After Thanksgiving tons of hopefully financial professional will do the Wall Street equivalent of walking the plank — they will take the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam.
The exam isn’t just an exam, it’s an endurance test full of challenging material — you’re supposed to study for 300 hours for each of the three levels of the exam. That’s why CFA charterholder and Lehman Brothers vet Greg Campion wrote a book on how to survive. It’s called CFA Confidential: What It Really Takes to Become a Chartered Financial Analyst.
The book has a bunch of tips about how to study for all three exam levels, how to deal with stress etc.
However, if you’re reading this and you’re taking the CFA soon, you’re likely too busy studying to read a book about anything but the material on the test. (Sorry dudes, pick up the book for the next level.)
For people like you, Business Insider asked Campion to distill his wisdom into 10 vital points you absolutely have to understand before, as, and after you take the CFA.
Who loves you?
Here are Campion’s tips are:
- Be nice to your body – It’s easier said than done, but I really recommend taking care of your body and (at all costs) avoiding getting sick for the big day. Eating healthy, getting some exercise, and sleeping can all make your brain work much better on exam day.
- Practice tests – Don’t fall into the trap of reading yourself to death. The best way to learn the material is to take a ton of practice tests. Do every problem you can get your hands on and then do them again. And again. This is the only way to hammer the material into your head.
- Do a test run – I always liked to make a test run to my exam site on a Saturday morning a week or two before the actual test. It sounds corny but you need to know exactly how long it will take you to drive, taxi, subway, or skateboard to your exam. Add 15 minutes to whatever you think is the right time.
- The last day – If you spend the entire Friday before the exam staring at your CFA books, it will be the longest day of your life. Trust me, I’ve done it. A football or basketball player wouldn’t completely exert themselves the day before a big game. Do some light studying, get some exercise, and try to relax — movies can be a great distraction.
- Logistics – Candidates give up their lives for six months to study for this exam. They pass up a thousand amazing life experiences…and then? They show up LATE. Or worse, to the wrong place! You cannot control what is on the test, but you can make sure you’ve got the right form of ID and know where your test is. Get this stuff right.
- Bathrooms – One of the least glamorous parts of the CFA exams is how overrun the bathrooms get when you’ve got thousands of people in a convention hall on the same time schedule. I suggest scoping out far away bathrooms when you arrive in the morning. People are lazy and you could probably use the walk. Hit them up before the exam and during the break.
- Use your break wisely – CFA candidates get a two-hour break during the middle of the exam. You need to eat a healthy but light meal – I suggest a turkey sandwich and some almonds; and get the blood flowing – I suggest a 15 minute walk. Don’t spend your time listening to other candidates tell you how easy the first part of the exam was. You’ll just psych yourself out.
- Earplugs – As anyone who follows @CFAConfidential on Twitter knows, I’m a huge proponent of earplugs–for studying AND the test. Don’t let the guy with the hacking cough behind you ruin your day.
- Plan your escape – If you’re taking the exam in a major city like New York or London, you’ll want to plan your escape. Trying to hail a cab for an hour outside the Manhattan’s Hynes Convention Center for an hour in the freezing cold, or sitting in a massive traffic jam in Boston, are not exactly the best ways to spend your first hour of freedom. I know from experience.
- Celebrate responsibly – After spending over eight hours on the scene and experiencing one of the most gruelling days of their lives, CFA candidates are usually ready to blow off a little steam come 5pm. I would caution you to remember, however, that spending the next day curled up in the fetal position wishing for relief from the worst hangover of your life is NOT the best way to spend Day 1 of your post-CFA exam freedom.
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