Thursday, June 2, 2011

3 Tips for Acing the CFA Exam or the GMAT

Dr. Krause, AIM program director writes, "The following was written by Jennifer Swartz Turfle and was published in the Finance Professionals’ Post – a publication of the New York Society of Security Analysts. Hopefully you will find the three tips to be useful in helping you pass the CFA exam or acing the GMAT. Good luck."

From an analysis for a client, to a decision about when to buy that stock you’ve been watching, your job tests you every day. If you’re taking the June exam to become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) the test is not just a figure of speech: it’s an impending reality. Even if you have figured out how to manage a portfolio, the prospect of three six-hour-long exams is understandably daunting. Are you nervous about taking tests? Are you wondering how you can turn test-taking stress into test-passing confidence? Our look at recent scientific research on test-taking and anxiety will help you manage your stress and get the test results you need.

Many psychology studies show that stress and worry affect test performance. While there is some anxiety that you cannot change, there is some that you can. If you’re meeting your fiancĂ©’s parents for the first time right after the exam, for example, your mind might be elsewhere during the test and your scores might suffer—but that isn’t test anxiety.
Test anxiety is your body’s physical response to having to perform on the spot. It’s a form of performance anxiety related to athletes’ “choking” in the clutch, and American Idol contestants’ going off-key when they first sing in front of a live television audience. If you’re someone who knows the material backward and forward before a test but draws a blank when it comes time to prove it, you may be prone to test anxiety.

Many recent studies have focused on how the brain and body react to high-stress situations. Below are several proven methods to manage your stress and improve your ability to take tests. Because performance anxiety is a bodily reaction, you can exercise your way to performing better in the same way athletes and singers overcome it. How does an American Idol get to Carnegie Hall? You guessed it…

Practice. One key to lowering stress is preparing for the situation that causes it. The more you know about what the test will be like, the less likely you will be to stress about it. Taking practice tests and even knowing the place where you’ll be tested in advance can help you feel more comfortable when the time finally comes to take the CFA exam. One of the foundations of the scientific research concerning test taking is “Processing Efficient Theory” (PET), which likens the brain to a computer. The more tasks your brain is doing at one time, the less efficiently it can do any one of them. Test anxiety pulls valuable brain power from where it should be (answering questions) and wastes it on destructive tasks (like worrying about failing). The more comfortable you are on test day, the more focused your mind will be.

Practice mindfulness. A recent study found that mindfulness meditation actually changes how the brain works, altering the way that functional neurons respond and allowing people to focus on the task at hand. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a non-religious practice of simply paying attention to what’s happening around and within you. Studies have linked meditation and quiet rest periods with reducing anxiety; sitting still for just 15 minutes a day can improve your ability to let go of stress. And for an added benefit, several studies link meditation with increased memory power—which could come in very handy on test day.

Write your worries away. Two recent studies suggest that writing about your fears before an exam helps students get better grades. A University of Chicago study showed a whole letter grade improvement in high school and college students’ scores after students wrote for 8 to 10 minutes about their worries before an exam. A University of Colorado study found similar results. In the way that mindfulness mediation encourages letting go of judgments and negativity, researchers think writing about your stress before your exam might be a way of getting the anxiety out of your system. “It might be counterintuitive,” study author Sian Beilock told U.S. News, “but it’s almost as if you empty the fears out of your mind.”

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