LAST UPDATED: Sept 8, 2020
Computer-Based CFA® Exam in 2021
2021 CFA Exams Finally on Computers
2021 is the first year for the CFA exam (all levels) to be delivered on computers. Level 1 exams will be held 4 times a year. Both level 2 and level 3 exams – 2 times a year. Thanks to the transition to computer-based testing, CFA exams will better reflect today’s digital workplace and have the testing process improved in many aspects.
IMPORTANT! Initially, CFA Institute said level 2 and level 3 exams will be transitioned to CBT after 2021. However, the global pandemic situation accelerated the decision to move all CFA exam levels to computer-based testing starting in 2021.
5 KEY CFA EXAM CHANGES AS OF 2021
- 1. All levels of the CFA exam move to computer-based testing (CBT) in proctored test centers worldwide. No more paper-based exams!
- 2. New 2021 exam windows to choose from:
- 4 for level 1: February, May, August, or November,
- 2 for level 2: May or August,
- 2 for level 3: May or November.
Self-Scheduling and CFA Exam Windows
With the CFA exam moving to computer-based testing, no longer will there be one single date when candidates are told to sit their exam. Instead, exam windows of up to 10 days will be given (the exact length will vary across test centers). You will be asked to self-schedule your CFA exam date via a dedicated platform within the exam window you choose:
Registration for 2021 exams is now open. Postponed June 2020 candidates, all levels, can choose to take one of the 2021 computer-based exams until 20 October 2020 free of charge. Read more if you're a postponed June 2020 candidate here .
For the level 1 exam, 4 exam windows are given, i.e. February, May, August, and November. For level 2 and level 3 exams, 2 exam windows are available. Note that 2021 – being the year of transition – is also the year of exception. May 2021 is when all exam levels will be delivered. As a rule, the 2022 calendar is going to apply.
The fact that May 2021 is the month when candidates of all levels will be able to take their exams is especially important for the Dec 2020 candidates. Dec 2020 CFA exam is the last paper-based exam and, owing to the June 2020 exam postponement due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it will be sitting candidates of all levels. So:
- if you pass your Dec 2020 exam you can take your next level already in May 2021.
- if you fail your Dec 2020 exam you can retake your failed exam also in May 2021.
After the Dec 2020 results release, the standard registration fee window will still be open for all those who wish to take/retake their exam in May 2021. Remember that the May exam will be your first computer-based exam! Read on for more details about the exam level of your interest .
- Computer-Based Level 1 CFA Exam
- Computer-Based CFA Exams: Level 2 and Level 3
- How CBT Changes Exam Experience
- Level 1 CFA Exam Day under CBT
- Level 2 and Level 3 CFA Exam Day under CBT
Level 1 CFA Exam and CBT
February 2021: First Computer-Based CFA Exam
The very first computer-based exam is the February 2021 level 1 CFA exam.
The Feb 2021 exam date window is from 23 Feb to 1 March 2021. The exam registration opened on 17 June and it ends on 7 December 2020. There’s an early registration fee of USD 700 (17 June-13 Aug) and a standard registration fee of USD 1000 (14 Aug-7 Dec).
After you register for your exam, you must self-schedule it. You can schedule your Feb 2021 level 1 exam date until 14 December 2020 using the so-called ProScheduler available on a dedicated platform.
Also, a new rescheduling fee of USD 250 has been introduced. If need be, you'll be able to reschedule your Feb 2021 exam (within the Feb level 1 exam window) until 25 January 2021 after making the additional payment.
All 2021 fees and deadlines? See here
More about Level 1 exam? See here
4 Level 1 CFA Exam Windows
For nearly 20 years, the level 1 exam was held twice a year, in June and December. Now it will be held 4 times a year: in February, May, August, and November.
LEVEL 1 EXAM:
4 TIMES A YEAR FROM 2021
However, even though the level 1 exam will be available 4 times per year, you will be able to register only twice a year! That’s because CFA Institute wants to stick to the official rule of 6 months minimum between exams (which basically means you cannot register for the adjacent level 1 exams). So:
- if you take your level 1 exam in February & fail you can retake in August
- if you take your level 1 exam in May & fail you can retake in November
- if you take your level 1 exam in August & fail you can retake in February
- if you take your level 1 exam in November & fail you can retake in May
The rule of 6 months also works between levels. So, if you take your level 1 exam:
- in February 2021 & pass you can take your level 2 exam in August 2021
- in May 2021 & pass you can take your level 2 exam in February 2022
- in August 2021 & pass you can take your level 2 exam in February 2022
- in November 2021 & pass you can take your level 2 exam in August 2022
Level 2 & Level 3 CFA Exams and CBT
Level 2 and Level 3with 2 Exam Windows Each
In the past, level 2 and level 3 CFA exams were organized once a year, in June. Now, with CBT introduced also for level 2 and level 3 candidates, the accessibility of the exams gets doubled. In 2021, level 2 CFA exam will be held in May and August, whereas level 3 exam – in May and November. Note that as of 2022, level 2 and level 3 exams will alternate each quarter. So: level 2 in February, level 3 in May, level 2 in August, and level 3 in November. But not yet...
