Plan Your 2021 CFA Registration With Our Free Journey Planner

Want to pass your exams? Start preparing the right way.
My email is and I'm preparing for

Important: this article has been updated for August and 7th December 2020’s (big) schedule changes. 

2021 represents a big step change for all CFA candidates, with full transition to computer-based testing (CBT), shorter exams and increased testing frequency for all Levels.

It also doesn’t help that CFA Institute has since then implemented a few additional changes to 2021’s exam dates and exam cycles.

For those considering the CFA exams, how do these changes impact the speed of your path to CFA charter? What are the differences between the various CFA registration options? ​How does that route change if you fail?

No worries, we’ve analyzed all available exam cycles and mapped them out for you in our (ahem) beautiful CFA Journey Planner – check it out!


CFA Exams: Summary of CFA Institute’s Recent Changes

Summary of 2021 CFA exam changes

On 4th August 2020, CFA Institute announced that all Levels of CFA exams will be computer-based from 2021, along with some format and schedule changes :

  • Exam format and duration: aside from the change to computer-based testing (CBT), exam length for each Level is also reduced by 25%, i.e. 2 hours and 15 minutes per paper (instead of 3 hours), with 2 papers per Level as before.
  • Exam frequency: instead of the single day testing around the world, CBT exams can be scheduled in multi-day windows at more test centers globally. Candidates need a 6 months minimum gap between exam attempts (the “6 months rule”), given the increased testing frequency for all Levels.

Subsequently on 7th December 2020, CFA Institute also announced one-off additional exam slots for Level 1 in March (for select Dec/Feb postponed candidates only) and July, November for Level 2 and August for Level 3 as well. Talk about madness 🙂

​All changes summarized neatly in the table below:

CFA Exam Cycles by Level20212022 Onwards
Level 16x this year, with exam windows available in February, March (one-off), May, July (one-off), August and November.4x a year, with exam windows available every quarter in February, May, August and November.​
Level 23x a year, with exam windows available in May, August and November. May and November 2020 Level 2 are one-offs.​2x a year, with exam windows available in February and August going forward.​
Level 33x this year, with exam windows available in May, August and November.2x a year, with exam windows available in May and November.​

In summary

  • In 2021 (only), Level 1 exams would be held 6x a year, whilst Level 2 and Level 3 exams are offered 3x a year in multi-day exam windows. The extra one-off exam slots in 2021 are to accommodate all the postponed candidates during the pandemic.
  • From 2022 onwards, it will revert to a regular schedule of 4x a year for Level 1, twice a year each for Level 2 and Level 3.

Naturally, this major upheaval created a lot of confusion especially around how the “6 months rule” works, how the different exam cycle options compare, and more importantly, how the new path to obtaining CFA charter looks like. 

Well, I hope this is the one chart that explains it all!


CFA Registration Journey Planner: Plan Your Path to the Charter Easily

Plan your CFA registration path with our journey planner tool infographic

Our handy CFA Journey Planner infographic lets you plot your route to the CFA charter at a glance.

It displays the exam slots for each Level for 2020-2023, with the next available exam intake depending on results (pass or fail). This lets you easily see what options you have and apply the “6 months rule” to understand when are the next applicable exam intakes.

Let’s run a few example scenarios:

  1. If you’re sticking to Dec20 Level 1 intake, but failed that exam, the earliest you can attempt Level 1 again is 6 months from December 2020, i.e. May21 intake, not Feb21.
  2. If you failed Level 2 in May21, due to the “6 months rule”, the next available Level 2 exam you can register for is Nov21, not Aug21.
  3. If you passed Dec20 Level 2, you can register for May21 Level 3.
  4. If you failed Dec20 Level 3, you can retake it in May21.

There are a few interesting insights we can conclude from these exam schedule changes.


2021 CFA Registration Options: What Have We Learned?

1)You can now obtain your CFA charter faster than before. Registering for Level 1 May21 is a one-off chance to blitz through the CFA charter in less than 1 year

Given the increased testing frequency on every Level, CFA candidates can now complete all 3 levels faster than previously. Upon passing, candidates can progress to Level 2 in 6-9 months and Level 3 usually in 9 months.

Under the old system, the fastest one could complete the CFA charter is in 18 months with 3 consecutive passes. From 2021, passing all 3 Levels consecutively only takes 15-18 months as the norm, with two one-off,  crazy chance to do it in less than 1 year with Dec20 and May21 Level 1 exams!

