Dec20 vs 2021 CFA Exams: Should You Postpone?

Should You Postpone Your December 2020 CFA Exam - Title

Last week, CFA Institute ripped up the rulebook once again, announcing that CFA Level 2 and Level 3 will transition to computer-based exams in 2021, effectively cancelling the paper-based Jun21 exams and making Dec20 the last paper-based exam.

Registration for the Dec20 CFA exams close very soon – 19th August, as a matter of fact. So should you plan to take the exam in December 2020, or push your plans to 2021?

To give you guidance on which should be your next CFA exam, we’ve pored through all the information CFA Institute has announced. We will discuss in this article:

  • Five reasons why you should postpone to 2021
  • Five reasons why you shouldn’t postpone to 2021
  • Our final recommendation
Be alerted to any further announcements and updates.
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What are the deadlines to postponing my exam from December 2020 to 2021?

CFA Dec20 or 2021: Key Dates

  • The latest date to register (or reregister) for the December 2020 paper-based exam (Dec20) is 19th August 2020.
  • Registration for all 2021 dates and all CFA levels will open on 20th August 2020. Registration for Feb21 L1 is already open.
  • If you’re a postponed candidate currently registered for Dec20, you have up to 20th October 2020 to reschedule your exam, should you choose to.

How to postpone your December 2020 CFA exam to any 2021 exam date

CFA Dec20 or 2021: How to Reschedule

  • All 2021 exam dates will be available from 20th August 2020.
  • If you’re already registered for Dec20: Sign in to your account, go to the CFA Program tile and follow the instructions under Manage Your Exam to Withdraw from Exam. Then, you may re-register for your choice of future exam date with no additional fees. You must complete this process by 20 October.
  • For everyone else who has to change their registration: To register for a new exam date, sign in to your account and complete the registration process for your choice of future exam date with no additional fees. Again, you must register for your future exam date by 20 October.

5 reasons why you should postpone your December 2020 CFA exam

CFA Dec20 or 2021: 5 Reasons to Reschedule to 2021

There’s less likelihood of cancellation

We recently published an article about how likely the Dec20 exams would be cancelled. As the likelihood of CFA exam cancellation will be down to local COVID regulations, we ran a survey asking our readers what the situation was like where they were, and collected 1,500+ responses.

​In the survey, candidates were asked to factor in local regulations, as well as their best estimate on whether COVID regulations will continue (or tightened) in December.

CFA Dec20 or 2021: Likelihood of Dec20 Cancelled or Postponed

With very few exceptions, such as New Zealand, candidates in almost all countries indicated that it’s more likely that the CFA exams would not take place as planned in their location.

You can probably get a feel for your own location, but the survey may confirm what you’re already feeling – it’s not looking great for an as-usual Dec20 CFA exam. Postponing to 2021 might be a good chance to get more certainty over your exam dates.

Likely to be more COVID-19 safe

The computer-based CFA exams will now take place in a 10-day window, rather than just one big day. There will also be 400+ testing centers for computer-based CFA exams compared to the current 190+ test centers.

This means that CFA computer-based test centers are likely to have just 5% of candidates per test center compared to past CFA exams.

Less candidates per venue = better social distancing = safer for everyone.

A shorter CFA exam

Some might bemoan the loss of prestige of a ‘harder’ CFA exam – with the new CFA computer-based exam format, the exam is now 4-4.5 hours long, rather than the 6-hour paper-based marathon.

CFA Institute has stated that after about 4.5 hours of testing, additional testing is unlikely to further improve the accuracy of the assessment. But a shorter exam in our opinion would work in your favor, and improve your chances in being better prepared for the exam. A shorter exam makes for a less tired candidate, and less tired candidates are likely to perform better.

More flexible exam dates

Instead of just the one exam day, computer-based CFA exams will now be offered in a 10-day exam window. Candidates will be able to choose a day that suits them, and with two or four exam slots a year (depending on the level), you’ll be able to choose a time of year that better suits your workload, or personal plans like holidays, weddings or babies.

More manageable timeline (in our opinion)

CFA Dec20 or 2021: Feb21 is less intense

If you pass Level 1 in Dec20, you have just 5 months to your next L2 exam (May21). If you pass that, you then have 6 months to your next L3 exam (Nov21).

Compare this to taking your L1 exam in Feb21, where the soonest L2 exam will be Aug21, and L3 in May22. That gives you 6 months to study for L2, and a nice 9 months for L3. This sounds more manageable to us, while still being faster than the previous paper-based route.

Although not yet confirmed by CFA Institute, the paper-based exams are also likely to have a longer time to results compared to computer-based exams, so you would have a longer period of waiting for your results, and wondering whether you should presumptively start studying for the next level.

Of course, you could choose to take it slow as a Dec20 candidate. Candidates passing in Dec20 don’t HAVE to immediately register for the next available exam – but the temptation will be there.

5 reasons why you shouldn’t postpone your December 2020 CFA exam

CFA Dec20 or 2021: 5 Reasons Not to Reschedule to 2021

You could be angling for a refund

CFA Institute have stated that refunds are now possible if your exam has been postponed for a second time. So if you’re a postponed Jun20 candidate registered for Dec20, and your exam is postponed again, you would then be eligible for a refund.

So if a refund is what you’re aiming for, not postponing and hoping for a postponement is your best bet.

Do remember that a refund only means your exam fee – CFA Institute will not be refunding your exam enrollment fee, nor would you be getting back any money spent on third-party materials.

