CFA Feb 2021: What CFA Institute’s recent emails mean for deferrals

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Well, the news and changes just keep on coming!

After its initial email on 13th Jan, CFA Institute sent a follow up email last week to CFA Feb 2021 candidates as promised, which seem to have caused some candidate confusion and frustration.

It can be difficult to make a decision by 10th Feb on whether to defer without the full picture.

Hence, we reached out directly to CFA Institute’s team for some clarification, and summarized our findings in the article below.

CFA Institute’s 13th Jan 2021 email: deferrals available, online proctored testing announced

CFA Institute's 13th Jan 2021 email: Deferrals available, and Online Proctored Testing

On the 12th of January, CFA Institute announced via an email to candidates of some major updates to the Feb21 CFA exams. The email text is reproduced below:

As many regions around be world continue to deal with the COVID pandemic, we recognize that increased government restrictions and rising cases in some areas may leave you feeling uncertain about your ability to test in February. While we are planning to administer the exam where possible, to help alleviate your concerns, we have created more scheduling options for you, as follows:

DEFERRALS AVAILABLE All scheduled February candidates will be given the opportunity to defer to another computer-based exam window in 2021 at no additional charge. We are currently working with our testing partners to determine which exams have available capacity. We will provide Level I candidates with further details on choosing one of these exam options on 2 February. There is no action for you to take at this time.

ONLINE PROCTORED TESTING OPTION In addition to these deferrals CFA Institute is exploring a limited-capacity Online Proctored Testing (OPT) exam as an option for candidates whose February exams are cancelled due to COVID. Due to government regulations, OPY for candidates in mainland China will not be available. Information on this potential OPT option is NOT yet available on our website. If your exam is cancelled due to COVID and the OPT option is available in your area, you will be contacted with more information. Additional details, including the required testing environment, as well as computer and systems requirements, will be provided on 2 February.

TWICE IMPACTED CANDIDATES Any February 2021 candidate whose exam appointment is cancelled due to COVID will be entitled to a refund if this is the second time their exam was postponed. You will be contacted with more information after the February testing window is completed.

We are working diligently to respond to he challenges of the pandemic and meet the needs of our candidates by creating new, more frequent opportunities to sit for the CFA exam across 2021.

Thank you for your patience as we work through these complex processes.

Best wishes,

CFA Institute

Email from CFA Institute to CFA Feb21 candidates, 12th January 2021

There were some scattered complaints on the ‘lowering of exam quality’ due to the introduction of Online Proctored Testing (OPT), but on the whole Feb21 candidates were relieved that they will be given a chance to defer their exam.

Crucially, many candidates assumed that they would be able to defer to any future exam window, but this was not the case.

CFA Institute’s 2nd Feb 2021 email to candidates

CFA Institute's email to candidates on 2nd Feb 2021

Fast forward to 2nd Feb, and the email candidates received was a tad confusing. The received email is reproduced below (highlights are ours):

Thank you for your patience as we continue to monitor the current global pandemic situation and develop options for our candidates.

The health and safety of candidates remains our top priority—our purpose is to make sure that you can feel secure as you sit for your CFA® exam. As you know, our move to computer-based testing was made to help administer safe and secure exams globally in smaller test centers. We anticipate at this time that most test centers will conduct their exam administrations as planned. If your exam center is remaining open during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are precautionary measures in place so that you can take your exam in a safe environment. Candidates in China, use this link.

COMPLIMENTARY DEFERRAL OPTIONS: While we remain confident that most locations will successfully administer February Level I exams, we understand that COVID-19 continues to create uncertainty among candidates. Because of this, we are pleased to offer complimentary deferrals to any February candidate who feels uncomfortable with their local situation and would therefore prefer to defer out of this exam window to one later in 2021.

The May testing window has reached capacity, so if you choose to defer, the earliest available testing window will be July. August and November testing windows are also available. We require a six-month gap between exams, so if you pass Level I in July, your first opportunity to sit for Level II would be February 2022. If you choose to keep your scheduled February exam, your first opportunity to sit for Level II will be August 2021.