CFA registration exam cycles comparison

It would be a tough (but not impossible) route to take on May21 Level 1, then Nov21 Level 2 and finally May22 Level 3. However one needs to bear in mind the high potential for burn out given that you may have to start studying for the next level before results are out, assuming you’re juggling a full-time job and studies simultaneously.

If you’re up for the challenge, the last day to register for May 2021 Level 1 exams is 23 February 2021.


2) The cost of failure has significantly reduced: you can retake a level every 6 months

Nothing surprising here given the “6 months rule”!​


3) From July 2021, there isn’t much difference in speed across all Level 1 registration windows

If you’re considering Level 1 much later (say mid 2021 onwards) and wondering which exam cycle is best to go for, the good news is that there isn’t much speed differences across all the exam windows after first half of 2021.

February and August exam cycles are slightly faster – but only by 3 months – compared to May and August. It is a 6 months wait to Level 2 for Feb/Aug Level 1 candidates who passed, but a 9 months wait for May/Nov Level 1 candidates. From mid 2021 onwards, assuming 3 consecutive passes, it takes candidates 15-18 months to complete all 3 exams regardless of the choice of exam registration window.

Given the negligible differences in speed for the 4 regular Level 1 exam windows, choose your exam slot based on your personal, work and life commitments to maximize your chances of success:

  • Although February and August cycles are 3 months quicker, the schedule would be more intense as it takes up to 2 months for results to be published, which in effect only gives you 4 months to Level 2 which would be challenging with an intense full-time job.
  • On the other hand, May and November cycles allow you to have 6-7 months of proper studying time after result publication, which is a more sustainable study plan and achievable with a full-time job.

Need more information on CFA exam registrations? Here are related articles of interest:

Decided on your exam registration window? Great! Here are the best resources to kickstart your studies after registering:

Sophie Macon
Author: Sophie Macon

foot1
foot2
foot3

27 thoughts on “Plan Your 2021 CFA Registration With Our Free Journey Planner”

  1. Hi there!

    I want to apply for the May 2021 (Level 1) exam but I checked on the website and it is not giving me an option to apply for the May 2021 cycle. The options that it is giving me is – July 2021, August 2021, November 2021 only.

    Reply
    • Hi Shubha, L1 May 2021 exam’s registration has been closed early last week by CFA institute due to reaching full capacity. So your options for L1 are July, Aug and Nov for 2021.

      Reply
  2. If I passed level 2 in Dec 2020 can I really sit level 3 in May 2021? This would be less than 6 months but is a path on the chart above.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Lachie, yes you can. L2 May 2021 exams are at the end of May, so 6 months rule applies.

      The final registration deadline is on 23 Feb, and CFA Institute has shown that they can close registration earlier than expected (e.g. for L1 May), so best to decide and register, not leaving it last minute.

      Reply
    • Hi Andrea, at the moment CFA Institute isn’t offering a change in exam cycle (e.g. from May to August), but is allowing changes WITHIN an exam window (e.g. changing from 10th May to 11th May).

      However, worth trying your luck by emailing CFA Institute directly to see if they would accommodate.

      Reply
  3. Hi,
    Is the $25 rescheduling fees applicable for both rescheduling within the exam month (say shifting between 24th-30th August 2021 for Level) and rescheduling within the exam cycles (say shifting from August 2021 to November 2021 for Level 1) ?

    Reply
    • Hi Kardam, the $25 rescheduling fee only applies for rescheduling within an exam window.

      Rescheduling between exam cycles (i.e. shifting from Aug21 to Nov21) isn’t currently an option, except special circumstances like deferral or allowed by CFA Institute (e.g. due to exam postponement).

      Reply
      • Hi Add and Rishi

        Sorry for putting the question here but I could not find where I can put the questions.

        I have 2 questions that need your help,

        1. I am going take the exam for Level 1 in Nov 2021.
        It means there is no scholarship which I can apply at the moment ? right? even I enroll Women scholarship ( as the last date to Register for Nov exam is 4 May.)
        So, I need to pay registration fee and the fee for level 1 ?
        Am I understanding right? if not could you please correct me and give me a idea?

        2. Assuming I pay registration fee and level 1 and pass Level 1, when can I apply for scholarship for Level II ?

        Thank you so much

        Reply
  4. Hi,

    Thank you very much for this beautiful and clear outline of the possible CFA routes aspiring CFA charter holder can take.

    My question would be which one would be the most cost efficient path to obtain the CFA designation starting from February 2021 and May 2022.