You simply don’t want to wait any longer

“Let me get on with my life already,” a candidate lamented in one of our Dec20 survey responses – a sentiment echoed by friends across Twitter and Instagram.

If you’re a candidate that’s been postponed from Jun20, you might also dread the prospect of having to yet again ‘restart’ your studies.

Don’t want to wait any longer? Sit tight for Dec20.

You want to participate in the last paper-based CFA exam

Maybe you’re an L3 candidate and you want to make it a clean-sweep of paper exams. Or you’d like to experience a paper-based exam in one level and computer-based exams in future levels.

Whatever the reason, there is genuine preference by many candidates for a paper-based CFA exam, and Dec20 will be the last chance to take the CFA exam in a paper-based format.

Just so you know, the computer-based CFA exams will provide writing material, but this will be in the form of dry-erase boards rather than paper. If that makes any difference in your decision.

You could get your CFA charter sooner – at a more intensive pace

CFA Dec20 or 2021: 11 month CFA Charter via Dec20

Dec20 is the next available CFA exam, and so by default offers the fastest route to the CFA charter regardless of level.

Additionally, because of the transition to computer-based exams, Dec20 also offers a uniquely fast (and intensive) route from Level 1 to Level 3 in just 11 months. This means a Level 1 candidate taking the exam in Dec20 could pass Level 3 in Nov21.

A record that will never be broken – at an intensity that will never be rivalled. If you want to attempt this, stick with Dec20.

More retake options, sooner.

Not to be defeatist, but Dec20 will also save you more time if you fail and have to retake, especially if you’re a Level 2 or Level 3 candidate (There is less of a difference for Level 1 candidate as there are four slots a year rather than two).

If you fail Dec20 as a Level 2 or Level 3 candidate, you will be able to retake in May21, about 4 months after your Dec20 results are released. If you postponed to May21 and failed, the next time you’ll be able to retake will be Feb22 (L2) or Nov21 (L3). So deciding to take Levels 2 or 3 in Dec20 gives you the ability to retake your exam sooner if you fail.

Should you postpone your CFA exam from Dec20 to 2021?

CFA Dec20 or 2021: Should You Postpone Or Not?

Unless you have a very strong reason to finish the CFA exams ASAP, we think for most candidates it might be a better idea to postpone to a 2021 exam date:

  • It’s likely to be safer, COVID-19-wise. More exam days, more test centers = better social distancing.
  • More certainty on whether it’ll be allowed to take place. It’s not currently looking good for Dec20, and computer-based test centers will be smaller, and therefore more COVID-compatible.
  • Shorter exam, more flexibility. We think that a shorter exam with better schedule flexibility would suit you better and increase your chances of performing better in your exam.

Have you decided when you’re taking your next CFA exam? Let us know in the poll or comment below!

When will you take your next CFA exam?

Please Specify:

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14 thoughts on “Dec20 vs 2021 CFA Exams: Should You Postpone?”

  1. Hi again. Could someone please help? My level 1 has been postponed twice (June and Dec 2020). I have not applied for a refund yet. I used to be able to see the Feb 2021 option on the web site but now there are only May and August 2021. I thought the Feb 2021 exam was opened for “reschedule” until 14 December 2020 so any reason why this Feb 2021 option has vanished ? Also , any ideas when they will release the possible March 21 dates? It is super frustrating and confusing with the CFA deadlines not sure if these are all done on purpose … Many thanks for your help

    • Hi Terri, we are here to help 🙂 I certainly get your frustrations, we have been constantly updating the changing dates and schedules ourselves! Unfortunately CFA Institute has quietly closed the Feb21 registration due to capacity issues, even though it was originally – as you said – opened for ‘reschedule’ until 14 Dec 2020. We don’t know when March 2021 dates will be release, but based on your postponement, you can wait until March 2021 opens (postponed candidates should have priority), or register for May 2021 now to get certainty. We have actually updated our CFA Journey Planner ( and May2021 route is quite interesting (although challenging) whereby you have the opportunity to complete your CFA charter in 1 year, assuming all goes well…

  2. Hi, I have register myself for December 2020, if i withdraw and re-register myself for Feb 2021 but later on again wish to postpone to May 2021, Can i do so? Basically how many times I can re-register myself until last date of 20 October 2020

    • Hi Nik, it’s a one-time postponement option at this stage. Unless CFA Institute offers to let candidates do that again (for free), for example, if COVID-19 gets worse, the only way you can reschedule later is pay the $250 rescheduling fee.

  3. Hi, I would like to change my level 2 Dec exam to May. Do I need to Withdraw from exam first, then re registration?.Thank you

  4. Hi. I registered for the December Level 1 exam in early July. Do I also get to avail the option to reschedule to February, or is that option only for candidates whose exam has been postponed to December?

    • Hi Peach, you should be able to change your exam registration from Dec20 to Feb21. What you need to do is login to your CFA Institute account, go to the CFA Program tile and follow the instructions under Manage Your Exam to Withdraw from Exam. Then, you can re-register for Feb21 exams with no additional fees. You need to do this before 20 October 2020, 11:59pm ET.

  5. Hi.. could someone help me to confirm the following please? I am quite confused with the registration deadlines and possible exam results dates. Let’s say if I take Level 1 in Dec 2020, and failed.. Is it correct that the next available resit will be May 2021 , and then assuming I pass, I won’t be able to take level 2 until May 2022 ? And then then level 3 in November 2022? I am totally new to CFA and wonder if it’s allowed to register for an exam (whether resit or at the next level) before the previous results are available please ? Many thanks


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