1. Be over-prepared: The syllabus is so extensive, and there are so many twists that may be put on standard material, that there are always going to be questions that look foreign. The more that you are prepared, the more that you will be able to handle some of these. Being over prepared also helps to deal with emotions. There were points during the exam when a little voice in my head said “There is no way that you are going to pass this.” Yet, that same voice was in my head during many sample exams which I passed with flying colors. Experience and over-preparation reveals that you can succeed even when you are not at your best. If you walk into the exam center with worries, or a cold,or the flu, or pain in your back, you know that you can still succeed.
2. Fill in the tough spots: It can hurt your head to learn new things. Identify the areas with which you struggle, and try to get your head around them. Two weeks before the exam, I still had some head-pain topics. Things like duration matching, convexity, interest rate swaps, and put-call parity. But, they were on my daily study schedule, and I forced myself to confront them each day. It paid off.
3. Fill in the fundamentals: Once you gain proficiency in a topic, the fundamentals look different. In the month before the test, I went back and reviewed some of the basics of interest theory. At this point, the basics were easy, and I picked up on some of the finer points that I missed the first time around. Amortization schedules, for instance. After I learned the basic formulas, it was easy to ignore the schedules they are based on. Yet many problems are made much easier by using schedules, rather than relying on formulas.
4. Memorization is easy: Once you understand things thoroughly, you don’t really need to do much memory work for these exams. After months of working problems, most things will be anchored in your head. And yet suppose that you find yourself trapped in a dark alley by two annuities, one of which is twice as long as the other. Then you will be glad that you memorized I have never encountered this fact in practice, but if I did, recognizing this identity might save me a couple of minutes. Spend a little time on memory work, it is easy.
5. Test symbolic solutions with numbers: If you have a problem with a purely symbolic solution, and you can narrow it down to a couple of possible solutions, you can frequently replace the variables with reasonable numbers, and see if the result is true. This is my favorite new solution technique I learned while studying for this exam.
6. Read MacDonald: Actually read it. After you learn the math, go back and read it. If you look at the notes from the sample problems, you will notice that the exam writers have made it pretty clear that the exam will be based on the book. Those non-numeric multiple choice questions can be very challenging. Read the book.
7. Number your Scrap Paper: I learned this trick when taking practice exams. If you have time to review problems at the end of the exam, you will need to find the scratch-work easily.
8. Practice with dull number two pencils: Two weeks before the exam, I put all of my mechanical pencils away, and worked only with old fangled sharpenable pencils. Two hours into the exam, you will be working with dull stubs, so you need to be prepared.