Way back in March 2019, CFA Institute first announced that CFA Level 1 will be transitioning to computer-based testing (CBT).
Yes, there are changes in exam format, frequency, test locations, check in procedures, amongst other things.
Here’s one epic summary of all the new CFA computer based testing process in one place, covering how things will work for Level 1, 2 (split screen for vignettes) and 3 (equation editor), with detailed FAQs which we recommend you look through.
Let’s do this!
CFA Computer Based Testing vs. Paper Based Exam – A Summary
|Dec20 CFA Level 1,2,3 Exams|
(Last paper-based exam)
|CFA Exams from 2021|
(L1 Feb21 is the first computer exam)
|Exam Day||1 exam day / time offered||An exam window (of up to 10 days) that you can choose|
|Frequency||Previously, paper-based exams are offered once a year for Level 2 and Level 3, but twice a year for Level 1||New computer-based exams starting 2021 are typically offered:|
– 4x a year for Level 1 (Feb, May, Aug and Nov).
– 2x a year for Level 2 (Feb and Aug)
– 2x a year for Level 3 (May and Nov)
See our CFA exam dates guide for the latest schedule and key deadlines.
|Exam Format||240 multiple choice questions, split into 2 equal sessions:|
– Morning: 120 questions in 3 hours;
– Afternoon: 120 questions in 3 hours.
|All 3 levels have 25% reduction in questions and testing time.|
Instead of 6 hours total test time, it is reduced to 4 hours and 30 minutes.
For exact details on exam format and times for all 3 levels, refer to our CFA exam overview article.
|Test Locations||Proctored exam in 87 locations globally||Proctored exam in 400+ locations globally|
|If passed, when is the earliest I can take the next Level?||Paper-based exam schedule indirectly ensures there is a minimum 6 months gap between exams.||Even with more test frequency per level, there is still a requirement for 6 months minimum gap between exams. |
Please use our free CFA Journey Planner tool to check for your optimal CFA registration exam window.
|If failed, when is the earliest I can retake Level 1?||If you failed Level 1 Dec 2020 exam, the earliest you can retake is May 2021.||If failed Level 1 Feb 2021 exam, the earliest you can retake is August 2021 (6 months minimum between exams).|
|Exam results availability||Within 60 days of taking the exam||Results are not instantaneous, but expected to be faster than paper-based format|
CBT Schedule and Format FAQ
Does this mean that the last paper-based CFA exams would be December 2020?
Yes, that’s correct.
The first computer-based Level 1 exam will be administered in February 2021. Although the exams will be digital, CFA exams will be offered in proctored test centers globally.
However in January 2021, CFA Institute announced that they are exploring limited capacity Online Proctored Testing (OPT) option for L1 Feb21 candidates whose exams are cancelled due to the pandemic.
These will be conducted only after Feb21 exams are over, and are on an invitation-only basis, but we take that as a possibility of CFA Institute rolling these out in the future if the pandemic situation doesn’t improve.
What is the new 2021 CFA computer based testing schedule?
In 2021, CFA CBT exams have a different schedule due to the ongoing pandemic.
Each exam will be offered in an exam window of up to 10 days, depending on location. Here are the current 2021 exam cycles:
Level 1: 6x this year in Feb, Mar (one-off), May, Jul (one-off), Aug, and Nov
Level 2: 3x this year in May (one-off), Aug and Nov (one-off)
Level 3: 3x this year in May, Aug (one-off) and Nov
Check out our CFA exam dates guide for the latest details on exam windows and key registration deadlines.
Will the CBT exam schedule change in 2022?
From 2022, CFA exams will be offered in the standard schedule with the following exam cycles:
Level 1: 4x a year in Feb, May, Aug, and Nov
Level 2: 2x a year in Feb and Aug
Level 3: 2x a year in May and Nov
With more test dates, how often can CFA candidates (re)take the exams?
Even with CBT, CFA candidates can only take the exams twice a year at most (minimum 6 months wait) – the same timeframe as the previous paper-based candidates must wait.
Candidates will not be able to register for adjacent exam windows. This means you can’t register for the next immediate available exam, but you can for the following one.
For example, a Level 1 candidate who takes the Feb21 administration and does not pass may not sit again until the Aug21. Or, a Level 2 candidate who passes the exam during the Aug21 will not be able to sit for Level 3 until May22.
Will the CFA exam format change for computer-based exams?
