2021 CFA® Exam Rules Unveiled

CFA exam / Policies


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  1. Wear a face covering that covers both your mouth and your nose at all times, from admittance to your testing center through dismissal.
  2. The rule of social distancing will be in place. You will be seated apart from other candidates and asked to keep the distance during both check-in and departure.
  3. Arrive at least 30 minutes before your exam to allow for the check-in and safety procedures required by your test center.
  4. Bring as few items as possible. Here's a complete 2021 CFA exam checklist .

CFA exam is regulated by numerous policies. You must know them all or else you may cause yourself lots of trouble, including suspension from the CFA Program, termination of your participation or invalidation of your exam results.

Below, we give you the gist of CFA exam rules and regulations governing both CFA exam registration and the CFA exam itself, all levels. These are the very basics you really need to know!


registration | exam | post-exam

Is Passport Required for CFA Exam Registration?

To register for the CFA exam, you must have a valid international travel passport (no other IDs are permitted). If your passport has expired, you can use it to register but it must be updated before the exam.

When you update your passport, you must update the required data in your CFA Institute account as well. Note that it's also important that your name as stated in your passport exactly matches your name as given in your CFA Institute account. Otherwise, you won’t be allowed to take your exam and you will forfeit your fees.

CFA Exam Refund, Deferral, Withdrawal

CFA Exam Refund in General

CFA exam registration involves fee payment. If you register and pay for your CFA exam in 2021, a full refund of fee payment (both enrollment and registration) is possible within 14 days of payment (11:59 PM ET). Otherwise, there is no refund and you forfeit your fees if you want to back out of the CFA Program. The refund concerns only your initial registration and it does not include the rescheduling fee paid to defer the exam even if it was postponed by CFA Institute.

CFA Exam Refund for Postponed Candidates

Even though the refund of CFA exam is extremely limited, CFA Institute has introduced refunds for postponed candidates whose exam has been deferred twice due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

So, if your CFA exam has been postponed twice – and you won’t defer anymore – you'll be entitled to a refund. Be patient, though. First, it'll be checked if your exam can be re-scheduled for you within your exam window. If not, you'll be able to proceed with your refund. CFA Institute will contact you directly via email if this option is available to you.

CFA Institute reserves the right to not issue refunds or deferrals if an alternate appointment time is available, even if you either cannot or do not want to take the exam on any of the alternate dates or times.

CFA Exam Deferral, Special Cases

If some special circumstances occur in your life, such as a death in your immediate family or some serious illness, you may submit a request for a qualified deferral of your enrollment and registration status to some later date. Such requests are considered on a case-by-case basis and may not be granted. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, among the special circumstances you'll also find:

  • government, employer, or university travel restriction that prevents a candidate from attending the exam (documentation required), and
  • a positive COVID test within 60 days of the candidate’s scheduled exam appointment (documentation required)

You must submit your deferral request with CFA Institute prior to or within 10 US business days after the exam window. Note that if you are awarded a deferral, you are responsible for all applicable new curriculum charges.

CFA Exam Withdrawal Option

Also, after registration, a withdrawal option is provided to candidates of all levels. You need to submit an appropriate request form (mind the withdrawal deadline date which is until 5 days before the exam date!). Once the request is accepted, the withdrawal cannot be reversed. There is no refund or transfer of registration fees and you have to pay again if you decide to register for the same or upcoming exam. The benefit from withdrawal is that you can re-register for another CFA exam as soon as your withdrawal has been processed (allow for up to 3 days for processing). If you fail to withdraw, you'll need to wait until results for the current exam have been released (approximately 60 days after the exam date) before you can register for your new exam.

CFA Exam Calculator Policy

When you register for your CFA exam, you need to decide what calculator to use while preparing for your exam. There's a special calculator policy that specifies what kind of financial calculator is acceptable. Mind that you must have your own calculator during the exam and it must be an approved one. There are 2 types of calculators authorized by CFA Institute:

  • Texas Instruments BA II Plus (including BA II Plus Professional),
  • Hewlett Packard 12C (including HP 12C Platinum, 12C Platinum 25th anniversary edition, 12C 30th anniversary edition, HP 12C Prestige).

