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11/28/2011

Maximize Your Performance on the CFA Exam


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CFA San Francisco

If you stay focused and composed, you will maximize your performance on the CFA exam. It’s hard to argue with that! Follow this game plan to minimize stress and increase your chances of success on exam day.

THE LAST WEEK BEFORE THE EXAM
  1. Marathon training continues. Eating a well-balanced diet that includes fruit and vegetables a week in advance of an exam has been shown to improve attention and thinking speed. On exam day, continue the good nutrition by eating a breakfast high in fiber and carbohydrates. Oatmeal is a great choice. It will sustain you through the first part of the day.

  2. Ticket! Get your Exam Ticket! Download your exam ticket and verify your name and other information on it against your passport. Contact CFA Institute immediately if there are discrepancies.

  3. Know the route, make a plan, get there early. Will you drive, take public transportation, summon a taxi or carpool to the exam? No matter what your mode of transportation, make plans ahead. A week or two before the exam, take a test run on a Saturday morning so you are completely familiar with where the test site is, how to get there and what the commute is like on a weekend morning. Know the weekend bus/train/ferry/subway schedule; make carpool or taxi arrangements in advance and recheck the night before; check traffic conditions on exam day.


Bottom line - Make sure you've made solid plans, are thoroughly familiar with the route and allow adequate time to get there early.

THE NIGHT BEFORE THE EXAM

  1. Prepare the night before: Set out everything you need for the exam the night before to ensure you have everything you need. Know what you can and cannot bring. (View exam policies for complete details)

    Here is a summary:
    • Essentials: Exam ticket, valid passport, calculator, extra batteries, pencils, erasers, sharpeners.
    • Optional: Earplugs, glasses, wristwatches, wallet, medicines, tissues.
    • Not allowed: Food, drink, bags of any kind, study materials, paper, highlighters, rulers, cell phones or other electronic items, desk clock, or timer.
  2. Go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep. According to a recent Wall St. Journal article, sleep plays a role in test performance, but in two unexpected ways. In the article Dan Taylor, director of a sleep-and-health-research lab at the University of North Texas in Denton, advises that you do not wake up earlier than usual to study as it could interfere with the rapid-eye-movement sleep that aids memory. He also suggests if you review the toughest material right before going to bed the night before the test, it will be easier to recall the material later.

However, taking off the day or two before the exam to cram will only cause information overload. 

EXAM DAY

  1. Starbucks is not your friend on exam day.
    True, it’s important to stay hydrated, be choosy about what you drink before the exam. Water, rather than caffeine, is the better choice. But don’t gulp down right before the exam. It will most likely result in a costly trip to the restroom. Remember for every 1.5 minutes you are away from the exam, you’ve missed the opportunity to answer one question.

  2. Find your rhythm.
    You open your test. You stare at the page. All the knowledge you’ve crammed in your head seems to have left on a sudden vacation. Don’t panic! The exam is divided into broad categories; start with the topic you know best. If you can’t answer the first question, move on until you find one you can answer. Continue that strategy until you’ve successfully answered 10 questions. This will settle your mind, reboot your memory and renew your confidence. Now you’re ready to tackle the questions you couldn’t answer before.

  3. Budget your time.
    The biggest mistake candidates make, especially in the morning session, is to lose track of time. Each question should take 1.5 minutes on average to answer. Don’t get bogged down trying to get the right answer to a question just because you want to prove you can. If it takes you 15 minutes to do that, you’ve lost the opportunity to answer 9 other questions. That’s a bad strategy.

  4. Lunch.
    It’s a long two hour gap between exam sessions. Don’t spend it in a line with hundreds of other candidates. Instead, bring your lunch and eat away from the crowds. This is the perfect time to review your summary notes in a calm, controlled environment. And don’t talk about the exam with anyone! You will only psych yourself (and them) out.
      Some more lunch tips:
    • Leave your lunch in your car or arrange for a friend bring it at the break.
    • Don’t overeat or you run the risk of slipping into a food coma in the afternoon.
    • Continue the high-fiber, high-carb diet - avoid greasy, heavy foods.
  5. Time called—pencil down! There is no penalty for wrong answers, so answer every question you can within the time limit. But put your pencil down when time is called. Failing to do so is an ethical violation, one which can cost you dearly.

Do you have other strategies to minimize stress and increase exam performance? Tell us about them!

–Linda Lam, CFA Society of San Francisco

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