My experience sitting for the CFA Program Level I exam

My experience sitting for the CFA Program Level I exam

Last Saturday thousands of candidates around the globe sat for one of three successive exams that comprise the CFA Program. I was one of them. My location, the Richmond Convention Center, hosted around 250 eager test-takers for the 6-hour endeavor which was bisected by a one hour lunch break. Upon arrival just before 8:00AM, we were herded into a large common area outside a main ballroom where the exam would take place. I spent the next half-hour people-watching, and I identified candidates of all ages, ethnicities, and dress codes. Despite spending the rest of the day taking a mentally grueling exam, some people decided to dress in suits and ties. I opted for comfort: a pair of my favorite sweatpants and a soft long-sleeve pullover. This was not Milan, and I was not getting ready to walk the runway during Fashion Week.

Before exam books were distributed, we were all subjected to airport-level security. Our calculators were checked for secret hidden formulae, as were our pencils, pencil sharpeners, and wallets. Our passports were scrutinized to ensure we were not covert operatives traveling under assumed identities. Mobile phones, “smart watches,” fitness trackers, ham radios, and spy-pens were all confiscated. James Bond would have endured a full-body frisk. We were also chaperoned and monitored during our bathroom breaks. One astute candidate asked a proctor, “what if I have a shy bladder?” I don’t recall an answer being offered.

The CFA Institute prohibits us from speaking about the exam material. Suffice it to say, the exam was difficult but fortunately the subject matter is relevant and engaging (at least for me). Evidently there are professional “test-takers” who sign up for these types of exams purely to determine what questions are asked and to steal test materials. I hope they get paid well because I can’t imagine that being a glamorous job. 

One interesting fact I did learn… I had assumed our proctors for the exam would be CFA charterholders who volunteered their Saturday to keep us honest. In fact, a third-party company had been hired to perform that task. Believe it or not, there are profitable businesses out there who specialize in supervising exams. The gentleman I spoke with had also proctored for Medical Board certifications and several other major tests in the area. Think of all the other under-appreciated cottage industries that form the bedrock of our society. Who makes swizzle sticks? What about mousepads? Packing peanuts? How do they get aerosols into the can?

It’s now back to the real world as I wait the 8 agonizing weeks for my results.

Ben Sadtler 

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