Yes, there will be a 25% reduction in time and questions tested.
The length of all exams will be shortened so that total testing time is reduced from 6 hours to 4.5 hours. The number of questions will be reduced so that candidates will have the same average time per question that they had under paper-based testing.
CFA Institute’s rationale for this is that their independent research has showed that a shorter exam would not affect their ability to reliably determine who has demonstrated the required competency to pass the exam. Using the analogy of a thermometer, exposing a thermometer long enough for the mercury to adjust is sufficient to obtain an accurate temperature reading. Keeping the thermometer exposed for longer does not lead to a superior measurement.
This means that:
– CFA Level 1 CBT is split into 2 equal sessions of 90 multiple choice questions (MCQ) in 2 hours and 15 minutes each (total 4 hours and 30 minutes).
– CFA Level 2 CBT is split into 2 equal sessions of 44 item set MCQ in 2 hours and 15 minutes each (total 4 hours and 30 minutes).
– CFA Level 3 CBT is split into 2 equally timed sessions of 2 hours and 15 minutes each. First session has 8-11 constructed response questions, second session has 44 item set MCQ.
Will exam topics be weighted differently in CFA computer-based exams?
No, topic weights will not be changed for 2021, and remain identical to the 2020 weightings.
The curriculum will be updated for 2022’s exams and topic weights may change.
Where are the new test locations for CFA computer based exams?
CFA computer based exams will be offered in over 400 centers around the world (vs. 193 locations in the last paper-based test in Dec20).
Here’s the latest planned CFA CBT exam locations by CFA Institute, with available seatings shown to you during the scheduling process.
CBT Exam Day Experience FAQ
What do I need to bring for CFA computer based exam day?
Please refer to our CFA CBT exam day checklist for what to bring and what to expect – procedures wise – on the big day.
How will the testing experience differ under CFA computer based testing?
Candidates will take their examinations in secure computer labs with many fewer candidates at a time.
Each candidate will have time available to go through a brief orientation to the center and the computer software.
In addition to easier social distancing and safety procedures, there will also be a brief 30 minute break and you can leave the exam room if you’re finished earlier. Although in reality the break is less than 30 minutes if you take into account the check in time again, which really leaves you just enough time for a quick drink/snack and toilet break.
The total exam appointment time is around 5.5 hours with a 4.5 hours testing time, broken down as follows:
– 30 minutes allotted to pledge, tutorial, and survey
– 135 minutes for session 1
– 30 minutes for optional break
– 135 minutes for session 2
Exams will be delivered in proctored exam centers with security measures in place. Each test center will closely monitor candidates for cheating in any form.
Finally, the passing score calculations and standards will remain unchanged so candidates who complete a computer-based exam will be held to the same standard as those who completed a paper-based exam.
How will the exam vary across different exam dates? Will it be a separate exam for every available date, or a randomly generated mix of questions every time (i.e. like a question bank)?
CFA Institute stated its commitment to maintain the integrity of the CFA Program, including protecting exam content.
On all testing dates, candidates will continue to share a common testing experience. Building an item bank is central to that endeavor and creates a level playing field for all candidates whether they test at the beginning or end of a testing window.
CFA Institute mentioned that it cannot share the specifics of the exam construction techniques without compromising the security of the exam, but questions will be generated according to psychometrically sound principles that provides a consistent standard across candidates and across time.
In the CFA CBT exam, can I skip questions and come back to it later? What is the Prometric exam software like?
Yes you can.
CFA Institute has teamed up with Prometric as its computer testing partner. You can try out and familiarize yourself with Prometric’s CFA exam software via their tutorial – it is now updated with equation editor and split screen view for vignettes in CFA Level 2 and 3!
On the actual CBT exam day, you will also have time to try this CBT exam software tutorial out before the exam timer starts.
It seems quite straightforward and user friendly:
1) Questions are marked as Current, Attempted, Unattempted or Flagged;
2) There are handy features such as the ability to flag questions (to come back to later), strike out answers and highlight texts;
3) There’s a timer with the time remaining for the exam to keep you posted, with alerts for 30 minutes, 15 minutes, and 5 minutes remain in the current section.
4) Finally, there’s a useful 1 click button for a Section Overview, to see what questions you’ve flagged, attempted or unattempted so far.
Can CFA candidates use paper to work out exam answers during computer-based exams?
