Advice For Anyone Else Planning To Take The CFA Exam For No Real Reason

As it turns out, the only piece of commenter advice on taking the CFA Level I Exam that I actually followed was “don’t have lunch at Headquarters, the strip club across the street from the Javits Center.” Initially, I wasn’t sure about this advice. When I left the Javits Center for lunch, a part of me felt that I owed it to myself, to Bess, and to our readers to have my CFA lunch at a strip club. But after spending two hours in a shabby cavernous room with terrible lighting surrounded by bored and disillusioned people unhappily doing things that they had memorized but didn’t really feel in their hearts, I couldn’t have handled a second-rate strip club.

So I went to a Mexican place in Chelsea and had a nice lunch surrounded by fully clothed people. To make sure that exam conditions closely replicated my successful practice exam, I also had two reasonably strong margaritas. That, plus my watch stopping in the middle of lunch, added a little excitement to my walk back to the Javits Center.

I can’t really tell you whether not going to Headquarters was good advice, since I didn’t do a controlled experiment. I suspect it was, and I arrived back at the Javits Center cheerful, refreshed, and swaying slightly. In any case, here are some other hard-won insights for those of you considering the CFA:

– The thing they tell you about “show up an hour early; everyone needs to be in their seats half an hour before the start” is, like, maybe a little conservative. Not knowing what to expect, though, I mostly followed it, meaning that I spent 30-40 minutes before each session sitting at a desk with nothing but a calculator, some number two pencils, and an admissions ticket that you’re not even allowed to doodle on. It was indescribably boring. I recommend showing up at the last minute and sliding Indiana Jones-style through the closing doors.

– Apparently you can acquire some laminated sheets that tell you the answers to the CFA exam, and you can study those sheets outside the exam room in the morning and during the lunch break, and then you will know the answers, though not necessarily which questions they go to.* Everyone seemed to have those sheets, so if you’re thinking about taking the exam you might want to look into that. I brought a novel, which went better with the margaritas during lunch.

– The thought process that leads you to wear your oversize CORNELL BIG RED sweatshirt to the exam is probably the wrong thought process. Your Tiger Inn sweatshirt is worse. If your goal is to intimidate the people around you, just do what I did: leave the morning session an hour early and come back visibly drunk for the afternoon.**

– I’m not sure this will help you pass or anything, since I was the only HP calculator user in my little section, but buy and learn to operate an HP 12C. You work in finance, or want to. Using a non-RPN calculator is no way to live.

– Honestly, it might have helped to study for more than a week. Just saying.

Results are apparently out in January. For those of you who took the exam, you could do these things (via BI). I probably won’t be doing those things. Also this is probably the end of the CFA line for me. I’m gonna put my odds of having passed at about 70%, but even if I did, thinking about doing this twice more (once with essays) makes me want to cry.

* This seems somehow related: someone emailed today to say “Schweser Acquires Stalla. Just announced… CFA candidates will be interested.” Will they? Are you? Are those things?

** Also, blog about it.

(hidden for your protection)
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51 Responses to “Advice For Anyone Else Planning To Take The CFA Exam For No Real Reason”

  1. Guest says:

    did you go to the Mexican restaurant before or after? Don't be sad – I bet you passed

  2. Other Guest says:

    "If your goal is to intimidate the people around you, just do what I did: leave the morning session an hour early and come back visibly drunk for the afternoon."

    I like Matt a whole lot more now. Awesome.

  3. Nostradamus says:

    No charts, and I finished the whole thing? No way did Matt write this. Maybe he should start blogging drunk too.

  4. srslyWTF says:


  5. im_new_here says:

    "…thinking about doing this twice more (once with essays) makes me want to cry."

    I bet the essay graders know just how you feel.

  6. guest says:

    your watch stopping made you nervous? come on dude.

    -matt levine's cell phone

  7. Eating clubs like Tiger Inn is what the subprime is in trouble.

    -Guy with CORNELL BIG RED Sweatshirt

  8. Guest says:

    Best intimidation method is wearing tear away pants.


  9. Dr_Zaius says:

    i feel like Matt is buckling under the stress to be liked. almost going to a strip club? drinking two margaritas at lunch?! no effing charts/graphs?!?!?

    rise above, matt. rise above.

    • Dr_Zaius says:

      PS: the hp-12c is boss. glad you called out those losers with the BAii plus or worse, the TI-83.

