The final week before exam is finally here.
Back then, I still remember feeling what can best be described as equal parts of Zen and zombie.
How are you feeling? Tired of all this studying, and just want this to be over? That’s a good place to be in at this stage, as it usually indicates that you’ve reached your ‘saturation point’ where you have done all you can. The only bit left is to tune your mind and body to the optimal configuration for exam day.
Here’s what I think are the best things to do to channel your anxious energy into something beneficial during your CFA last week prep:
- #1. Sort out exam logistics
- #2. Take a week off (work) for your CFA last week prep
- #3. Start waking up on time
- #4. Eat healthier
- #5. Focus on practice questions, but less on the scores
- #6. Mindless memorization has its time and place – here and now.
- #7. Get some rest. Resist the temptation to keep studying longer.
- #8. Take a day off to relax.
- #9. Stop worrying. Embrace imperfection. Don’t give up.
- #10. Remind yourself how smart you are.
#1. Sort out exam logistics
Let’s get this chore out of the way, so that you have a couple of worry-free days to concentrate on the exams and your wellbeing:
Read our complete checklist of items to bring for your computer-based CFA exam day. It provides an essential reminder on items you need for the exam room, what you can and cannot bring.
If you’re travelling to an exam centre, make sure you plan to arrive much earlier and anticipate traffic jams – you want to be calm and have a good start instead of rushing around really.
Given the pandemic, it’s worth double checking CFA Institute’s test center updates to ensure your exam is going ahead without issues, just in case you haven’t received an emial yet.
If applicable, double check your flight tickets and hotel bookings details just in case – I’ve famously booked tickets for the wrong month before, we all get scatter-brained sometimes but it’s best to know that in advance!
#2. Take a week off (work) for your CFA last week prep
If possible, do take book the week before the exam off work, even if you need to use your personal leave.
You will appreciate the extra time to study but, perhaps more importantly, you will benefit tremendously from being able to temporarily step away from all the various pressures that make it a “job”.
Juggling the upcoming exam with work distractions just isn’t doable for most situations, and you want to do this right or risk having to do it all over again in the next exam cycle.
#3. Start waking up on time
If you’ve been doing late hours and waking up late in the morning, this week is the time to reverse that pattern.
Make sure you start sleeping earlier and waking up on time to tune your body clock for maximum performance.
Trust me on this one – this makes a load of difference.
#4. Eat healthier
It’s never too late to start eating healthier, especially with some brain food that aids focus and attention span.
Oh, and be mindful not to eat anything that has a risk of coming back to give you any trouble on exam day: for example oily foods, exceptionally spicy foods, or anything you’re not used to eating.
Tummy aches may take a few days to manifest itself – you wouldn’t want to spend your precious time during the exam in the loo for this!
Save your cravings for the post-exam celebration 🙂
#5. Focus on practice questions, but less on the scores
The first thing to accept is that you have done all you can, and you shouldn’t stress yourself out the last few days as exam burnouts are likely to have a detrimental effect on your exam performance if you continue to put yourself on a gruelling study schedule.
Given the limited time, my advice would be to do lighter, less-intensive study sessions regardless your level of preparation. It may be counterintuitive, but this will maximize your current knowledge base and state of mind to ace the exams:
- In the last week, you probably should aim to try out a max of 2 full sets of practice papers under timed, exam conditions. Have a look at our Practice Exam guide to get more from a variety of providers of your choice.
Remember that you can get free practice tests from us, with instant results analysis and feedback:
- Don’t grade your practice exams if you don’t want to. Here’s one of the rare instances where a bit of mental censorship on yourself is good for you. The last week is about increasing your confidence, not freaking yourself out over an errant low score, which may further distract you from revising. You should be doing these questions for practice, like warm-up runs before a big race.
- Read ALL the detailed answers. Even if you don’t have time to complete the questions. Not scoring your exam doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go through the detailed answers in your mock exams though. Far from it – you should be going through every single detailed answer, especially the questions giving you trouble. If time is a constraint, what I used to do is to give the question a quick read to get the concepts being tested, and jump straight into the detailed answers. This allows you to revise the tested concepts at a much faster pace. The cost, of course, is not being able to work out the solutions myself, but given time constraints this is an acceptable tradeoff.
- Redo-ing previously completed practice exam works too. If you’ve done all your practice exams, re-doing early ones work well too – it is still practice, you would have forgotten the specifics of most of them but they would be easier for you this time around, boosting confidence. Pepper your practice sessions with quick flicks to your study notes to clarify concepts where you’re not clear. If you need some last-minute extra practice exams, you can check out our guide.
#6. Mindless memorization has its time and place – here and now.
The CFA Institute is going to bring out the pitchforks when I say this, but there will always be certain parts where you still don’t seem to quite get, despite all your efforts.
Gather these parts of the material and assess how can you reasonably tackle questions on these parts by mindless memorisation.
I find understanding derivations of formulae to be the best way to remember calculation methods. But in the last week, if maximizing pass chances is the goal, now is the time to cut your losses and just memorize.
#7. Get some rest. Resist the temptation to keep studying longer.
Use coffee sparingly – while it may offer a short term boost in concentration, it also interferes with your sleep and stress levels.
As tempting as it might be to fill your last week with all-night study sessions, this strategy is not recommended and short sighted. The subsequent crash in the morning is not worth it, especially on exam day.
Get enough sleep! Studies have shown that insufficient sleep is equivalent to being drunk, and nobody goes to the exams drunk, do they?
#8. Take a day off to relax.
This does not mean hardcore partying, but instead take the time to de-stress as much as you can.
If you can’t bring yourself to take a whole day off, take half a day off – preferably the second part of the day, that way you won’t be worrying about the topics you will be covering after you’re done relaxing.
Spend some time exercising, hanging out with family and pets – anything but studying or work. This helps reduce your stress levels, improve your memory and refresh your focus when you get back to reviewing practice questions.
#9. Stop worrying. Embrace imperfection. Don’t give up.
OK, some say this is easier said than done. But you have to try and accept that:
- you have done all you can so far, and now it is time to slow down to prepare your mindset to ace the exam;
- you won’t know everything, there will be concepts or questions on exam day that will stump you;
- there are simply going to be topics you cannot master (that’s FRA for me);
It’s all about the mindset, and perfection is the enemy here as it causes unnecessary stress.
Once you have accepted the above, you’ll be able to stay calm and make intelligent guesses on those questions when necessary to manage your time well during the exams. All in the name of maximizing your score.
#10. Remind yourself how smart you are.
So, if all-night sessions studying topics that give you fits aren’t recommended, what is the best use of a CFA candidate’s last week before the exam?
The approach that I found most successful was to review extensively, but not overly-intensively.
Aside from trying out some practice papers, I created flashcards for every LOS, writing down key points but avoiding getting too bogged down in details. If I found myself dwelling on a topic, I would remind myself that I probably knew enough about this area and moved on.
More importantly, I never actually used these flashcards other than to skim through them occasionally. Yet, the simple act of writing down everything I knew was both helpful in reinforcing my understanding of various topics and a well-timed reminder that I was actually very comfortable with the vast majority of the curriculum.
As always, every candidate is going to have a preferred approach and it’s important to do what makes you feel most comfortable, particularly during a week that represents the culmination of months of effort. But feeling well-rested and confident with an appropriate level of humility is not a bad objective.
Now go out there and give the exam your best shot!
Jittery? Quietly confident? Can’t wait to get it over with? Share your pre-exam feelings with us in comments below.
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