The CFA Institute is fairly restrictive about what you may bring into the examination with you:

  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Calculators (only 2 types are allowed and they will be inspected).
  • Extra batteries for your calculator and a small screwdriver used to replace the batteries
  • A printout of your admission ticket (Only one printout is allowed. I attempted to bring in 2 when I sat for the CFA level 1 exam and had to dispose of it before the proctors would grant me entrance.)
  • Eyeglasses (leave the case at home)
  • Eye drops
  • Ear plugs
  • Hard candy, individually wrapped
  • Valid passport
  • Ink pens (only for CFA level 3 exam takers)

That’s about it other than medically prescribed items perhaps. I am also a bit particular in regards to what I bring into the CFA Exams with me.

My calculator choice is the Hewlett Packard 12C (HP 12C). I once had a professor exclaim that I should be awarded extra points for using the HP 12C for the CFA exams. Personally, I feel that the HP 12C is far superior to the Texas Instrument calculator that everyone else brings to the CFA exams. Once you learn reverse polish notation, it is actually quicker to use than conventional calculators. The largest time gain comes from being able to forego parentheses and brackets in equations. An often underappreciated aspect of the HP 12C is that it is laid out in a horizontal fashion, whereas most calculators are vertical. The HP 12C layout allows for superior keyboarding potential. Specifically, I can hold it in a manner where I can use both thumbs to input data comfortably because of the layout (similar to holding your smartphone horizontally as opposed to vertically to send text messages). The right thumb is for the numbers and basic functions. The left thumb is for the more complex financial functions. I have blogged about my love of the HP 12C before, but I have other proclivities as well.

I have my lucky Creighton University T-shirt (partially pictured below).

My Lucky T-Shirt that I wore to the CFA Level I Exam and the CFA Level II Exam.

The photo above is actually a few years old now. The lucky T-shirt is looking a bit tattered nowadays. I have successfully negotiated the postponement  of the destruction of my lucky T-shirt with my wife. It will be destroyed ceremoniously at the conclusion of my CFA level 3 exam. If I pass, it will have served its’ purpose nobly. If I fail, the luck has run dry and the T-shirt deserves its’ demise. Either way, the T-shirt will die this June.

In addition to my lucky T-shirt and my trusty HP 12C calculator, I will be armed with a classic writing instrument for the CFA level 3 exam. The Faber-Castell 9000 with HB lead. The 9000 was created in 1905. Today, we take things such as hexagonally shaped pencils for granted but imagine the frustration in the beginning of the 20th-century where your round pencils continuously roll off of your desk. The 9000 has been a smash hit ever since its introduction and is virtually unchanged during its 111-year existence. 111 is such a fantastic number, that I could not imagine using any other pencil this year. Last year for the CFA level 2 exam I used a mechanical pencil the (ComfortMate Ultra from PaperMate) because I was worried about time lost due to sharpening. What I found is that the excessively thin and brittle 0.7mm lead for the mechanical pencil breaks too easily and I had to continuously work the eraser top push button to bring some fresh lead to bear on the exam answer sheet. Additionally, the newly revealed lead was invariably too long when it first emerged and often resulted in a quick snap and the process repeats itself. Besides the 9000’s superior craftsmanship, I have another workaround  for the sharpening dilemma. I will simply bring several pencils. I just purchased 15 Faber-Castell 9000s from CW Pencil Enterprise, explicitly for the CFA level 3 exam. I will bring a sharpener as well and will resharpen all pencils after the morning portion of the exam in preparation for the afternoon portion. At 12 minutes per sharpened pencil (180 minutes divided by 15 pencils = 12 minutes per pencil), I do not anticipate any writing instrument issues this year.

I could type more about my recurring nightmare where my trusty HP 12C fails during the CFA exam (I am bringing 3 this year, just in case!). I could also drone on about how I find it satisfying to sharpen a quality writing instrument at the end of some successful computations. Somehow the sharpening of a pencil signifies progress for me, but I digress.

So, I have a thing for calculators, pencils, and my lucky T-shirt.



However, I think an aspiring financial analyst could benefit from a heavy dose of OCD. Attention to detail of small seemingly unimportant details is probably more of an asset than a liability, provided it is not excessive to the point of distraction. I can use the Texas Instrument calculator if I had to. I even passed the CFA level 2 exam with a run-of-the-mill mechanical pencil in my hand. I also don’t really believe my Creighton T-shirt is actually lucky, but I would not dream of showing up in Munich for the exam wearing anything else (Go Jays!). There is zero luck involved with the CFA exams.

My 3 Hewlett Packard 12C calculators, my aged Creighton University black and blue T-shirt, and my 15 Faber-Castell 9000 pencils with HB lead are my weapons of choice for the CFA level 3 exam. On the first Saturday in June, I go forth into battle.

Off I go!