Pre-Exam Rituals

Written by David Zheng: David Zheng Picture

I wanted to share some of my pre-exam habits. I do not know if performing these behaviors actually improves my exam scores and passing rate, but doing them makes me feel more ready to take the test.

Setting Rituals

The week before the exam, I set rituals for sleeping, eating, and studying. I try to be asleep before midnight and wake up at six or seven each morning. Having a consistent sleeping pattern makes me feel more rested and happy to wake up each morning. Some days, I even wake up a few minutes before my alarm clock.

I try to be consistent with my meals so that there will be no surprises when I need to take the exam. Because I am mildly lactose intolerant, I refrain from eating dairy during this time. I also try to calibrate how much caffeine to take through trial and error and making brief notes of my mental state.

I study only during the times of my exam. I may take a practice test or review some sections of my study manual. I moderate this time in order to preserve energy and practice periods of mental stress during when I will take my actual exam. However, I must be sufficiently prepared in terms of studying. If not, I would spend much more time learning necessary material.

Pre-Exam Preparation

On the day of the exam, I follow the rituals of sleeping and eating. I arrive at the exam center about two hours early. I spend about 30 to 40 minutes to eat and take in my caffeine. After, I briefly review the material in the manual by flipping through and scanning the pages. I might engage in a few practice problems by thinking of the steps needed to solve them, but I will not go through with the actual calculations. I take care of some other minor details, and I finally inform the proctor that I am ready.

The Exam

Even though I read the instructions before, I take the time to review them again. I also use this time to set my calculator to my preferred settings and set up my workstation appropriately. During the exam, I always make notes for each question and delegate sufficient space in my scrap paper accordingly. When I review, I know what my reasons were for choosing each answer and I could reconsider or affirm my choices more easily.

When reading each question, I like to consider how much time it will take and how confident I am in my method. If there are issues, I skip the question to manage my time and reduce my stress. For questions where my calculated answer is one of the choices and I have a small concern about my method, I mark the question for review and make a note of my concern on my scrap paper.

After going through the exam once, I will return to the questions I did not answer and mark them after finding a solution or an educated guess. After, I will review all the marked questions. Finally, I will review all the questions again.

I always use the full-allotted time for each exam even if I am confident of receiving a passing mark. While taking Exam MFE in July, I had about 70 minutes remaining after answering questions and reviewing marks. I took the time to unwind a bit and review by following my notes and checking my calculations. I had to change one answer where I basically confused two letters. One represented the value of an American option and the other represented the value of a European option. I answered that the European option was worth at least as much as the American option. Because I spent more than an hour to change only one answer, it can be argued that it is not the best use of my time as I probably would have passed anyway. However, I am taking every opportunity not to fail.