Man checking his backpack at train station to make sure he has the items he needs for the CFA Exam

Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: October 27, 2020

The internet forums are rife with stories of people who attribute some aspect of their CFA® exam failure to not having the items they needed to have on exam day. That’s a list of stories you don’t want to add to. You’ve invested the time and the money in preparing for the exam. Now is not the time to let poor last-minute planning affect your odds of success.

This checklist will help you ensure that you have everything you need to put your knowledge and skills to the test on CFA Program exam day.

Updates to the December 2020 Policy

To reduce touch-points and help increase physical distancing, CFA Institute updated their Personal Belonging Policy for the December 2020 CFA exam. Here’s what’s new:

  • Medical or cloth face coverings are required and must be worn for the entirety of your time at the test center.
  • Small bags are permitted but must fit under a chair. You are not allowed to access your bag at any time during the exam. CFA Institute still encourages you to leave all personal belongings at home or in your vehicle. Personal belonging areas are not available at test centers.
  • Sealed water bottles are permitted because water stations at each test center are closed. Your water bottle must be kept on the floor when not in use.
  • Personal cleaning/sanitizing supplies are permitted.

See CFA Institute’s official announcement for more details, and ensure you have everything you need to sit for the exam by reading our checklist below.

1. A valid international passport

The only form of identification that will be accepted for the CFA exam is a valid international passport. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never traveled outside the country. It doesn’t matter if you have a government-issued license or ID. If you show up to the exam with any ID that is not a valid international passport, you will be turned away.

Unfortunately, the passport is one of the most commonly forgotten items on exam day. Plan ahead, get your passport, and ensure that it’s part of your exam-day arsenal.

2. The exam admission ticket

If the #1 item on your checklist is your passport, your exam admission ticket should actually be #1-b. CFA Institute will notify you when your admission ticket is available. Make sure you print the ticket on clean, unused paper, and don’t add any writing or markings to it. Review the ticket to ensure all of the information is correct, and ensure the name on it matches the name and other identifying information on your passport.

Are you taking the CFA exams? Learn about the basics. Download Your Free Copy of the CFA® Program Fundamentals eBook, 2nd Edition

3. The basic tools for taking the CFA exam

Along with your admission ticket and your passport, these are the items you absolutely need to have to take the CFA exam, and the only items allowed on your desk:

  • An approved calculator, like the TI BAII Plus. Also consider bringing extra calculator batteries or even a spare calculator.
  • Pencils. Bring multiple sharpened #2 pencils.
  • Extra high-quality erasers. As pencil-top erasers are sometimes unreliable and have been known to fall off the pencil with use, it’s a good idea to have backup.
  • A small, reliable pencil sharpener.

Beginning in 2021, all levels of the CFA exam will be computer-based, so pencils, erasers, and pencil sharpeners will not be required.

4. The “nice to haves”

Forgetting the following items won’t prevent you from being able to sit for the CFA exam, but you’ll be at your best if you are comfortable and well prepared for anything that comes your way on exam day. These items include:

  • A sweater or jacket. You can always take a layer off if you get too warm. But if you don’t come prepared for an exam room that’s a few degrees below your comfort zone, you may be caught off guard.
  • A wristwatch. A basic digital or analog watch can be an invaluable asset, especially considering that your cell phone must be kept in the designated personal belonging area. A watch will help you keep track of time during the exam and ensure you show up early. Keep in mind that smart watches and other wearable tech products are prohibited.
  • Earplugs. This is an “expect the unexpected” situation. While there is no logical reason unwanted noise should be a problem in the test center, you need to consider how noise outside the room, or even outside the building, could be a distraction. If you require silence to be at your best, you may want to pack some earplugs to create your own silence if needed.

Items You Should Plan on Being Without on Exam Day

There are several items you may not realize CFA Institute strictly prohibits from your desk area on exam day. Those items include:

  • Food and drinks. Get your caffeine and nutrition needs met prior to walking into the testing center.
  • Study materials. Keep your SchweserNotes at home or in your backpack in the personal belongings area.
  • Tech tools. This includes mobile phones, cameras, computers, tablets, and other technology that have become a part of daily modern life.
  • Highlighters, correction fluid or tape, and rulers.
  • Baggage of any kind. This includes pencil cases and large purses. A small wallet or money purse is permitted.
  • Scratch paper, calculator manuals, or present/future value tables.
  • Any type of desk clock or timer.

Luck is not a strategy for success on the CFA exam, and neither is being unprepared. By ensuring you have the items you need, and are without the items that are prohibited, you’ll be armed to take on the CFA exam without unnecessary hurdles and distractions.

Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA Exam

Free eBook: Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA® Program Exam

CFA Fundamentals eBook

Free eBook: CFA® Program Fundamentals, 2nd Edition