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This article is originally from 300Hours.com. You can read the full article here.

The Dec Level I CFA candidates take the exam this weekend. Knowing & preparing what you're going to bring can make a lot of difference in your exam - taking the exam when you know you're running out of pencils, or that your calculator is getting iffy unnecessarily piles onto the already-stressful environment.

As the following years and levels piled on, I've added a few must-bring items of my own. Here is my definitive list of things to bring to the exam that you should not miss. Take a shopping trip 1 or 2 days beforehand and try to get all the items on this list.

Things to bring into exam hall

You can put most of this in a plastic baggie and just take everything in it when you're marching into the hall (as proctors will not allow bags of any kind).

  1. Wooden pencils - sharpened (required). I know some exam centres allow mechanical pencils as well, but why take the chance. Get a whole pack from your local stationery store and sharpen the whole lot before setting out - that way you won't have to fiddle with sharpeners if you don't want to.
  2. Small sharpener (optional). Get a good quality but minimal sharpener - I find that the good ones tend to be cast metal. Costs a few cents.
  3. Eraser (required). Take any wrappings off - otherwise the proctors will take them off for you anyway.
  4. Two identical calculators (required). Texas Instruments BA II Plus (including BA II Plus Professional), or Hewlett Packard 12C (including the HP 12C Platinum, 12C 25th anniversary edition, and 12C 30th anniversary edition). No others. Additionally, I think the traditional advice of bringing a spare battery is generally not the best, for several reasons. One, you can't change the battery in the Texas Instruments BA II Plus calculator without a suitable Phillips screwdriver, so if you battery really does run out, you'll have a battery replacement with no means to replace it (the HP 12C & the TI BA II Plus Professional however does allow battery changes with just fingers). Second, empty batteries are not the only problem calculators can have - stuck or non-working buttons are a common complaint. Get an identical second calculator from either a charterholder, or an ex-candidate (i.e. one that has given up trying). However if you can't find an identical calculator I would consider batteries - learning how to use a new financial calculator in the middle of an exam isn't fun.
  5. Exam ticket (required). Goes without saying. Printed on clean paper, unmarked and to be stayed unmarked throughout the exam. This will let you know where you are supposed to sit and do your thing.
  6. International passport (required). CFA Institute only accepts international passports as identifications now. Problems with passports are some of the more frequent issues with candidates every year. They either forget the passport altogether, or they spend the morning of exam day frantically searching for it as a result of not having used it for some time. I know someone who had to convince the proctors to let her take the first exam passportless, had to finish one hour early to drive top speed to where she left it, and started the second session late. Do not let that be you.
  7. Watch (optional). A watch will serve 2 purposes - keeping track of time during the exam, and keeping track of time before the exam. The second reason is something that some candidates overlook - a whopping 5% of you will be late into the exam hall and will have to start after the instructions have been read out to the candidates and the exam has started.
  8. Jacket (kind of required). This will save you in case it gets cold - wear and un-wear as necessary. Make sure the pockets are empty, especially bits of paper or mobile phones.
  9. Bottle of water (optional). Most test centres have water coolers, but if you like your water right next to you and/or want to take no chances, just bring a bottle into the exam room. Proctors generally let you place it on the floor from my experience.
  10. Ear plugs (optional). Although the test centres are usually very quiet, occasionally there will be random noisy events happening. My experiences included construction noises, mixed up PA systems that led to 10 mins of cheerful non-relevant chatter through the loudspeaker system, and a panicked candidate fainting, crashing and subsequent fuss. If you're used to wearing ear plugs when you study, bring them with you to the exam.

As a handy reference, here is the definitive list of things that you can and can't bring into the exam hall:

Things that should be in your backpack

  1. Some cash. Always bring some money for an emergency cab ride, or emergency anything. Don't bring your wallet if leaving it in the storage area makes you nervous.
  2. Caffeine dose. I always bring a can of Red Bull with me to the exam but keep it with my belongings. It acts as an insurance against possible mid-day lethargy. I've only used it once, however. Dose accordingly - I am very sensitive to caffeine so one Red Bull is enough to get me hopping, but if you're a 4-coffee-a-day person you might want to go for something stronger.
  3. Food. This will save you queueing up for food during the break. Bring something non-offensive - nothing you know you're intolerant to. Nothing too spicy, greasy, or can't store in ambient temperatures of a few hours. Something like a ham and cheese sandwich would work perfectly.
  4. Your mobile phone, switched off. No silent mode, no flight mode. That way you KNOW that if a mobile phone is ringing, it definitely isn't yours.

Having assembled your kit - you should be all ready to give the exam your best. Good luck and go kick-ass!

Comments (11)

  • snakeplissken's picture

    Anyone working on a CFA version of "The Perfect Score" yet?

    Remember, once you're inside you're on your own.
    Oh, you mean I can't count on you?

  • duffmt6's picture

    IIRC you can't bring water into the testing room.

    I don't suggest caffeine - makes you pee, increases anxiety, etc. There are better, stronger alternatives.

    "For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Bloody Mary full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen."

  • In reply to Cries
    duffmt6's picture

    Cries wrote:
    duffmt6 wrote:
    IIRC you can't bring water into the testing room.

    I don't suggest caffeine - makes you pee, increases anxiety, etc. There are better, stronger alternatives.

    I was planning to do a naturally caffeinated green tea.

    Do you recommend anything else?

    I have never really experimented with anything besides coffee & tea.

    In your case I would just stick to a good night sleep unless you have the bladder of a camel and can handle some minimal caffeine. You will likely be in the testing room in the AM for >4 hours total.

    "For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Bloody Mary full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen."

  • Unforseen's picture

    B12 pills and/or 5 hour energy drinks are good substitutes for caffeine.

    While the list is great, I think a great tip is to accustom your body for the exam experience BEFORE the exam. The few saturdays before your exam, practice waking up at the time of the exam and eating what you will eat on exam day. you'll probably be doing mocks/studying those saturdays so you might as well get the body accustomed.

  • GoHuskies's picture

    "I am not sure who this 'Anonymous' person is - one thing is for certain, they have been one hell of a prolific writer" - Anonymous

  • absolute-austrian's picture

    "Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito"
    Do not give in to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it.