CFA CFA Level 3 My Exam Day Experience (Rated PG-13 for language)

My Exam Day Experience (Rated PG-13 for language)

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    • Marc
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      As @MattyJ, @AJFinance, and @sankrutimehta, have shared their Level 3 exam day experiences, I thought it would be appropriate to share mine, which was eerily similar.

      My story starts on Friday evening, when the sky opened and unleashed a summer rainstorm that was sufficiently powerful to knock down several branches (and uproot entire trees) and ultimately causing a power outage in our neighbourhood. As a result, I spend three hours literally studying by candlelight. I packed it in around 11:30 and, to my surprise, did not have much difficulty falling asleep. I was, however, awoken at 3am by my daughter yelling “Daaaa-ddeeee, Daaaa-ddeeee.” Assuming that she was in a horrible state of distress, I bolted to her room only to find her standing up in her crib, smiling and saying: “Hi.” It took about 20 minutes for her to get the chattiness out of her system and fall back to sleep, but was I going to fall back to sleep? To use my of my favourite British expressions, was I arse?

      I spent 3:30 to about 7:00am learning the finer points of certain topics and then turned by attention to helping get my kids ready for the car. It is at this point that I should point out that Ms. Marc has been a saint for the past six months and I am deeply in her debt for the incredible burden that she took on in terms of extra responsibilities over the past 6 months. But if it’s the morning of the CFA exam and you’re complaining that our daughter’s shoes are less than ideal for playing in a sandbox and spending time trying to figure out if you should take a sweater (jumper) in case the temperature drops in the afternoon, my reaction is: I DON’T FUCKING CARE.

      Anyway, we got on the road a few minutes later than planned, but I wasn’t too concerned. However, CFAI, or CFAS Toronto, or whoever makes such decisions decided that it was no longer a good idea to stage the exam at the same location at which it has been staged for the last FOREVER (and about which nobody had ever complained). Instead, it made more sense to move the exam to some third-tier conference centre by the airport that nobody has ever heard of and which has a parking infrastructure and traffic management system that can only be described as Byzantine. Bottom line, I arrived at the door to the exam room at 8:35 to find about a dozen other candidates standing with some proctors next to a closed door.

      Now I get that you don’t want people walking in and out of the exam at their leisure, so I guess you need to draw the line at some point – and, yes, they did warn us on our exam tickets – but shutting the doors half an hour before the exam seems a bit excessive – especially when nobody at the test centre had any experience handling the logistics of a CFA exam and were clearly confused by the fact that candidates taking different exams were meant to be in different buildings (which, in and of itself, is stupid – especially considering that NOBODY had ever complained about the previous exam centre). Anyway, there were hundreds of us who failed to get in before 8:30, but the most galling part was that they didn’t even begin the exam until about 9:17. So I ended up spending almost 45 minutes standing around waiting for the doors to open. Of course the proctors were kind enough to give us ZERO information about what was going on (one proctor, who I’m fairly certain has never actually written a CFA exam told me: “Don’t worry, you’ll only lose about 5 minutes)”. And, even if everything described above was completely fair, it seems profoundly unfair that a candidate who shows up at 8:35 gets treated the same as a candidate who shows up at 9:15 (and there were some of those).

      At some point, we were allowed into the exam room and directed to our various sections in order to register. There were supposed to be two proctors in each section registering “late” candidates, but (of course) there was just one proctor doing the job for my section. And I know that it’s totally my fault for putting myself in this position, but maybe she could have realized that this was not the time to be a “jobsworth”. Yes my calculator is regulation. You know why? Because it’s exactly the same at the 500,000 others that you’ve looked at today. Yes my passport is legitimate. You know why? Because if I was that good at forging passports, I would have spent the last six months on Islo Marco (my private fucking island in the Caribbean) instead of ignoring my wife, children and every other aspect of my life in order to learn about “misfit active risk”. And, by the way, just pointing vaguely does not constitute “giving direction” to a table. It might if there had been only one table in the room, but do you know how many tables were in the room? More than fucking one.

      Now we get to the part where I am solely to blame. For every CFA exam, 1) I have always had time to spare at the end of each session, and 2) I have NEVER started by answering the first question or doing the first question set. Why? A couple reasons. Notably, I’m a stubborn bastard who feels compelled to do things differently with respect to exams. Additionally, if there’s a formula or topic that I really don’t get, I spend the last few hours the night before or morning of the exam trying to cram just enough of it into my head so that I can get through it if it shows up on the exam. Also, I try to cover the material that I know will take me longer first and then get to the material that I know (based on timing myself before) will allow me to make up time. There is nothing wrong with this strategy provided that you remain acutely aware of the time. My mistake was that, in the first question I answered, I ended up wasting over 10 minutes on a deceptively simple question that couldn’t have been worth more than 5 points. There are two issues here, 1) none of us ever feel good about not answering a question, so there is a huge stigma against leaving an incomplete answer, and 2) it would have been sooooo much easier to walk away if this was just some insanely difficult question, but, as I said, it was deceptively simple. Finally (and I’m going to blame this on a certain presenter in the Schweser videos) of thinking that the markers would be actively looking to take away points from candidates who failed to write in every last detail.

