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Computer-based Testing Coming in 2021

CFA Institute is transitioning all Level I CFA exams to computer-based testing. Registration for the first computer-based test in February 2021 is now open. 

The December 2020 exam is the last paper-based exam for Level I candidates. 

Find out more about the Level I exam transition.

 December 2020 exam (last paper-based test)February 2021 exam (first computer-based test)
Exam Details240 questions*180 questions*
SchedulingOne exam day/time offeredSelf-schedule in exam window (up to a 7-day period). Rescheduling after initial appointment incurs USD 250 fee.
LocationsProctored exam in 192 locations globallyProctored exam in 400+ locations globally, to include all locations currently offered in June.
Exam lengthTwo 3-hour sessions with break in between; 120 questions per sessionTwo 2.25-hour sessions with break in between; 90 questions per session
Question formatMultiple choice questionsMultiple choice questions
PassPass Level I in December 2020, register for the Level II June 2021 examPass Level I in February 2021, register for the Level II June 2022 exam
FailFail Level I in December 2020, retake the Level I exam in May 2021Fail Level I in February 2021, retake the Level I exam in August 2021

Exam Comparison: Last paper-based vs. first computer-based exam

*CFA Institute invested in independent psychometric research which clearly showed that a shorter exam would not affect our ability to reliably determine who has demonstrated the required competency to pass the exam. Just as a thermometer does not provide more accurate readings with longer measurements, the longer exam is not providing sufficient additional insights to warrant remaining at 240 questions.

Explore our interactive experience to help you decide which exam administration to choose

Learn more about the transition to computer-based testing

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Why are you moving from paper testing to computer-based testing (CBT) for Level I of the CFA Program?

The highest priority of CFA Institute is to uphold the value of the CFA charter. The transition to CBT is an essential next step for exam delivery to ensure the long-term competitiveness, relevancy, and sustainability of the CFA Program. CBT will provide greater exam scheduling flexibility for candidates with an exam that reflects today's digital workplace. We anticipate that CBT will allow us to improve exam content, delivery, and the candidate experience in the future. CBT will also align our testing experience with global testing and credentialing best practices. This shift in how we deliver the Level I exam also supports our commitment to environmental sustainability efforts.

Q: What will the exam cycle look like once you transition and will it change how long it takes to complete the program?

We plan to offer Level I CFA Program computer-based testing in four windows each year (February, May, August, and November) held in more locations around the world than we currently offer. The first computer-based exam will be offered in February 2021. Each window will be a maximum of seven days during which candidates can sit for the exam. The length of exam windows will vary from city to city depending on demand.

We are committed to maintaining the rigor of the exam and the candidate experience. Every candidate who does not pass Level I will have to wait a minimum of six months to retake the exam. Candidates who pass Level I exams in 2021 can take their Level II exam in 2022.

Q: Will the exam format change?

With the transition to computer-based testing, CFA Institute will implement a change in exam length. In February 2021, we will reduce the Level I CFA Program exam to 180 questions resulting in a proportional reduction in testing time. CFA Institute invested in independent psychometric research which clearly showed that a shorter exam would not affect our ability to reliably determine who has demonstrated the required competency to pass the exam. Just as a thermometer does not provide more accurate readings with longer measurements, the longer exam is not providing sufficient additional insights to warrant remaining at 240 questions.

Each exam appointment will include:

  • 30 minutes allotted to pledge, tutorial, and survey
  • 135 minutes for session 1
  • 30 minutes for optional break
  • 135 minutes for session 2
  • Total testing time is 4.5 hours
  • Total appointment time is 5.5 hours

    Following each exam window, we will determine the Minimum Passing Score based on performance as we always have. We know exam results will be released faster, however; we have not yet established the exact amount of time for results to be released. We expect to provide a more reasonable expectation after the first few CBT administrations.

    Q: Will you administer the exam the same way you do currently using test centers, same-day testing, etc.?

    Exams will be delivered in proctored exam centers with robust security measures in place. Testing at home will not be an option. 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 the exam in CBT will be held to the same standard as those who completed a paper-based exam.

    Q: Does this mean CFA Institute will open a test center in my city?

    We will provide a complete list of test centers in June 2020 when registration for the February 2021 Level I CFA Program CBT window opens. We will test in all locations currently offered in June, but also expand into additional cities.

    Q: Are you concerned about cyber-security with computer-based testing?

    The potential risks related to CBT are different but not greater than those we face currently with shipping paper exams to and from locations across the globe. We have strict cyber-security measures in place, and we work continuously with our IT experts to thoroughly define any potential risks and solutions. Our selected vendors have a track record of success and years of experience in this area, and we will partner with them to implement security measures that mitigate any potential risks. We will take all available precautions to secure the exams.

    Q: Do you think a move to CBT will compromise or negatively impact the candidate experience?

    No, we believe CBT will improve the candidate experience by offering a wider selection of testing venues, more flexible scheduling, and faster test results. Candidates have long commented that the rigid exam dates provided no flexibility to address personal or professional obligations or conflicts. We also field concerns about the physical stresses, challenges and distractions, of sitting for long exams in a single day and the concerns of crowded exam centers in many locations.

    Q: How do members, charterholders, and other key stakeholders feel about the switch to CBT?

    Throughout this transition, we actively engaged with our global community, including candidates, charterholders, members, societies, prep providers and institutional partners, to gather ideas and listen to concerns.

    The highest priority of members and charterholders, and thus of CFA Institute, is to maintain the integrity of the CFA Program and the reputation of the CFA charter as the gold standard in the industry. CBT will accomplish that and enhance the value of the CFA Program. CBT is an improvement that builds on what is already working–a rigorous exam environment that tests the largest breadth of knowledge industrywide–while modernizing how the exam is administered to protect the long-term competitiveness, sustainability, and value of the charter.

    Q: Do you see any risks that have the potential to impact the relevance of the CFA Program?

    Our primary objective for the CFA Program is, and has always been, to develop future professionals who exemplify the highest standards of ethics and professionalism. CBT will enhance the Program's value to the industry by allowing us to deploy new question types that employers, candidates, and other stakeholders would recognize as being more reflective of the day-to-day application of concepts on the job.

    Q: Are you also considering moving to computer-based testing for Levels II and III of the CFA exams?

    At this time, we're only focused on delivering computer-based testing for Level I.