CFA Level 3 Exam – Trying, Trying Again

“Owwwwwww!”, I gasped under my breath as I climbed out of bed on Sunday, June 3. “Oh, the pain… my head!”

And all I have left in my pocket from Friday’s paycheck are two thin…


The picture grows less fuzzy. Yesterday, I was… not at a honky tonk but at the CFA Level 3 exam. My pocket contains not my last nickels and dimes but backup propulsion systems for the stealthy, silent workhorse of the Reagan era (and Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama….) SSN-688, you guess? No, HP-12C!

And the head pain… I mean, that 90-minute Dogfish IPA my wife bought me to celebrate is indeed 9% ABV, but most of the sixpack is still in the fridge. It’s actually not my head but my neck! It’s just not used to spending all day at a 90 degree angle from my torso while I answer test questions.

What’s it been, like over a month since the CFA exam and I still haven’t written about it?!

In my defense, we did go out of town. Ahhh, Kauai

Po'ipu Beach

Let’s see what I can still recall…

Same as last year, I was scheduled to take the exam at a conference hotel in downtown Jacksonville, which is about 1.5 hours away. I booked a room there and told my wife not to worry about coming along as she’d only be sitting around watching me study. Before leaving, she handed me a care package to open once I arrived. I wasn’t allowed to peek but my hands felt skinny cylinder shapes through the packaging which could only be Red Bull. “Bless you, my child…”.

Check-in went smoothly and I again managed a late checkout – important because it gives you a retreat between the A.M. and P.M. exam sessions. I remember one time staying at a hotel in Washington D.C. Every time I passed someone in the hallway or shared an elevator, my mind wondered, “This guy CIA? 99% SURE! THIS GUY DEFINITELY CIA!”. Similar mental chatter happens now in Jacksonville at the hotel ice machine. “This girl CFA? 99% sure, this girl Level II…”

Arriving at Level 3 check-in the next morning, the proctor said “Hey! I remember you from last year!” I acted horrified, and told her if I had to return for a 3rd try next year, I’d wear some Groucho Marx nose & glasses for disguise.

I found my seat in the middle of new & old Level 3’s. Two people sitting close to me I remember well. Person #1 was a woman I’ll call Jetta, as she worked in the finance department of one of our state’s international airports. Airports have finance departments?! I realized that I naively thought of an airport as a structure people use – like a high school football stadium – rather than a sort of business with whole departments. I made a mental note to check out more of what goes on behind the scenes later.

Person #2 I’ll call Eminem, CFA. This guy had great knowledge of the Level 3 material, while at the same time harboring utter contempt for the program. Expletives erupted incessantly regarding what he thought about having to be there. His was a common story – he didn’t want to do the program, but his boss, who got his CFA centuries ago when pass rates were 2x what they are now, was making him.

“I can’t believe this BLEEP! Did you see that BLEEPING part in the CFA study guides intro that says you shouldn’t expect to be able to answer all questions on exam day?! What kind of BLEEPING Bull-bleep is that?! I highlighted that BLEEP, pasted it into an email to my BLEEPING boss, and hit Send on the bleeper-bleeper. There’d better not be any esoteric GIPS private equity vintage year carried interest transaction expense bull-bleep all up in this bleep!”

Jetta and I laughed and shook our heads knowingly. A quiet girl next to him politely smiled but seemed shocked at the language. I hadn’t heard this much profanity since college (my roommate read too much Hemingway).

No cameras allowed in CFA exam room. So, have some more Hawaii

The proctors were slow to get started with passing out the tests, telling us to bubble in our candidate numbers, etc. The 9AM test start time came and went. I started to sweat – this hadn’t happened before. Would we get this time back? Keeping my face pointed straight ahead I rolled my eyes left and right to see if anyone else looked concerned. Apparently just me? At about 9:15 we finally started.

The morning part of the test seemed… basically straightforward. My strongest memory is the incredible self-control it took to answer the essay questions with 1 or 2 sentences (or sentence fragments!) as taught by the third-party study materials. You just feel like you’re holding back information that would help you pass, and all that extra white space looks like the answer sheet of someone who was totally stumped by the questions.

We did indeed go until 12:15. 🙂

Lunch was spent back upstairs in my hotel room. I dragged luggage and study guides down to my car at the end and threw it all in the trunk after checking out. Time for part 2…

And as I discovered chatting before it began, everyone around me
was freaked out by the morning’s late start too.

The afternoon part was… well let me say this. Almost all of my answers indeed matched one of the multiple choice options to pick from. On some tests, that’s basically proof that you’re working problems correctly. On the CFA exam, it’s only proof that you’re working the problem the way many candidates would – but not necessarily the right way.

Post-exam I high-tailed it to a vacation condo about 50 miles south on the beach. It was easily identifiable by the sign on the door & IPA in the fridge.

After dinner, as if I hadn’t had enough finance for one day, I looked up Jetta’s airport on the web. I found a wealth of publicly available financial documents (apparently they issue bonds, so potential purchasers need operating information for due diligence).

The first thing that popped out was the revenue breakdown. Think airports make most revenue from airplanes? Ha!


Does your airport charge you basically double to park at the terminal versus less convenient satellite parking? Well it’s the same for others higher up the food chain…

Parking Fees for Airliners

I checked out their operating margin (10%) and noticed that their DB pension is underfunded (isn’t everyone’s?). Enough!

Final stop on the web that evening was a post-CFA exam tradition I started years ago. Cold one in hand, I headed over to monitter, entered #cfa, and watched live tweets about the exam bounce in from around the globe (along with blurry instagram shots from bars). One tweet rose above the rest:

Sounds about right.

6 thoughts on “CFA Level 3 Exam – Trying, Trying Again”

  1. At work late, waiting for a 0.5m row vlookup to do its thing (at a whopping rate of 1% per minute…)

    Thanks for posting this Lumi. Glad to see you took a break. My girlfriend and I are going to the great barrier reef right after the exam results are posted. I’ll either have the best time ever or wonder into the rainforest hoping a crocodile finds me.

    It is sobering to think that our exams have now been marked and we are now in the hands of the MPS gods.

    Goodluck everyone!

  2. Today is exam results day for Level 1 and Level 2. It appears Level 3 gets to enjoy waiting more. Less people passed than last time, but I passed so I can’t feel sorry for anyone as I’ve suffered more than most… One odd development is every blog post I ever made about the CFA program is getting read today, by random web surfers.

    It is a strange sub-culture, as I never seem to even use most of my education. I just write emails and comment on blogs…

  3. PASSED!!!

    With 7 sections 70%, I definately received a helping hand from lady luck (and perhaps the fabled ethics adjustment). I’ll take it and run!!!

    Goodluck Lumi and others.

    After 5 long years and 4 attemps its time to party!!!

  4. this is annoying (must be use of greater than / less than signs…)
    I got 7 sections less than 50% and only 6 sections greater than 70%
    feel free to delete my comments – don’t want to mess up your blog.

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