LEVEL 2 EXAM IN 2021
LEVEL 3 EXAM IN 2021
The first CBT level 2 and level 3 exams are the May 2021 exams (level 2 exam window: 25 - 29 May, level 3 exam window: 25 - 27 May). Of course, the rule of 6 months between levels applies. So:
- if you take your level 2 exam in May 2021 & pass you can take your level 3 exam in November 2021
- if you take your level 2 exam in May 2021 & fail you can retake no sooner than Feb 2022
- if you take your level 3 exam in May 2021 & fail you can retake in November 2021
How CBT Changes Exam Day Experience
Together with the transition of CFA exam to computer-based testing, there’s a number of crucial changes to the exam itself:
OLD vs NEW CFA EXAM
|Paper-Based Exam (before 2021)||2021 Computer-Based CFA Exam|
|193 test-centers around the world||400+ test-centers around the world|
|single exam day||exam window: up to 10 days|
|-||new rescheduling fee of $250|
|6 hrs of testing time||4.5 hrs of testing time|
|whole exam day: 8.5 hrs||whole exam day: 5.5 hrs|
|break between exam sessions: 2 hrs||break between exam sessions: 30 min, optional|
|printed questions + answer sheet||digital questions: new question types possible|
Together with the 2021 introduction of CBT, many more proctored test-centers (with many fewer candidates at a time) will be available globally.
Moreover, instead of single-day testing, there will be an exam window of up to 10 days when you’ll be able to self-schedule your exam. The exam window will depend on demand and can vary from city to city. Also, in some locations, the exam will be given twice a day. Finally, within your chosen exam window, you'll be able to reschedule your exam day. This additional service will be paid USD 250.
As far as the test goes, there will be less testing time and fewer questions per exam session. In fact, the whole exam appointment will be shorter:
2020 vs 2021 CFA EXAM DAY SCHEDULE
|2020 CFA Exam Day||2021 CFA Exam Day|
|30 minutes of announcements||30 minutes allotted to pledge, tutorial, and survey|
|MORNING SESSION: 180 min||SESSION 1: 135 min|
|BREAK: 120 min||OPTIONAL BREAK: 30 min|
|AFTERNOON SESSION: 180 min||SESSION 2: 135 min|
|TOTAL TESTING TIME: 6 hrs||TOTAL TESTING TIME: 4.5 hrs|
|WHOLE EXAM DAY: 8.5 hrs||WHOLE EXAM DAY: MAX. 5.5 hrs|
This CFA exam day schedule applies to all levels. Before your exam begins, there will be enough time for a brief orientation to the test center and the computer software. Your exam will be divided into two sessions, 135 minutes each, with an optional break meanwhile. When you end one session of your exam, you won’t be allowed to go back (regardless of whether you take your break or not). But you can go back and forth within one session.
The testing time is reduced to max. 4.5 hours total. However, based on psychometric research, this is claimed enough to see if a candidate should pass the exam. Within this time, some trial questions will be included. This is called pretesting and is commonly used before new types of questions become scored questions. You will not know which questions are experimental but don't worry – they will not contribute to your final result.
During your CFA exam, you will be provided with writing materials such as a whiteboard or an erasable writing tablet. You're not allowed to have your own writing tools in a CBT exam.
Also, an important change is that you'll be able to leave and go home as soon as you finish, even if the time is not yet up. During paper-based exams, it was required that candidates stay in until the exam ends.
Generally, that's all we currently know about the new computer-based 2021 CFA exams. More details will be available after the first CBT exams have been delivered. Nevertheless, we show below how your CBT exam is expected to look like based on the available information:
Level 1 CFA Exam Format in 2021
SESSION 1 (135 min)
- 90 multiple-choice (a-b-c) questions
- average time per question = 1.5 min
- Group I: Ethics questions
- Group II: Investment Tools (Quantitative Methods, Economics, and FRA) questions
SESSION 2 (135 min)
- 90 multiple-choice (a-b-c) questions
- average time per question = 1.5 min
- Group III: Corporate Finance and Portfolio Management questions
- Group IV: Investment Assets (Equities, Fixed Income, Derivatives, and Alternative Investments) questions
TOTAL = 2 x 90 = 180 multiple-choice questions
IMPORTANT! As many as 20 out of the 180 questions are expected to be trial questions, which makes it 160 questions that will really count (still you need to answer all the questions 'cos there’s no knowing which questions are pretesting and which are for real). As with paper-based exams, you will still have 1.5 minutes per question.
NEW! Level 1 topics are divided into groups! In your exam, you'll find different groups of topics during SESSION 1 and SESSION 2. Questions may be shuffled within a group. Also, remember that once you finish the first session you won’t be able to go back. But you can go back and forth within one session.