If you wish to take advantage of this deferral, the window to do so is 9am ET 2 February through 11:59pm ET 10 February. Deferral requests received after that date will not be accepted. Once you cancel your February appointment, you will not be able to sit for an examination in February. This deferral opportunity is one-time and represents a final decision to release your February registration.

Your account has now been updated to allow you to defer to a future testing window at no charge, should you decide to do so. We encourage you to act as soon as possible. Exam appointments that are available in your location will be listed in the Prometric scheduling tool after you register.

CANCELLATIONS Unfortunately, no matter how good the health and safety policies, practices, and procedures are at each test site, computer-based testing does not make us immune to the possibility of cancellations—in particular, those due to government restrictions.

The list of cancelled test centers will be kept updated on the CFA Exam Test Center Updates page. Because some individual test centers could get cancelled, please look for your specific test center, rather than your city, to see if your exam appointment has been impacted.

If your appointment is cancelled and can be rescheduled within the February exam window, Prometric will send you an appointment confirmation email within 24–48 hours with the new date and time of your exam. If your appointment cannot be rescheduled, CFA Institute will follow up within 15 days to provide more details about re-registering for another testing window.

ONLINE PROCTORED TESTING Online Proctored Testing (OPT) may be available in select locations for candidates whose exam appointments are cancelled and cannot be rescheduled. This option is not available to candidates who choose to defer their February exam. Before permissions from local regulators are obtained and capability of CBT test provider is fully developed, OPT will not be available to candidates in mainland China.

TWICE-IMPACTED CANDIDATES Candidates may be eligible for a refund if your February 2021 exam appointment is cancelled and cannot be rescheduled by Prometric and this is your second exam closure due to COVID-19. If you chose to withdraw from the December exam or elect to defer your February exam registration, a refund will not be available to you. CFA Institute will contact you directly via email after the February testing window closes if this option is available to you.

We are working diligently to meet the needs of our candidates by creating new, more frequent opportunities to sit for the CFA exam across 2021.    
Thank you for your patience as we work through these complex processes.   

CFA Institute

CFA Institute’s email to Feb21 candidates, 2nd Feb 2021

So what do all these mean for CFA Feb 2021 candidates?

We have sought clarifications directly with CFA Institute, and summarized a few important points that all Feb 2021 candidates need to know:

1) You can’t postpone your Feb21 CFA exam to May21 (anymore). Jul21, Aug21 and Nov21 are available.

You can't postpone your Feb21 CFA exam to May21 (anymore). Jul21, Aug21 and Nov21 are available.

The CFA Institute email states that May 21 “has reached capacity” and so the “earliest available testing window will be July. Aug21 and Nov21 are also available”.

However, some candidates reported logging in to defer their Feb21 exam soon after receiving the email reported May21 availability, albeit at a steep cost (standard registration fee).

Why did this happen?

Our guess is that although CFA Institute has decided that May21 is “at capacity” and may well be for the majority of their locations, the online system still allowed candidates to defer to May21, as in the system handles deferrals as candidates “withdrawing” then re-registering at a 100% discount. But since CFA Institute did not apply the discount for May21, candidates effectively see a brand new registration fee.

We contacted CFA Institute about this and got this response:

We contacted our candidates on February 2 with the details on how to defer from February if they so desired. At the time, we had very limited capacity for May, mostly in our smallest markets. The May testing window is now closed to both new and deferred candidates. Level I candidates who wish to defer from February may re-book for July or beyond.

CFA Institute to 300Hours

2) If you decide to stay on Feb21, your exam date may change (within the exam window) without much notice.

Change of Exam Date Without Notice

The CFA Institute email states that if your Feb21 appointment is cancelled, but another date within the same February exam window is possible, “Prometric will send you an appointment confirmation email within 24–48 hours with the new date and time of your exam.”

This implies that Prometric will decide, move your exam date and let you know. So be warned – if that’s not something you’re happy with you might want to consider deferral.

3) Deferred dates are on an availability basis, and you need to confirm Feb21 deferral to view availability

Defer to Future Exam Screenshot

The CFA Institute email states that deferrals are subject to availability by location, which is expected.