    I understood that May 2021 – May 2022 would be one of the fastest way to pass all three levels in less than a year, but would the registration fee (overall total cost) differ, if I choose to take the exam in February 2021 (since I write the exam earlier instead of May 2021 and could register for Level 2 Nov 2021 exam at a lower cost)?

    I am basically trying to keep the overall cost as low as possible.

    Thank you for your help!

    Reply
  5. When will the windows open for May2021 Level 1 and November 2021 Level 2. What if window for November 2021 Level2 closes before result for May 2021 level 1 exam is published?

    Reply
    • Hi Lekha, L1 May21 and L2 Nov21 registration are already open – please see all the relevant CFA exam dates here https://www.300hours.com/articles/all-the-dates-you-need-for-your-next-cfa-exam. Although we don’t know the exam results date for May 2021 at the moment since it’s all new with computer-based exams, CFA Institute has stated that there must be a minimum 6 months between exam, and passing May21 L1 allows you to register for Nov21 L2. Therefore the results have to be announced before Nov21 registration closes on 10 Aug 2021. That said, you may have to start early pre-emptively and study earlier than that though since it is an extremely tight timeline to prepare for L2.

      Reply
  6. How much hard work does it take to become a CFA within less than 1 year? [I’m talking about May,21-Nov,21-May,22] Currently working full time in a real estate as a financial analyst. If necessary I might leave the job.

    Reply
    • Hi Them Ticker, the amount of hard work is still the same, it takes 300-350 study hours per level. The challenge with the May21, Nov21 and May 22 route is that you have no break in between, and once the exam is over you have to start studying for the next level and have to assume you’ve passed. I’ve personally done it in 18 months (old schedule of Dec L1, June L2, June L3) and it was extremely painful but achievable with an investment banking job. I only had time to study on the weekend full on, as I was too tired on the weekdays. Quitting your job is not necessary, probably not wise under the current financial climate. I would suggest checking out our free study planner (https://www.300hours.com/articles/300-hours-rough-guide-to-a-solid-cfa-study-plan), observing your weekday and weekend routine to carve out consistent time for studying. I would highly recommend checking out our Fast Track CFA planner as well to see indicative schedules of how you can work out the timings to meet those required study hours (https://www.300hours.com/articles/cfa-fast-track-fastest-way-to-pass). I really hope these resources help, and wish you the best of luck! Keep us posted with your progress, either here or in our forum! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Hi George, if you are scheduled for 1st March exam slot, you are technically considered the Feb exam slot (see exam dates here https://www.300hours.com/articles/all-the-dates-you-need-for-your-next-cfa-exam) because the March exam slot that has just been announced is for 21-23 March. So I get your misunderstanding (I got confused at first too!), but for the purpose of the 6m rule, you should be considered the February exam window, and therefore if you pass L1 Feb, you can register for August L2. I would recommend you double check this with CFA Institute as well to have a confirmation in writing. Do let me know once you hear back from CFAI as well, would love confirmation on this 🙂 Thanks!

    Reply
  8. If I am scheduled to sit March 1st for L1 (reschedule from cancelled December 2020 L1, does that mean I cannot sit for the August L2? It is the last possible schedule date for the “Feb” L1 rescheduled exam period. If I cannot because of 6 month rule, should I reschedule to Feb 27 or 28 (for example)?

    Reply
  9. Hi, I have registered for Feb 21 exam Level 1. Earlier I registered for Dec 20 exam and had to reschedule it to Feb 21 due to pandemic. Owing to some personal issues, I have been unable to study for last 2 months and have lost track because of which I am feeling under prepared for Feb 21 exam. Is it possible to reschedule from Feb 21 to May 21 at the cost of $25 rescheduling fee? Please guide.

    Reply
  10. I’m not seeing the option to register for November 2021 Level 2 Exam (Nov seems to be available for just Levels 1 and 3)… When describing the opportunity to pass in one year, how would one register for the November Level 2 exam?

    Reply
    • Hi Peter, the option to register for Nov21 Level 2 is not available yet. CFA institute will make it available in the next few weeks apparently. So sit tight and wait for it to open 🙂

      Reply
  11. If I pass Level-1 in February 2021, can I sit for Level-2 in 2021? I saw on Schweser that I can not sit for Level-2 unless I pass Level-1 in December 2020. I need to be sure what’s correct. Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Upon passing Dec 2020 L1 exam would I be able to take L2 in August 2021 if I prefer more time to study for L2?

    Reply

Leave a Comment