2021 CFA Exam Format:Level 2 & Level 3
We're still waiting for some more specific information about the new CBT level 2 and level 3 exams. What we know now is that:
- each exam session will be approx. 135 min long,
- questions will still be formed into item sets (multiple-choice questions topped with vignettes, i.e. short description),
- there will be six or four multiple-choice questions per an item set,
- a four-question item set will have two-thirds of the number of points as a six-question item set,
- as always, level 3 exam is going to have some open-ended questions, as well.
More about Level 2 exam? See here
More about Level 3 exam? See here
What Stays the Same?
Even though the CFA exam administration transforms greatly as of 2021, some things remain the same. We think it’s worth highlighting, especially when you hear so much about changes:
- 2020 curriculum still applies in 2021, it's still over 3000 pages and all topics are the same.
- It will still take you around 300 hrs to prepare for your exam.
- The format of exam questions is still going to be the same, so multiple-choice questions for level 1 and item sets for levels 2 and 3 (+ open-ended questions for level 3).
- It’s still the same time per question in your exam and questions must be consistent with LOSes stated in your curriculum.
- Topic weights are generally the same (though now given in ranges also for level 1).
- As before, wrong answers do not count against you so you should go with your intuition whenever you're not sure about the answer.
- Only approved calculators will be allowed in the exam.
- You still need to have a valid international passport with you on the exam day.
- As always, the Minimum Passing Score (MPS) will be established after each exam by a Board of Governors. That is why results should not be expected much sooner (usually results are released after approx. 7-8 weeks for level 1 and level 2 and 9-10 weeks for level 3).
FAQ on CFA Exam and CBT
Is there a June 2021 CFA exam?
No. In 2021, CFA exams (all levels) will be computer-based. Level 1 CFA exam will be organized 4 times a year: in February, May, August, and November. Both level 2 and level 3 exam – 2 times a year. In 2021, it's going to be May and August for level 2 and May and November for level 3. So, there will be no more CFA exams in June.
What does it mean to self-schedule my CFA exam?
There’s no longer one single date when candidates are told to sit their CFA exam. Instead, there’s an exam window of up to 10 days when you can take your exam. You’ll be asked to self-schedule. In other words, it’s up to you to decide on which day exactly you want to take your exam. When you make up your mind, you’ll have to register for the exam and then schedule it using the so-called ProScheduler available on a dedicated platform (no additional payment). Importantly, when planning your exam date remember that the range of the exam window may vary across test centers.
Can I take my exam at home using my computer?
Even though from 2021 the CFA exam will be delivered on computers, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take it at home. There will be numerous proctored test centers available globally where candidates will sit their exam.
Also, note that computer-based or digital does not mean online. However, the fact that the CFA exam will be delivered on computers will affect how the test will look like. For example, it’ll be probably like a huge question pool from which the test questions will be drawn. Also, some new types of questions may appear to better reflect the day-to-day application of tested concepts to professional work and reality.
What are the new test centers for Feb 2021?
Feb 2021 level 1 CFA exam will be held in over 400 locations worldwide, which means that test centers will open in many new locations. The complete list of test centers should be available as of June 2020 when the registration for the Feb 2021 exam opened. Be sure to check your test center information as it may vary from center to center.
Is the computer-based CFA exam going to be more difficult?
A computer-based exam is going to be different but – since it'll be held in proctored test centers – the testing process shouldn’t affect the difficulty of the exam substantially. For example, there will be fewer questions in the exam (a change supported by psychometric research) but there appears a possibility for new types of questions thanks to the digital environment. Crucially, it’s still the same time per question, e.g. 1.5 minutes for level 1, and the scope of the exam (i.e. tested topics) remains unchanged.
NOTE: There have been many concerns about the impact of CBT on the value of the CFA exam. However, CFA Institute believes that this transition will enhance the quality of testing and the relevance of the exam.
CFA Institute's decision to make CFA exams, all levels, computer-based has been accelerated by the global situation impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There's a number of reasons why moving CFA exams to CBT is beneficial:
- 1. PROFESSIONALISM: Computer-based testing and digital environment better reflect today’s workplace of financial analysts and investment managers.
- 2. TESTING IMPROVEMENT: Both problems and problem solutions can be better modeled.
- 3. ACCESSIBILITY: Globally, many more proctored test centers will be available + the exams will be delivered more often than in the past.
- 4. MONITORING: There will be better monitoring for cheating, which will provide equal chances to all candidates.
- 5. HEALTH AND SAFETY CONCERNS: The exams will be held in secure computer labs with many fewer candidates at a time (thanks to multi-day exam windows, more exam administrations per year for each level, and a greater number of test centers worldwide), which will facilitate social distancing and adherence to other safety measures.
- 6. CONVENIENCE: Computer-based testing in secure computer labs is more convenient and safer in the COVID-19 impacted world.
- 7. UNCERTAINTY REDUCED: It is hoped that CBT exams will be less likely to get canceled. Still, special safety protocols may be in place depending on the local recommendations and requirements.