CFA Level Two Exam Day Experience

cfa_testing

Well this time last year I was receiving all sorts of comments and emails from fellow CFA candidates but this year it’s been just a trickle. Has the market crash caused most to jump ship? Only the truly religious remain interested in valuation techniques?!

Regardless I’ll post a few vignettes from exam weekend before I forget.

June 5, 2009

1:00 PM
Something has changed this year. A veritable lack of nervousness and it’s absolutely not because I feel better prepared. I make a backup copy of my admission ticket and hunt through drawers to locate last year’s spare calculator batteries, but I’m utterly relaxed and non-chalant. We get in the car to head to Jacksonville (my test city) the night before. The waypoints CFA Hotel and CFA Test are still left in the GPS from last year.

3:00 PM
Arrive in Jacksonville, make a quick trip by the same test center as last year just for due diligence, and head to a newly opened Whole Foods. I grab a container for their buffet takeout and pile on all the protein I can find with just a smidgen of rice. Wife gets the opposite.

3:45 PM
Check-in to the hotel and carry the 7 volumes up to the room. Why not the standard 6 volumes? Because a couple weeks ago one kind Level III candidate in the northeast took pity upon me and Fedex’d me one of his Level II Schweser study guides from last year. It has extra practice tests. Thanks Patrick!

4:15 PM
We’re back at the hotel, all checked in, and I’m dividing my time between problems from random chapters and problems from problem chapters. For some reason I’m ravenous and the seal is quickly broken on the takeout dinner I thought I’d eat around 7:00 PM.

5:15 PM
In the last couple of days I’m realizing that my “problem areas” have two causes. One is when the derivation of the necessary formulas for a particular technique are either abbreviated or flat-out skipped. This leaves me relying on pure memorization in order to work problems from these sections correctly. Not my modus operandi engineering approach where I’m used to re-deriving whatever I need and thinking through the tip of my pencil. Need to price a call option? Just remember this!

black_sholes

5:16 PM
The other problem area comes from just not getting the big picture of a certain concept or financial instrument. Here in the hotel with the free wi-fi, I’m finding Wikipedia and Investopedia invaluable for breaking some of these topics down into language I can understand. Should have thought of this weeks ago! 🙁

11:00 PM
It’s getting late and I’m reaching the point where I’m making careless mistakes on stuff I know backwards and forwards. Time to rest the gray cells. After swearing up and down for the last few days that I was going to unplug the hotel TV immediately upon checking in to avoid a repeat of last year’s 2 AM spontaneous awakening, I forget all about it. Instead, I zip through desert canyons in my F-22 (X-plane Extreme) for 15 minutes and then pass out next to my already zonked wife.

June 6, 2009

6:00 AM
I awake feeling… awesome! Roughly 7 hours of straight sleep which is rare for me, most likely due to my green tea addiction. The combination of the hotel’s above average beans (Wolfgang Puck) and standard Florida tap water (a.k.a. “swamp water”) makes for an OK cup of coffee. We eat at the breakfast buffet and go back to the room to pack up and check out.

8:00 AM
On the way out, my wife says she’ll meet me at the car because she wants to talk with the manager. Turns out she noticed a few ways that the hotel had gone downhill since last year and wasn’t happy with our stay. I was oblivious with my nose in the study guides. In fact I’ve been oblivious to almost everything non-CFA the last 10 days. The food appears… The dirty plates taken away… The clothes get washed… The groceries get bought… I owe her a very nice dinner.

8:05 AM
Out in the parking lot I see someone else checking out, packing up, and getting into her car. It’s an Asian woman and with a big backpack – enough to hold about 6 volumes. I tell my wife she’s either headed to the CFA exam or an IEEE conference. The glasses and sense of couture are the same for both crowds.

8:06 AM
Wife pulls out an ice cold sugar-free red bull. This year the LARGE size!

8:15 AM
We pull up in the test center parking lot and it’s filled with other cars. Only about 1 in 5 cars are empty. The rest contain one or two cramming students each, with an open door or rolled down window.

8:25 AM
Despite not knowing each other, everyone in the parking lot suddenly decides at once that it’s time to head in. It feels too early to me but as the parking lot’s cars grow to be about 95% empty I feel a force beyond my control leading me to not only head on my way too, but walk rather quickly, like I’m actually late. Mob psychology.

8:30 AM
I’ve gotten my admission ticket checked and calculators inspected. I’m not 100% sure but it seems like all of us Level II’s are being sent to the same room. Unlike last year’s tiny classroom with individual desks, this one is a huge space with long, shared tables. It turns out it’s where the Clay County School Board meets and its layout is incredibly similar to a court room, complete with a raised platform and pulpit. I get assigned a space down on floor level right in the front. Exactly where a doomed defendant would nervously squirm waiting to learn their fate.

