A Super Guide To CFA Computer Based Testing (CBT)

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Since the introduction of computer-based testing (CBT) by CFA Institute in 2021, there has been a few minor tweaks, changes and improvements in the candidate experience.

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 (no more equation editors!), with detailed FAQs which we recommend you look through.

Let’s do this!

CFA Computer Based Testing vs. Paper Based Exam – A Summary

cfa computer based testing vs paper based testing
Dec20 CFA Level 1,2,3 Exams
(Last paper-based exam)
Current CFA exams
Exam Day1 exam day / time offered
An exam window (of up to ​10 days) that you can choose
FrequencyPreviously, paper-based exams are offered once a year for Level 2 and Level 3, but twice a year for Level 1Current CFA exam cycles:

– 4x a year for Level 1 (Feb, May, Aug and Nov).
– 3x a year for Level 2 (May, Aug and Nov).
– 2x a year for Level 3 (Feb and Aug)

See our CFA exam dates guide for the latest schedule and key deadlines.
Exam Format240 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 LocationsProctored exam in 87 locations globallyProctored 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.
Exam results availabilityWithin 60 days of taking the examResults are not instantaneous, but expected to be faster than paper-based format. See our CFA results day estimates here.

CBT Schedule and Format FAQ

CFA CBT schedule and format questions

CFA CBT Exam Experience FAQ

CFA CBT exam day experience questions

CBT Exam Results FAQ

CFA CBT exam results questions

CBT General FAQ

CFA CBT general questions

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!

Meanwhile, here are related articles that may be of interest:


80 thoughts on “A Super Guide To CFA Computer Based Testing (CBT)”

  1. 1. Not able to highlight the vignette though questions can be highlighted as per tuturial.
    2. Vignette were covering the question caused back and forth open and close the Vignette in my subjective exam (morning session).
    It was very hard to write something if vignette need to for writing.

    • 1. The lack of highlighting in vignettes is something that CFA Institute and Prometric are aware of and working on, although I’m not sure when a fix would be implemented.
      2. Split-screen is available but only for large-enough screens, so in your case it’s likely that your test centre’s computer screens weren’t large enough for the split-screen feature to kick in. I agree it’s a terrible UI if you don’t have split-screen ☹️

      • Hi Zee Tan,
        Non-availability of Split-screen is a big issue. In India, at our center, split screen was not available and moving from vignette to question back and forth was problematic as your thought chain breaks and every time you have to scroll down. If at some centres students are getting split screen whereas at other centres they are not getting split screen, then certainly it would give unfair advantage to students to whom split screen was available (in terms of time and convenience). Any idea as to how CFA institute is going to maintain parity among students ??? is there any way whereby CFA institute can compensate (in terms of marks) to those students to whom split screen was not available ??
        I think you should write about this…

        • Yes, this is a known issue, and it’s unclear if CFA Institute is planning, or has the capability to do anything about it, since the lack of split-screen is due to certain monitor resolutions, which means Prometric has to solve it.

          It’s possible that CFA Institute could evolve their exam platform so that split-screen works with all monitors, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that… 🙁

      • I appeared for Level 2 and even for Level 2 (i.e for even for objective type questions) it caused lot of inconvenience.

  2. Split screen is not always the case. We got given tiny screens and the questions were overlayed by the vignette. You had to click back and forth. Clearly, there are two different exam experiences.

    • Yes – the split-screens do ‘break’ if your monitor’s aspect ratio is too narrow. However I would have expected that to be Prometric and CFA Institute’s collective responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen. 😠

  3. Hi, I had a similar question on the CBT timer. I completed 100% of the responses, but let the timer run out instead of hitting finish exam. Will my responses be saved and submitted automatically?

    • Yes it will. Prometric has verbally confirmed this to candidates, but you can also contact Prometric to get your own confirmation – and peace of mind! Majority of candidates would probably have similar scenarios so it would be chaos if questions were not submitted automatically.

  4. Hi, on one session of my tests I just let time run out without clicking ‘finish test’ buttom. Will my answers be submitted? Thank you!

    • Yes it will. Prometric has verbally confirmed this to candidates, but you can also contact Prometric to get your own confirmation – and peace of mind.