Yes, writing materials will be provided for candidates to use during CBT exams.
Procedures may vary slightly across different test centers around the world, but most commonly 2 sheets of blank paper and pen were provided.
Once you finish and need more, the proctors will take the used ones and replace them.
Would the CFA Institute’s Learning Ecosystem be updated to have CBT mock exams that simulate Prometric’s interface?
We reached out to CFA Institute on this and they stated that CBT interface is currently not available on Learning Ecosystem’s mock exams due to the accelerated timeline to launch CBT for Level 2 and Level 3 as a result of COVID-19.
However, there is a CBT software simulator available – now updated with equation editor and split screens for vignettes – so Level 2 and Level 3 CFA candidates get familiar with the testing software ahead of time.
For CFA Level 3, how would the equation editor work for CBT to show calculation workings? Would it slow me down?
We reached out to CFA Institute directly on this and they said:
“If a candidate would like to use the equation editor, they of course are free to, but it is not a requirement. Remember that for credit, formulas are not expected.
Candidates may choose to demonstrate the steps they are taking and we will happily accept both:
– ASCII characters (e.g., 1000(1+0.05)^10) or
– a narrative (e.g.: I found the future value by taking 1 plus the interest rate (.05) to the 10th power and then multiplied the result by the present value (1,000)).”
For CFA Level 2 and 3’s computer-based exams, is there a split screen to make vignette reading easier?
Yes, CFA Institute has confirmed that there is a split screen.
The vignette will be on the left side of the screen and scrollable. The questions will appear one at a time on the right-hand side.
To see this in action, Prometric’s CBT exam simulator now has been updated to show the split screen vignette questions and the equation editor functionality, please check it out!
CBT Exam Results FAQ
Will CFA computer based testing results be instant?
Candidates will not receive their final results instantly, but can expect to receive results more quickly than is possible under the current examination format. This is because the rigorous process of setting the Minimum Passing Score (MPS) for each exam is still in place.
CFA Institute expects to provide a more reasonable expectation after the first few CBT administrations.
How will the Minimum Passing Score (MPS) be determined now that the exam cycles are changing?
Currently, the CFA Institute Board of Governors determines the minimum passing score for each exam administration based on guidance from approximately 30 CFA charterholders who review each exam question-by-question in a process, known as standard setting.
Under computer-based testing, CFA Institute will continue standard setting on a periodic basis while using statistical techniques to assure a consistent difficulty level across exam windows.
In short, following each exam window, CFA institute will determine the Minimum Passing Score based on performance, which will remain unchanged. This means that candidates who completed the exam in CBT will be held to the same standard as those who completed a paper-based exam.
CBT General FAQ
How does the CFA exam’s transition to CBT benefit candidates?
Moving to computer-based testing provides CFA Institute with operational flexibility to quickly adjust to the changing landscape in response to either global or local situations; particularly to COVID-19-type situations.
Computer-based scheduling enables CFA Institute to retire single-day test administration in favor of more convenient, socially distant computer-based test administration.
There are now 10-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.
Would the value of the CFA Charter be diluted as a result of increased test candidates via CFA computer based testing?
CFA Institute stated that it would not make changes that risk diluting the value of the charter. They do not expect necessarily to serve more candidates, but to make the exams a more convenient process for them.
Although the CFA exams are offered more frequently per year, candidates will only be allowed to test twice per year. This is intentional and is also a natural result of the timeline for when results are released vs. when registration is open for the next exam.
After looking at all the evidence, we personally don’t think CFA exam’s move to CBT will diminish the value of the charter either, here’s why.
Will the CFA exam fee be lowered/changed as a result of CBT?
Computer-based testing is actually a more expensive exam delivery model for an organization operating on the scale of CFA Institute. That said, currently there are no significant changes to CFA exam fees as a result of computer-based testing.
The only changes are:
– Now there is a $250 rescheduling fee (temporarily reduced to $25 in 2021 due to COVID-19) if you wish to change your appointment slot, as these slots are on a first-come, first-served basis.
– There is no longer a late registration deadline fee of US$1,450. All CBT exams going forward just has early registration fee of US$700 and the standard registration fee of $1,000, which are unchanged.
Will the calculator policy remain the same for CFA computer-based exams?
Yes. Candidates 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.
Have a question that’s not covered? Let us know in the comments and we will try to help, or get a response from CFA Institute!
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