside the test room.

Check out our complete checklist of what you can or cannot bring to the new CBT exams.

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

6. Do bring some water and snack

It’s still useful to have these items during your precious break time.

Although none of these items are allowed in the CBT test room, having some water, snack bars, caffeine dose (Red bull or equivalent) may come handy during your optional 30 minute break before the next session.

I always recommend that people that the full 30 minute break for a toilet break, drink and snack before heading back in for round 2. The whole check in process does take time so it is a short break anyway.

Don't discuss CFA exam questions

7. 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!

Meanwhile, here are some related articles of interest:


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