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Computer-Based Exam Information

CFA Institute is Transitioning to Computer-based Exams

CFA Institute is transitioning all CFA exams to computer-based testing. The December 2020 exam is the last paper-based exam; exams in 2021 will be computer-based for all levels. 

Each exam will be offered in scheduling windows of up to ten days, depending on location. Exams in 2021 will be offered:

  • For Level I in February, May, August, and November  
  • For Level II in May and August  
  • For Level III in May and November*

Exam administrations in 2022 will set the standard CFA exam cadence, and will be offered: 

  • For Level I in February, May, August, and November  
  • For Level II in February and August  
  • For Level III in May and November  

*Note that the Level III exam window in November 2021 was set as a global schedule. It does span the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. When you schedule your exam, you will be shown the days that are being offered in your area that week.

  • Map your Journey

    Plot your journey through the exams based on level and exam dates.

Exam Comparison: Paper-based vs. Computer-based exams

Paper-based exams Computer-based exams
Scheduling One exam day/time offered

Self-schedule in exam window (up to a 10-day period). Rescheduling after initial appointment incurs USD 25* fee.

Locations Proctored exam in 192 locations globally Proctored exam in 400+ locations globally, to include all locations currently offered in June.
Exam length Two 3-hour sessions with break in between Two 2.25-hour sessions for Level I; approximately 2.25 hour sessions for Levels II and III**. Optional break in between sessions.

*We recognize that in some locations, the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is making it difficult to finalize exam schedules, navigate travel restrictions, and secure seating in your preferred location. To help alleviate these inconveniences, we have reduced the USD 250 fee for exam changes to USD 25 for all exams in 2021.

**More detail on Level II and Level III exam length to be provided soon.


Learn More

How Do These CFA Exam Changes Benefit Candidates?

  • Moving to computer-based testing provides us with operational flexibility to quickly and reliably adjust to the changing landscape in response to either global or local situations; particularly relevant in a COVID-19 impacted world.
  • Computer-based scheduling enables CFA Institute to retire single-day test administration in favor of more convenient, socially distant computer-based test administration. Doing this offers options for candidates around the globe by increasing the number of exam administrations for every level, providing multi-day exam windows to eliminate the practice of all candidates sitting in a single day, and a broader footprint of test areas to improve flexibility.
  • Operating in a fully-digital format aligns to real-world, professional environments, allowing us to better model the tasks and problem-solving needs of today’s financial analysts and investment managers.

What to Expect on Exam Day

Exams will be delivered in proctored exam centers with robust security measures in place. Each test center will closely monitor candidates for cheating in any form. Candidates will be provided with writing materials to use during CBT exams, and you will still be allowed to bring a calculator to the exam center. Just as before, the calculator must be either the Texas Instruments BA II Plus or the Hewlett Packard 12C.

Exam Duration

With the transition to computer-based testing, CFA Institute will implement a change in exam length. CFA Institute invested in independent psychometric research which clearly showed that a shorter exam would not affect our ability to reliably determine who has demonstrated the required competency to pass the exam. Just as a thermometer does not provide more accurate readings with longer measurements, the longer exam is not providing sufficient additional insights to warrant remaining at its current length. Candidates will have the same average time per question that they had under paper-based testing.

Each exam appointment will include:

  • 30 minutes allotted to pledge, tutorial, and survey
  • 135 minutes for session 1
  • 30 minutes for optional break
  • 135 minutes for session 2
  • Total testing time is 4.5 hours
  • Total appointment time is 5.5 hours

Note that the schedule above is for Level I and serves as a guide for Levels II and III exam structure. More detail about Level II and III exam appointments will be provided soon.

Registration Deadlines, Fees, and Invoicing Option

Registration deadlines will apply to all levels of candidates registering for the exam for the first time. Fees and deadlines will be published on the CFA Institute website. There remains an enrollment fee before one can begin the CFA Program or register for the Level I exam for the first time. Invoicing is available for computer-based exams during early registration period only.