8:33 AM
Something is bothering me. There are 2 proctors checking us in. The one I got just looked at my ID and admission ticket and told me where to sit. The other one does the same but also marks something on each candidate’s admission ticket. I do a faux stretch to eye the admission tickets of those around me. I think they’re blank too but can’t really see…

8:34 AM
…imagining some sort of Armageddon scenario… like coming back for the afternoon part of the test and they don’t let me in because I don’t have “the special mark” on my ticket to prove I was there that morning…

8:37 AM
After watching yet more candidates get some sort of something written on their admission ticket, I can’t stand it any longer. I raise my hand and try to inquire without sounding like a 3rd grader (“you wrote something on Billy’s paper, how come you didn’t write anything on my paper?”). The other proctor walks over to me and simply writes my seat number on my ticket. I say “whew! that feels better!” and other people around give relieved laughs while she marks theirs too. They were thinking the same thing.

8:40 AM
I’ve been watching the Level II’s stream in and don’t recognize a soul from Level I from last year. There appear to be about 30 or 40 of us. The people as a whole look smarter. Making the curve seems like it will be harder

8:42 AM
…and in walks a surfer guy with long hair and a “Make Boards, Not War” t-shirt. Thank God.

8:45 AM
Unbelievably, people are still getting up to go to the bathroom right when, from what I interpreted from the rules, the doors will be LOCKED and BOLTED and NO ONE will be allowed OUT or IN.

8:47 AM
What?! Something in the proctor’s introductory remarks about “the facility being monitored for electronic signals”?!? If I listen hard I think I might be able to make out the roar of a circling AWACS over the air conditioning. Can see the stenciling now…

CFA Institute, Special Operations
Keep Back 300 Feet!

8:56 AM
I can’t believe it! 3 guys just arrive now! After the rest of us have already bubbled in our names, candidate numbers, re-sharpened our pencils, etc. They don’t seem ruffled at all.

9:00 AM
One of the proctors takes the high, middle seat on the raised platform overlooking the courtroom. Right where the judge normally sits… The test starts and I’m not at liberty to describe much about it. Compared to last year it seems a lot harder. Seem to remember reading that there are fewer questions on the Level II exam too. I also remember reading incredibly that in the history of the CFA Program no one has ever made a perfect score on any one of the three tests. Supposedly this is not by design…

11:25 AM
I’ve finished my first pass and am alarmed at the number of questions from sections I felt were my strong parts that I seem to have royally screwed up. Ooooh! A question on free cash flow to equity! I was hoping they’d ask this! I’ll just add back depreciation to net income, subtract investments in working capital, subtract investments in fixed assets, and add net borrowings. Great! I get $897 Million. And the test answer choices are:

(a) $423 Million
(b) $443 Million
(c) $449 Million

Uh oh…

12:00 PM
Test is over and I’ve luckily found my mistakes on many of the previously almost-blown problems. However I’d have to admit that there still seemed to be more than just a few where I was almost blindly guessing.

study_lunch

12:05 PM
Meet my wife in the parking lot. She thinks it’s a bad idea to do a picnic with sandwiches like last year because it looks like it might rain. She unknowingly coins a new foreign wife-ism by saying she’s had a look around at the restaurants and thinks the local Giovanna’s Deli looks better than that chain Long Steak Horn House. We order paninis and I grab a Red Bull from the car. There are a couple other Level II’s inside studying. Minutes after we sit down it starts pouring rain and never stops.

1:25 PM
We’re back in the test center parking lot, I’m doing a little studying when suddenly the “everyone slam the car door and start walking to the test center at the same time” phenomenon happens again. Like last time it feels early, but like a lemming, I’m pulled…

1:30 PM
We were all wrong and are therefore all jammed into a small hall outside of the test room since the proctors aren’t back yet to let us in.

1:40 PM
Now back inside I’m getting to know Kyle, a fellow Level II from Tallahassee. He has some sort of bank job and they paid for his MBA but this CFA stuff is of his own initiative and out of his own pocket just like me. I ask him if he’s been using any of these advanced quantitative and valuation techniques to do active trading. “Ah…. I’m fully indexed” he admits quietly and we both have a good belly laugh when I tell him that I am too.

2:00 PM
The afternoon test begins and is for the most part identical in nature to the morning part. It seems a little easier at the beginning but ends hard. Again I have about 30 minutes to check my work. Again I have more than a couple questions that were pure guesses.

5:00 PM
We’re all done and all shaking our heads at how hard it was. But most, if not all, of us felt this way for Level I. The truth is, with the curve you just can’t say for certain that you failed, even though it overwhelmingly feels that way.

5:05 PM
There’s a little table set up outside with one guy from the local CFA chapter and one guy from Stalla. Both are very friendly, the Stalla guy hands me a water bottle and mechanical pencil. If I have to sit for Level II again, I might very well go with these guys. Advertising works!
My wife reminds me that there’s another red bull in the ice chest for the drive home. I’m not gonna sleep for days…

stalla

7:00 PM
Arrive back home and again my wife has splurged on a very nice bottle of Rioja! We have dinner and I sip my first wine in almost a week. I look up one question I remembered from the test about goodwill, see that I missed it, and decide to stop there.

8:00 PM
Again tempted to know how I scored so I revisit which % of the test comes from which sections. I give myself what I think I’d score on each section and the weighted sum comes up to be just north of 70%. This is surprising given my standard 55-65% regular scores on practice tests.

And that’s it. Check back late August for results. Good luck to everyone!