      • Custody Banker says:

        Can't rock a TI-83 for the exams, chief, thanks for trying though.

      • Guest says:

        Buying a $70 calculator that does the same things as a $30 calculator, except slower and requiring you to type things in nonsensical order, is really the way to go to intimidate the kiddies. Especially if you're operating said calculator while drunk. Nice work Matt!

      • Damn U Dirty Ape says:

        HP-17b2 is underrated

  10. Candidate says:

    Based on what people wore on Saturday (I was at Javitz as well), I'd say there are a lot of insecure people in this industry (or trying to be in this industry). The dress shoes, dress pants, button-down and backwards hat say "I can be serious, but I'm here to party."

    – John C. Reilly

  11. bgg says:

    What a great story! Can't wait for the long winded follow up of when Bess takes you shopping for your first training bra

  12. "Iron Liver" Jones says:

    "Visibly drunk" after just 2 margaritas?? Come on – you gotta step up that game.

  13. Put_Option says:

    Being an alum of the Javits Center, I think we forgot some crucial points;

    – The airport hangers where you take your test can get windy and cold as balls. I was wearing so much Patagonia that you'd think I never left a heady New England boarding school.
    – The fold-out, fake wood tables are wobbly. You better pray the other guy at your table stays still. This is complemented by cheaper, wobblier fold-out plastic chairs that seem to only be designed for people under 5 feet tall. Anyone else, hope you like sliding cause you'll be doing tons.
    – At lunch time, Javits rolls out the red carpet for 5 star subway-express-like stands where you pay 15 bucks for a prepackaged sandwich that even Jared wouldn't endorse. Then you sit on a shut off escalator with some other sorry asshole trying to re-learn 5 point DuPont.
    – You can bring in any prescription drugs. Adderall, Codeiene, and/or Coke from your favorite sketch delivery service.

    • Louis Winthorpe III says:

      A few other things:

      -The McDonalds on 34th and 10th will get impossibly busy at lunch and it goes without saying it's not worth it.
      -As a rule of thumb, your testing dose of Adderall should be roughly double your study dose. Don't forget to refresh your dosage for the afternoon session. Bonus points for reloading at the water cooler in the front of the testing room.
      -This will make waiting at your table with nothing to read or write on exponentially harder.
      -Afterward, hit up Blue Ruin on 39th and 9th for their two-for-one drink specials and clinically insane clientele.

  14. ChukG says:

    HP-12C is a friend a mine

    STARR Gasparino.

  15. Not Me says:

    Matt, haven't you seen all the ad? Drinking and deriving are a dangerous.

  16. CincinnatusC says:

    wow you're so cool for failing the CFA exam.

  17. Guest says:

    "I recommend showing up at the last minute and sliding Indiana Jones-style through the closing doors."

    Seeing this never gets old

  18. color war says:

    "Also this is probably the end of the CFA line for me."

    are you serious? I was banking on being able to get full detailed reports from CFA level 4 sleepaway camp in a few years.

    Wasn't that the point of the exercise to begin with? or am i missing something here?

  19. brochacho, cfa says:

    My favorite part of the experience was the guy next to me who wore three watches and brought a bundle of about 75 pencils. He also had an two extra calculator batteries and a little mini screwdriver. You can never be too safe.

    • Guest says:

      Let me plow right through checking my motives and guess that he was asian…

    • guest says:

      No backup screwdriver? All 75 pencils in one bundle? You're supposed to carry multiple smaller bundles of pencils in the event that an entire bundle is eradicated. Amateur.

      -Stereotypical Asian CFA candidate

  20. Haphols_cfa says:

    I miss Stalla :( Peter Olinto was the best there is (he still is, just don't know where he'll be now).

  21. Fake Sam Ro says:

    ha ha ha.

  22. Guest says:

    Wow, a week of studying and bitching, one Level I sitting, and you're already talking about quitting. Way to give it the old community college try.

  23. Guest says:

    2005 CFA December Exam in Boston. Some dude was told by the proctor that the time could only be provided to him in increments 15 mins etc. He says he can't see the clock and essentially suffers a nervous breakdown in his seat yelling out loud that he demanded to see a test administration supervisor. For this outburst he was rewarded with a mandatory exit from the exam. Maybe I am a dick, but I found it hilarious.

  24. afficionado says:

    leave it to matt to make a strip club tedious..