Time Between Exams

We are committed to maintaining the rigor of the exam and the candidate experience. Beginning in 2021, every candidate who does not pass their exam will have to wait a minimum of six months to retake it. For example, a Level I candidate who takes the February 2021 administration and does not pass may not sit again until the August administration. Or, a Level II candidate who passes the exam during the August administration will not be able to sit for Level III until the May 2022 administration. We have created a diagram to help candidates plot their journey through the exams based on level and exam dates.

Scheduling Your Exam

In CBT, candidates must first register for their exam, and then schedule their exam appointment. Test center options with confirmed available seating will be presented to you during the scheduling process. If you do not see your preferred test center, please confirm it is listed on our planned CBT test center locations PDF. Once you have confirmed we plan to test in your preferred area, check back daily for new appointments to be added. It may take up to 10 business days for new appointments to populate. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

CBT Exam Format and Scoring

Just as before, all questions are written by a team of experienced charterholders and all questions come directly from the curriculum and are reviewed to be sure they are consistent with the expectations set in the Learning Outcome Statements.

  • The Level I exam will continue to be in a multiple-choice format.
  • For Level II and Level III, we will be using the same item set and essay format (Level III) that we have used in the past.

Until last year, the length of item set questions was standardized to six multiple choice questions per vignette at both Levels II and the item set portion of Level III. Last year we began introducing some item sets with four multiple choice questions per set. The mixed length of four and six question item sets will continue and so the total number of item sets on the exam may vary slightly.

In responding to a calculation question on the essay exam, candidates are not required to show their work. A correct numerical value will receive full credit. If a candidate is so inclined, it is possible to use the equation editor that is part of the exam software to build a formula as part of a response. Alternately, a candidate might choose to include a simple written description of the steps used in a calculation. If a candidate chooses to show their work, it will be evaluated as part of the response and could conceptually result in partial credit in cases where the answer is not otherwise fully correct.

Just as before, all item sets and essays are scored in proportion to their length. Each question within an item set has a set number of points so a four-question item set has two thirds of the number of points as a six-question item set. And, essay questions are scored based on length and complexity. There are not some questions or topics that intrinsically have a heavier weight than others. And, just as before, wrong answers do not count against you.

Following each exam window, we will determine the Minimum Passing Score based on performance as we always have. We know exam results will be released faster, however, we have not yet established the exact amount of time for results to be released. We expect to provide a more reasonable expectation after the first few CBT administrations.

Release of New Curriculum

The curriculum will remain the 2020 version throughout all exams for all levels in 2021; new curricula will be released for 2022 exams when those registration windows open.

Cyber-security in Computer-based Testing

The potential risks related to CBT are different but not greater than those we face currently with shipping paper exams to and from locations across the globe. We have strict cyber-security measures in place, and we work continuously with our IT experts to thoroughly define any potential risks and solutions. Our selected vendors have a track record of success and years of experience in this area, and we will partner with them to implement security measures that mitigate any potential risks. We will take all available precautions to secure the exams.

COVID Guidelines in Place at CBT Test Centers

The CBT environment will be quite different from the typical paper-based venue environment. Please watch this video from our exam vendor, Prometric, to learn what the exam day experience may look like as a result of COVID guidelines. Note that candidates will be provided with writing materials to use during CBT exams.

CBT Exams Impacted by COVID-19

Due to smaller group sizes and an easier environment for adhering to safety standards, we hope that postponing an exam at a CBT site will be less likely. Please stay abreast of government and health advisories in your test area. CFA Institute will adhere to the guidance of local governments. We plan to hold exams in any location where we can meet the applicable public health and safety requirements.

Impact on the Relevance of the CFA Program

Our primary objective for the CFA Program is, and has always been, to develop future professionals who exemplify the highest standards of ethics and professionalism. CBT will enhance the Program’s value to the industry by allowing us to deploy new question types that employers, candidates, and other stakeholders would recognize as being more reflective of the day-to-day application of concepts on the job.