  5. If I fail the May exam, can I take the November exam? I ask that because November is six months away from May, and in CFA website it reads:
    “Candidates are permitted to take the exam a maximum of two times per calendar year (when applicable), but not in consecutive windows or windows that are six months or less apart. “

  6. If I finish part 1 of the CFA Level 1 exam early (let’s say after 90 minutes instead of 135), does that extend my break? Or do I still only get 30 minutes?

  7. Using the Prometric simulator for Level 3, when there is a case study on the left side of the page, is there anyway to highlight relevant parts? I know there is a highlight feature that let’s you highlight or strikethrough parts of the question on the right side of the page, but that is not particularly helpful. Any chance CFA or Prometric can add this feature so that we can actually mark up the case study while reading it (like we all would if we were using paper).


  8. I failed my Cfa level 1 exam (Feb, 2021 cbt based). Do I still need to pay registration fee for another attempt?

  9. I have registered for May 2021 CBT i would like to defer the same. Can you advise how will i be able to defer and how much would be the cost for the same

  10. Do you think those who will take Level 3 now are in disadvantage in relation with the formula entry? Now the CFA only take the final answer and give full credit or nothing. The alternative that they offer is entry the formulas through the program which would take a lot of time, and we do not have practice with that; the second alternative is to explain the process which one is following, which again it takes a lot of time in comparison to writing the formula with a pen, and again we never prepared to do that in our responses untill now.

    • Hi Carlos, actually, L3 CBT candidates can still choose to show their workings (via equation editor, or a simple written description of the steps used in a calculation as you said). Therefore, if a candidate chooses to show their workings, it will be evaluated as part of the response and you can receive partial credit if the answer is not fully correct.

      What CFA Institute is saying is that you can choose to show only your final answer, of which if it is correct, will get full credit. Personally, I think it makes sense to describe or show some calculation/workings, since you’re doing the steps anyway, to maximize your scoring.

      In terms of equation editor, sure that may take some time to get used to and take time, I thought the second alternative of writing/describing your step via typing could be quicker than writing and should help.

      Hope this clarifies!

      • Hi Sophie, thanks for your answer.
        Yes, but my point is that the options that CFA Institute offers are more time consuming than just typing the formulas with a pen. And as far as I know, there is no practice question in the CBT exam software tutorial to practice or see how is the equation editor. So, if we have the same time but we have to use a more time consuming method to answer, we are in a disadvantage in my opinion.

        • Indeed Carlos, fingers crossed if CFA Institute will update/release the equation editor software for candidates to practice before the May exam.

          I’ll personally reach out to CFA Institute directly and see if they will be doing anything on this front. Will revert once I hear back 🙂

          • Hi Sophie, they just asnwered my, and effectively there isn’t a formula editor in the practice software and there is no way to know how is it or how to use it, wich is really a shame to arrive on exam day without knowing how is it going to be or have practiced with that. As I said, I think those who take the level 3 now are in a big disadvantage

          • Hi Carlos, I’ve heard back directly from CFA Institute on this, thanks for being patient.

            I’ve actually added your question to our list of FAQs 🙂

            Basically, CFAI is working with Prometric to release the trial software for L2 and L3 candidates. For L3 candidates, they also accept description of formulae, or written ASCII characters, e.g. (1000(1+0.05)^10). You don’t have to use the equation software if you feel it is slower, typing/describing your formulae are alternatives to show your workings.

            Hope this helps, and hopefully when the trial software comes out for L2/L3 all will be clearer.

          • Hi Sophie,

            First of all, thanks for putting together this very helpful post and for the follow up!
            I wrote to the CFA myself (still waiting for a response), but in the mean time just want to confirm that if we chose to write out the calculations by hand (so not using the equation editor), do you know if there is a certain format we should use?
            For example, can multiplication be shown as both “*” or “x”, and also because I cant always locate this sign “^” I sometimes just write “to the power of”. So the final calculation has both math signs and some actual writing (e.g. 10*(2 power of 3) – do you know if this is allowed?

            Many thanks!

          • I got an asnwer from the CFA Institue, FYI for others on the Math Tool topic:

            Thank you for contacting us regarding your upcoming exam. 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.

            When using the math editor function within the essay response box, the asterisk symbol (*) is not recognized as a mathematical function in a formula. All items in the morning session are evaluated by human graders and omitting a multiplication symbol in a typed formula would not result in a loss of points.

            Going forward, details on the math editor tool, along with other helpful information, can be found on our Exam Day – Screen Sizes and Functionality webpage at https://www.cfainstitute.org/programs/cfa/exam/exam-day-screens.