When choosing your CFA exam calculator, make no mistake and choose one of the above-mentioned.


valid international travel passport

extremely limited fee refund or deferral

withdrawal option for all levels

authorized calculator

What the CFA Exam Day Looks Like?

CFA Program policies that regulate the exam day itself are really copious. They include the identification policy, admission policy, or personal belongings policy. You can find the most important bits of these CFA exam rules below.

The CFA exam consists of two 135-minute sessions and you must sit for both of them, with an optional break meanwhile:

allow for 30 minutes of check-in and safety procedures 30 minutes of an optional break between the sessions
135 minutes 135 minutes
LEVEL 1: 90 multiple-choice questions LEVEL 1: 90 multiple-choice questions
LEVEL 2: *item sets LEVEL 2: *item sets
LEVEL 3: open-ended questions LEVEL 3: *item sets

*We're still waiting for more details about level 2 & level 3 exams in 2021.

When organizing your exam day, allow for the check-in and safety procedures. Best arrive at least half an hour before your scheduled exam appointment. You must bring your valid international travel passport, which will enable identity verification.

Remember that your passport has to be an up-to-date original document issued by your country and certifying your identity. The information stated on your passport must exactly match the information given in your CFA Institute account or you will not be admitted into the testing room.

For 2021 computer-based CFA exams, there's no admission ticket. Your valid passport is the only document required.

Note that if you are late for your exam, you may not be admitted to the testing room. If you are refused admission, you forfeit your exam fees.

Before you are allowed into the testing room, there'll be a visual inspection of your person and your personal belongings such as your eyeglasses, calculator, or clothing. Also, a metal detector may be used to ensure you are not carrying electronic devices into the testing room.

In the past, CFA candidates needed to remember to bring their No. 2 or HB pencils to the exam. Now, for computer-based 2021 CFA exam, no writing tools are allowed in the testing room. Instead, you will be provided with a laminated sheet or an erasable writing tablet or whiteboard for use during your exam. You mustn't carry out any exam information or notes from the testing room.

Throughout your CFA exam, you must keep your personal items such as your calculator or keystroke card on your desk, in full view. In fact, you are encouraged to bring as few things as possible on your exam day and leave all dispensable belongings at home or in the car. You will be required to place all your personal items that are prohibited from the testing room, such as food or drinks, in a secure designated locker.

Importantly, you will be required to wear a face covering that covers both your mouth and your nose at all times, from admittance to your testing center through dismissal. You will be asked to remove your face covering during ID verification. Additionally, all candidates must comply with the social distancing requirement.


check-in: arrive 30 min earlier, bring valid passport

don't be late!

bring only necessary things, including calculator

wear your mask!

Remember Standard VII (A): Conduct as Members and Candidates in the CFA Program of CFA Institute Code and Standards? Check also there for useful information or watch our free video inside your free study plan.

Post-Exam Policies

After you take your CFA exam, do not brag or complain about what was in the test you just took. You must not reveal any specific contents of the exam, or else you may end up being punished.

There is a list of sanctions CFA Institute may use in case a candidate violates any of CFA Program laws.

There are also regulations set for CFA designation itself. As a CFA charterholder, you must obey certain rules concerning the way you use your title or talk about your designation.


control what you say or write

communicate your opinions right

Remember Standard VII (B): Reference to CFA Institute, the CFA Designation, and the CFA Program of CFA Institute Code and Standards? Check also there for useful information or watch our free video inside your free study plan.

The above is a short and selective summary of CFA Program policies. We strongly encourage you to read all the terms and conditions governing the CFA exam and provided by CFA Institute. It is worth the time as it educates you about all effective regulations and keeps you away from any violation.

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

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