CFA testing day experience, thoughts

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(Update June 8 ) Read couple interesting blogs on yesteday CFA exam. This one from Singapore, and another one from China (in Chinese).

(Original June 7) After came back from the Hilton hotel testing center, I went directly to Schnucks store, to get the Stella Artois beer, and 3 oranges. Why 3 oranges, because I saw 4 for $3. Apparently my mind is still stuck in the CFA exam: caculation on net income, cash flow blah blah blah. When I first saw the receipt shows $2.25 for 3 oranges, I laughed to myself: under normal circumstance I would just buy two for $1.50, much easier calculation. Anyway, if you came here looking for test specific things, I am afraid you will be disappointed 🙂

But I still like to write down some of my thoughts for the test and in general.

CFA test grading
(Grading paper for CFA test, source: CFAInstitute).

1) More people attended the test than I thought
In the grand ballroom at Airport Hilton, I counted there are roughly 300 (14*2*12) people for level I and II candidates. Why so many people and what is the composition of test takers? I saw both new graduate, MBA students and professionals. I am the rare amateur. Let me quote the press release from CFAInstitute which shows growth of CFA candidates in year 2008 vs. year 2007:

United States (23,685 new candidates, 27 percent growth from FY2007)
China (7,778 new candidates, 68 percent growth from FY2007)
Canada (6,223 new candidates, 35 percent growth from FY2007)
United Kingdom (5,299 new candidates, 42 percent growth from FY2007)
Hong Kong (5,028 new candidates, 25 percent growth from FY2007)

2) Motivations for taking test
For students, a CFA certificate will helps distinguish themselves when looking for job. Professionals take the test to get more education and credentials, so that they can further progress in their career. Obviously the students got slight edge here because they just learned those stuff at school and sometimes they take review courses. For professionals, it’s tougher because not only they got work and family, but they need to study the stuff they learned in college long time ago. So my suggestion is take the test when in school.

A related question: how useful is passing the CFA exam? Education-wise, I don’t think that is not as comprehensive as formal training from a good finance degree program. But it is very helpful in the industry, because as financial field continues to evolve, an industry certification helps professionals up-to-date with current technology and rules.

3) Does the good turnout means the booming of financial industry, like the IT certification boom in dot com era? As you can see from the CFA candidates number (above), the CFA candidates went up significantly in recent years. Well, I think the industry is definitely becoming more competitive, as many talents jump the bandwagon. It also means it’s tougher to stand out in this field. But at the same time, thinking about the opportunities in emerging markets, China, India, Brazil, Russia, RoW…I think investmenting professional will find his/her place if he/she is competitive.

4) How was the test?
Well I wish I had studied harder 🙂 Seriously I always have this feeling “why didn’t I study harder” when I was taking CET level 4 and 6 test back in college. But that afterthought didn’t help a bit in exam. I think more positive and use the tips for myself:

* Make sure get the “can solve” problems right, don’t lose points on those. On the other hand, I do not waste too much time on difficult/time consuming problems. Each problem has same weight.

* Review period: I marked the problems which I have doubts in the first round. In review, I will ONLY change the answer when I have strong belief that the new answer is better than the old one. Or I can almost understand the testing intension of the problem.

* English, English, English: what do I mean? Try to improve English, and read the problems and choices carefully during the test. Because some of the words and sentences are tricky for me: even though I have been in the US for more than 10 years.

* Logistic related: don’t drink too much coffee and water, to avoid too many rest room trips. Bring some food and drink for lunch, to save the time for study during morning and afternoon sessions. I did flip some pages during the lunch break.

Of course your tips related to test and studying are always welcome 🙂

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