  11. I tried out the exam software tutorial. It seems as if each section will have a timer and that you cannot come back to previous sections once you have moved on. If I understand correctly, it is possible to flag and skip questions to come back to them later as long as you have not moved on to the next section. What worries me is that although my average question-answering time is about 80 seconds, there are some sections such as ethics where I take much more time (120-180 seconds). I simply work more slowly with words than numbers.

    I’m afraid that if the allocated section time is simply 90 seconds*(number of questions), that I will have too little time in certain sections like ethics and too much time in others. This would not have been a problem with a paper-based exam, because section timers did not exist with those. Do you know how the section times will be decided? Do you have more info on this? I find this worrying.

    • Hi Nic, I understand your concerns as I’ve also tried the software myself.

      What is not clear is if the 90 questions will be in separate sections, or just one big section. If I had to guess, it is unlikely that the 90 questions (i.e. whole paper) would be split into separate sections that creates the issue you’re worried about.

      I think the Section timers here were for Introductions (e.g. how to use the software), Sample questions (with a time limit), rather than trying to split the 90 questions into various section which is confusing/annoying with the timers. I will try to get more info on this as well from CFA Institute, and will update once I have more info.

        • Hi Elmyra, we have contacted CFA Institute on this and awaiting confirmation.

          However, some of our readers who have taken the exam did not report this as an issue, so it should be the whole exam is done as a section, and you can flag/go back to all questions in the session before the time is up.

          • Hi Sophie,

            I’m also worried about the section timer.
            Can you also confirm if we will be able to navigate between sections on L3 test’s essay part or if we will need to finish a section (and never return) to be able to write the next one?

          • Hi Juliano, I don’t think section timers are an issue.

            As mentioned in earlier comments, and the fact that no L1 Feb21 candidates complained about this, the section timers are meant for the ‘introduction’ part of CBT, where they allow you some time to try out the features and get familiar, before starting the actual exam.

            You can go back and forth different questions for the whole exam unrestricted. There are functions to flag questions etc for you to go back to when you have time, so I don’t see an issue about this, nor does it make sense to have that in an exam.

  12. For the computer-based, will there be an opportunity to have pencil and paper for personal use? For example, if I want to scratch out the years of payments for a TVM calculation, could I do that (or will there be no paper allowed in the testing room)? Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Ryan, unfortunately writing tools (pencils etc) and scratch papers are not allowed in the CBT exams. According to the CBT exam policies, candidates will be provided with a whiteboard, laminated sheet or erasable writing tablet for use during the exam. Hope this helps!

        • Hi Lindsey,
          CFA Institute had provided the initial guidance mentioned by Zee back in Oct 2020.

          However Prometric as the test provider/administrator for CBT CFA exams have been reported giving out pen and papers for CBT candidates. So scratch paper for calculations should not be an issue. Hope this clarifies!

  13. Hello, I need to know when will the scheduling process start for Feb 2021 CBT for candidates who moved from Dec 2020 PBT to Feb 2021 CBT.

  14. In someone’s personal opinion, is taking a CBT rather than PBT for Level 1 will have a higher chance of passing the exam? Given the shorter hours to take it (the traditional 6 hours is brain excruciating even for a candidate who is well prepared). Any 2 cents would be appreciated.

  15. Currently a June Level 2 candidate initially postponed for Dec 2020. Is the deadline the stick with Dec 2020 8/19? And if I elect afterwards, will I have to elect for May 2021 or get a refund?

    • Hi Danny, yes if you are a postponed June 2020 candidate and wish to register for Dec 2020 PBT, your deadline is 19th August. Otherwise your deadline is 20th October for changing to other 2021 CBT exam cycles (i.e. May, Aug 2021). If you elect after 19th August, you can only switch to May or Aug 2021 CBT exams. If you were postponed from June 2020 and the exam you subsequently registered for is postponed as well, you will have the option to defer again or to request a refund for the registration fee you paid for the June 2020 exam. Hope this clarifies!

  16. Agree with Andy’s comments above. As a current charterholder, I see this as a cash grab that risks undermining the value of what all existing charterholders have achieved. This is poor governance and will damage the CFA’s brand in the long-run.