      The bottom line is that, between the “lateness” penalty and my own screw ups, I looked up and found myself massively behind schedule. I started blitzing through the answers, which is never ideal. However, I managed to make up almost all of the time. When we are told to put our pencils down, I was on part C of a 4-part question (ie. A, B, C and D), so part D of that question was the only space that I left entirely blank. Obviously one risks making stupid mistakes when having to blitz through an exam in order to make up for lost time, but I felt at the time (and still feel now) that my answers were solid. It also helped that, as I mentioned earlier, the material that I had to blitz through was also the material with which I was most comfortable. When we were finally dismissed for our lunch break (which was shortened by 20 minutes because the exam didn’t start on time), I found that I had left the lunch Ms. Marc packed for me in the car. Fortunately, Ms. Marc was waiting in the parking lot at the break, but I was not particularly happy coming out of the am session. It’s not that I think it bombed, but rather that it could have been so much better.

      Fortunately, I was able to shake off my disgruntlement and the afternoon session was a study in contrast. I felt in complete command of the material, deliberately took my time and still had 20 minutes left in order to review my answers (and I even corrected a couple mistakes). My only “worry” about the afternoon session is that it felt almost too easy and I can’t imagine how any candidate could achieve a result below 90% (yes, I know that by writing this I have ensure myself a horrible result for the afternoon session).

      I went home, played with my kids without experiencing any “study guilt” in months, drank three beers in quick succession, and passed out by 8:30.

      Do I think I passed? I guess I’d say that, yes, I believe I did enough to pass. Or, a better way to say it is that I’d be surprised if I failed. But I can’t do anything about anything until August, so I’m just going to try to enjoy my life.

    • AjFinance
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      @Marc Sounds like you had a solid exam, apart from those issues you mentioned in the beginning. Its amazing how you managed to pull it off. Your afternoon session experience seems great, I guess it should make up for your AM experience.

      You seem to have put up with more things than most of us writing Level 3 here, and hats off to you 🙂 Goodluck with the results :-bd

    • Marc
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      @AjFinance, I’m not sure that I necessarily had to put of with more than other candidates. I’m probably just more likely to complain.

    • MattyJ
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      As a bonus, even if you decide to give up finance you could become a writer…I’d definitely buy your books!

      I didn’t find the pm session as easy as you. There were some easy parts, but also some obscure parts too.

    • Sophie Macon
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      I was gonna say that @MattyJ @Marc’s posts are a joy to read 🙂

    • Zee Tan
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      A solid, entertaining and funny piece!

      Here are some Londoners in the same situation…

    • MattyJ
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      @zee was that the pic you took last year, or a new one?

    • Zee Tan
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      That’s from last year @mattyj. I didn’t make it to the exam this year – I was too bushed.

    • MattyJ
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      @zee you didn’t miss much, it looked the same. Although now I was level three I had to walk twice as far to the exam hall. It had to be the one time I had a heavy bag too…

    • Marc
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      I just recreated the “deceptively simple” question referenced above on my whiteboard at work. Funny story, I must have over-looked an input in the preamble to the question because I ended up trying to solve an equation with two unknowns. Short of morphing into “A Beautiful Mind”, I could have spent all day trying to answer it and not been successful.

      Also, just down the hall, I can hear a member of our HR staff briefing a new hire on the details of our firm’s defined contribution pension scheme. I feel like yelling “ENOUGH ALREADY.”

    • sankrutimehta
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      @Marc: I think till August you should write a book on the experiences during the study journey and the exam…Would definitely help the Dec exam takers of the community apart from the much needed time off…
      To add to my exam day experience…our AM session paper was declared over about a minute before..I am sure of it as I had carried a stopwatch along to track my time. Additionally, may be a security fault, our calculators were never checked to make sure the memory was cleared and calculator pouches were allowed…or at least not asked to be kept outside.
      Additionally, we had a power blip for about 2 minutes when we could barely see anything.
      I remember from my L1 and L2 experiences, that the proctors were really particular about the material we carried…Lord knows what happened this time!!!

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