An unstated but important point is that candidates have since reported that while this is true, you can’t view availability until you’ve confirmed you want to defer your Feb21 exam.

So if you want to check availability before deciding whether to defer your Feb21 exam, this might not be possible.

4) If you stay on Feb21 and COVID cancels your CFA exam, CFA Institute will contact you with postponement options or a refund (if you’ve been cancelled twice).

It’s important to remember that Feb21 has not been cancelled entirely, so if you prefer to try and take your exam on Feb21, you can choose not to defer.

However, if COVID restrictions mean your exam needs to be cancelled, CFA Institute will be in contact with the (by now) usual options:

  • deferral to a future exam window depending on availability, or
  • refund if your CFA exams have been cancelled twice.

5) Where available, OPT can be offered as an option to Feb21 candidates where their original exam is cancelled due to COVID

Online Proctor Testing (OPT) for CFA Exams

If your Feb21 CBT exam is COVID-cancelled, you may be offered to take the exam online from home with CFA Institute’s introduction of Online Proctored Testing (OPT).

This involves you taking the exam with your own computer equipment and webcam at your own location – we’ve included full details on how this will work for the CFA exams here.

The wording of this isn’t 100% clear what happens if OPT isn’t possible for an individual candidate for any reason (e.g. lack of a suitable computer, webcam, location issues), so we clarified with CFA Institute with an example:

Say Stacy, a Feb21 CFA Level I candidate, decides to remain scheduled for the February 2021 CFA exam, and lets the deferral date of 10th Feb pass by without deferring. Approaching the exam date, due to COVID restrictions the location and exam window is cancelled. CFA Institute offers OPT to Stacy, but she doesn’t own a webcam and therefore cannot proceed with OPT.

What happens in this scenario?

300Hours’ question to CFA Institute

CFA Institute replied clearly (highlights are ours):

If Stacy stays in February and gets cancelled, she would be offered OPT or deferral to any available 2021 exam. She would have options. The most important thing is for candidates to research OPT thoroughly to determine whether it is an option for them before planning on it.  So, in this case it was perfect that Stacy already knew that wouldn’t be a viable option for her before she registered for it.

CFA Institute’s response to 300Hours

6) To be eligible for a refund, you can’t have chosen to defer in Dec20 or Feb21

No Refunds for CFA Exam

CFA Institute specifically state that “if you chose to withdraw from the December exam or elect to defer your February exam registration, a refund will not be available to you”.

I think the concept here is that CFA Institute will offer refunds to candidates where the exams have been cancelled twice consecutively due to COVID. If you’ve deferred from Dec20, perhaps CFA Institute deems that to have ‘reset’ the counter.

Hey, I don’t make up the rules, I just try and interpret them for you…

So if a refund is what you’re angling for, don’t defer and sit tight.

If you’re a CFA Feb 2021 candidate, I hope this has been helpful in your decision on whether to defer or stay put. Don’t forget, if you wish to defer your Feb 2021 exams, the deadline for this is 11:59pm ET 10 February!

Meanwhile, these related articles may be of interest:

Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan

300Hours founder


2 thoughts on “CFA Feb 2021: What CFA Institute’s recent emails mean for deferrals”

  1. Hi, is there any way to ask CFAI regarding planned addition of availability for July 2021 exams.
    The CFAI is not letting us view the availability of test sites before we enroll for the exam. This leads to a bitter and unexpected experience of enrolling for the test and later on finding out that no venue is available for testing.
    I am from India and in my case I deferred L-1 exam from Feb-21 to July-21. And now while trying to schedule the test for July, there is no single venue available across India. This is just unexpected.
    I have emailed the CFAI but not seeing any hope of getting a reply.

    • Argh, that must be frustrating Parth.

      I suspect CFA Institute’s booking system is probably in a mess now given the various addition and adjustments of exam dates and locations. You will probably have more clarity once Feb exams are over as CFA Institute may be swamped dealing with Feb and March exams now. But meanwhile it would make sense to check the scheduling tool weekly, and continue studying as usual. Once March exams are done, there should be better visibility on this, since you’ve already contacting CFAI.


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