    • I’m not defending CFA Institute per se, but the CFA exams are one of the later financial exams to move online, and due to the pandemic I don’t really see how a paper-based format will survive. CFA Institute have also said that it’ll cost them more to maintain the computer-based format. 🤷‍♂️

  17. 1. For Level 3, if a candidate fails in December 2020 and May 2021, will he/she be allowed to sit for November 2021? 2. For the essay portion, I am concerned about the calculations related questions on a computer-based setting. I feel that it would take a longer time to type calculations on a “Word” format. Thoughts and/or comments on this? 3. On the CFAI website, what do they mean by “The full curriculum for Level III will go live on 11 August in the digital Learning Ecosystem. That includes all lessons, question bank, as well as the structured and adaptive plan options.”? How is this different from what we already have access to? Thanks

    • Hi John: 1) Yes, if a candidate fails L3 May 2021, he/she can sit for L3 again in Nov 2021. 2) It really depends – some candidates say it’s quicker to type on computers than write by hand. For calculations, you would still need to show your workings, and hopefully it’s a matter of doing lots of CBT mocks on computers to get to know the common key strokes to gain familiarity and speed. 3) This means that CFAI will make all attributes of the Learning Ecosystem available to LIII candidates next week. This will include the entire curriculum, flash cards and other tools. The Mocks will be loaded there as well, which you can use to practice CBT. Hope this helps!

  18. Hi Abhijeet, yes you’re right about CFA UK which recently launched online proctoring for their IMC and Certificate of ESG, which makes it more predictable given the COVID-19 situation. As to whether CFA Institute will have Level 2 and Level 3 exams proctored online, our view is that chances are quite slim. It took CFA Institute about 2 years to decide and another 2 years to move Level 1 to computer-based testing. Trying to move Level 2 and Level 3 for online proctoring in just a few months is probably very challenging logistically.

  19. CFA Society UK is offering online proctored exams from home for certain certifications. If the pandemic is not subdued by December 2020, what do you think is the probability of the Institute having Level 2 and 3 exams globally proctored online?

  20. Does anyone know if you are able to skip around to different question in Computer based? Example if I want to skip question 20-36 for later solving. Will I be able to?

    • Hi Amit, there is no changes of exam fees for Feb 2021’s Level 1 CBT exam. That said, if you need to reschedule your initially chosen exam date, this will incur an additional USD 250 fee. Other than that, registration fees still costs $700-1000 (no late registration fees anymore), with a first time enrollment fee of $450.

  21. Wasn’t able to reply, so asking separately. Thank you for your reply, but i am still confused. In point no.3 you have told that June 2021 early bird registration ends at mid Feb, but i have checked CFA website, there it is said that early bird registration ends at 23 September,2020. Please can you clear this point.

    • Hey Fardeen Good catch on my error! I did miss out the one line that Early Registration ends on 23 Sep 2020. If that’s the case, we don’t exactly know the answer as it really depends on when the Aug Level 1 CBT is held (earlier in the month or later – something CFA Institute has confirmed to us they have not released info on yet), and how long it’ll take to grade/publish the exam results for CBT exams (again CFA Institute cannot confirm this at this stage). E.g. if exams are held early August, there MAY be a chance that CFA Institute can/will publish the result just before 23 Sep 2020 deadline. That said, if they follow an exact 3 months cycle (quarterly exams), it may be held towards end of August (since Feb 2021’s exam window is last week of Feb), of which there is a slimmer chance they will release results in 3 weeks to make 23 Sep 2020. Sorry it isn’t much help and lots of theorizing at this stage – the best we can infer with the current facts/info we all have. Hope this helps nonetheless!

    • Hi Fardeen, Although no official dates have been published yet so far into 2022, it is likely that you would be able qualify for early bird L2 2022 assuming a pass in Aug 2021 Level 1 paper. Let me explain my assumptions: 1) CFA Institute has mentioned that CBT papers should be graded faster than the usual 2-2.5 months of paper-based exam, although they don’t know exactly how much faster until a few CBT exam cycles have occured. 2) So even assuming that it is 2-2.5 months, that still is before Dec 2021 anyway that you get your Aug 2021 Level 1 exam results. 3) Assuming the same time trends as June 2021’s exam, Level 2 June 2022’s registration opens end July/early Aug 2022, and ends on mid Feb 2022 (where Standard Registration begins). So since you’ll know your result by Dec 2021, you should be able to register for early bird prices for L2 2022 June assuming a pass. Hope that helps!

    • Hi Aditya, while CFA Institute has not released any official dates yet, based on past exam timelines, we expect them to open registration for Feb 2021 around late April or beginning May.

  22. FYI the CPA is administered this way and it’s not easy. I think so long as L2 and L3 are given once a year the old fashioned way nothing much changes. If they get to the point of offering L2 and L3 computer based don’t be surprised if they still keep them once per year. Fewer candidates take those exams Prometric can handle 1 week of testing for them…

    • You’re bang on point there David. I think part of the issue is the volume of L1 candidates, hence it makes sense to use computer testing. As the number of candidates decreases up the levels (and with the essay format) it is unlikely that we’ll see L3 being computer tested anytime soon.

  23. It looks like Level I can be taken 4 times per year now? PUKE. If that’s true, then make it 4 times harder. Part of the CFA prestige is how “F****ked” you are if you fail during a cycle. CFAI risks diluting the program to make extra registration $$s.

    • Understand your frustration. However I think more opportunities to take the exam should overall be a good thing. It would make it more inclusive timing-wise, as well as open it up to candidates in remoter areas who would otherwise have to travel to central places (affecting participation rates).

      • Thanks for your response Christine. I welcome better access for candidates in remote areas. But part of the CFA exams being so hard are cramming hundreds of people in one room. The stress around you. Bathroom breaks. Logistics. That’s all real life stuff. Driving at your leisure to take a “Series 7-like” test center multiple times per year is not the CFA that I signed up for. It’s not fair to the candidates who worked their asses off to pass to specifically avoid waiting a long time to retake. It’s not fair to the candidates who worked their asses off to fail and had to wait forever to retake.

        • Note the answer to Q9 above: “Although the Level 1 exam is offered 4 times a 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. For example, a candidate failing Level 1 Feb 2021 exam can register for a Level 1 retake from August onwards, but not May.” Hence, the frequency at which a candidate can take the exam is the same as it currently is (twice a year).

          • “But part of the CFA exams being so hard are cramming hundreds of people in one room. The stress around you.” Judging by these masochistic remarks, I am honestly shocked you are walking the path of a financial analyst. Please seek psychological help, you sadist.

          • Did you ever consider that due to the restrictive conditions for CFA exams in the past it simply drove a bunch of people to pursue other designations such as MBA or CMA. You might view the CFA as prestigious but most people will take a high percentage pass rate for one of these other designations, I see these efforts as CFA trying to be more competitive with the alternatives (and many people taking these designations are high quality people). In my region, most of the time companies will gladly hire an MBA interchangably with CFAs (may except very specific banking jobs).

          • You’re not wrong there. I do agree that on a macro level that’s what CFA Institute has to do – remain competitive as a qualification in prestige, employer desirability but also accessibility.

          • I think I agree. The process doesn’t need to be punishing, just ensure a minimum knowledge and comprehension level bar for passing candidates. If you know your stuff, why shouldn’t you pass? Competency isn’t necessarily about being placed under pressure. I’d prefer investment professionals to be people who make reasoned balanced decisions confident in their understanding. MBA pass rates are very high (because its a purchased academic qualification and the biggest moneyspinner for Universities) so is a bit misleading re ability – its greatest benefit is the networking connections for candidates I believe. Its also very broad based providing marketing, project management and other skill set insights – if you’ve been around long enough in industry you can pick up exposure to these disciplines that is way more useful than project and assignment based academia. CFA is a very well put together designation that in my view will become more sought after and ultimately more expensive qualification to complete. The hardest but is staying on track and committing the time needed, I like this – its self-discipline (your boat, you steer it) and I’m actually enjoying it. About 200hrs into a 300hr plan and seeing myself hit 90% scores on practice exams feels good. Best of luck to anyone out there also committing the time and energy. Its worth it.

          • I don’t agree with this. CFA makes it clear while there are 4 annual sittings of Level 1, you can only sit it twice in a year. So no net change. It’ll be hard to assess whether harder or not until the results are in, I suspect the %age pass rate of sitters won’t rise appreciably. Same deal – you have to out-work your competition. 2x3hr exams is a little oppressive and no extra value, my main concern is not being allowed a scratch pad and pencil to thrash out thoughts/workings as only allowed your passport and Texas calc in the room. Best advice is understand the format well and prepare for the format as much as you prep for the content.

          • Thanks for sharing both your perspectives Phil and Phillip. We will feature an article about CBT exam preparations soon, so hold on tight and good luck on your prep!

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