On August 4th, 2020, the governing body for the CFA® Program exam announced that the 2021 exams would be moving to computer-based testing (CBT) for all three levels. This change allows for a variety of benefits, like social distancing, more testing locations, and more certainty around planning for your exam. For example, in the past, there were 192 testing locations globally, but with computer-based testing, that number jumps to over 400. Additionally, the Level I computer-based exam will be offered four times a year and the Level II and Level III ones will be offered two times a year.

CFA Exam Changes: Format and Results

The exam format will have a few alterations that are worth noting, as they will impact your exam day experience, especially if you’ve taken a paper-based CFA Program exam in the past.

  • Will the structure of the CFA exams change under computer-based testing?
    The paper-based tests were made up of two three-hour sessions with a break in between. The new computer-based testing will consist of two 2.25-hour segments for Level I and roughly a 2.25 hour segment for Level II and III.Additionally, the number of questions will also be reduced so candidates can average the same number of questions as those who took the paper-based version.
  • Will the format of test questions change?
    As before, the Level I exam will consist of multiple-choice questions, and for Level II and Level III, the test will use the same item set and essay format (Level III) from previous years.
    It’s also worth noting that until last year the length of item set questions was standardized to six multiple-choice questions per vignette at both Levels II and the item set portion of Level III. However, in the last year, the CFA Institute started introducing item sets with four multiple-choice questions per set, and now, the mixed length of four and six question item sets will continue—so the total number of item sets on the exam may vary slightly.
  • Will topics be weighted differently in computer-based exams?
    No, the topic weights remain the same.
  • How will CFA exam passing score and scoring method be affected?
    According to the CFA Institute, all item sets and essays are scored in proportion to their length, and each question within an item set has a set number of points—so a four-question item set has two thirds of the number of points as a six-question item set. For the essay questions, they will be scored on complexity and length. And as always, wrong answers do not count against you.However, one difference to make note of is that the computer-based tests examinations now include several trial questions that do not contribute to a candidate’s score. These questions will appear at random during the exam, and there will be no indication of which questions are trial questions.
  • Will I get my results more quickly?
    The short answer is no. For while computer testing can be more efficient, the CFA Institute is still working on establishing minimum passing scores. Additionally, as before, Level III exams are still being graded by a select team.
  • Will the calculator policy be the same?
    Yes, the policy is the same. You are still allowed to bring a calculator to the testing site. But be aware the that calculate must either be Texas Instruments BA II Plus or the Hewlett Packard 12C.
  • When is the new curriculum being released?
    The CFA Institute notes that the curriculum will remain the 2020 version throughout all exams for all levels in 2021, but new curricula will be released for 2022 exams when those registration windows open.

    Be sure to watch our Q&A webinar on the 2021 Cycle Changes with expert instructor Peter Olinto to ensure you have all the information you need on how these changes could impact you and your studies.

    Computer-Based Testing Exam Day Experience

    With this switch to computer-based CFA Program exam testing, you can expect exam day to look a little different than it did before. Read on to get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how the new exam day will look.

  • How will the CFA exam day experience differ under computer-based testing?
    Tests will be administered in proctored exam centers that will have strict security measures and room for social distancing—not to mention more relaxed lunch breaks and exam completion times.
  • Are you concerned about cyber-security with computer-based testing?
    Each testing center—as well as the exam proctors— will have protocols in place to monitor candidates for any and all forms of cheating. And while the potential for cheating with computer-based exams is on par with paper-based exams, the CFA Institute has strict cyber-security measures in place and works continuously with IT experts to thoroughly define any potential risks and solutions.
  • Can candidates use paper to work out exam answers during computer-based exams?
    The CFA Institute provides candidates with writing materials to use during CBT exams.

    COVID-19 Candidate Safety at Computer-based Testing Centers

    The move to computer-based testing is a way to help ensure the safety of all exam candidates by allowing for smaller test groups in more locations around the world.

  • Why is computer-based testing a preferable experience?
    Smaller test centers allow for improved social distancing and more ability to spread candidates out across multiple days. Also, since the exam is now shorter time-wise, it allows for more flexibility with lunch breaks and to leave the test center when you finish the exam.
  • How will I know if my CBT exam center is impacted and what my options will be at that point?
    With these enhanced safety protocols in place, the CFA Institute is hoping that fewer test will be canceled. However, they will continue to stay up to date on local health advisories, so keep that in mind.
  • What protocols will be in place for computer-based exams?
    There are several safety protocols in place, but they may vary by location. But don’t worry because the protocols will be sent to you in advance of your test date and in accordance with local guidance.

    For more information, check out CFA Institute’s computer-based testing updates.

    Top 3 Study Tips for CFA Exam Level 1

    1) All about Recall
    The CFA Institute notes that the exam questions are based on the Learning Outcome Statements at the beginning of each reading, so recall of key terms, formulas, and concepts is crucial.

    2) Get to Know Your Study Style
    How do you like to study? Do you do better alone, with a partner, or in a group? Is it easier to study on the computer, or do you need to mark up something to remember it? The best thing you can do is experiment and discover your study style to ensure you have the best chance at success.

    3) Don’t Ignore Ethics
    Don’t rush through ethics because it may be trickier than you think. Stop and give it the time it deserves.

    For more exam tips check out CFAI’s Level I Quick Start Guide.

    Top 3 Study Tips for CFA Exam Level 2

    1) Get to Know the Lingo
    Practice, study, and read because the more comfortable you are with the format of the vignettes, the better your chances of success. Make use of the Learning Ecosystem that comes with your registration to highlight key words and phrases.

    2) Be Prepared to Apply this Knowledge More Deeply
    In this exam, you must analyze situations and provide calculations based on the knowledge you have accumulated. Thus, be sure to use the practice quizzes, mock exams, and other resources available to you in the Learning Ecosystem to gauge your exam readiness.

    3) Become Efficient with Vignettes

    When it comes to these questions, work backward. By that, we mean you should look at the questions before you read each vignette so you’ll have an idea of the subject matter and questions that will be covered.

    For more exam tips check out CFAI’s Level II Quick Start Guide.

    Top 3 Study Tips for CFA Exam Level 3

    1) Understand the Format of Essay Questions
    There are two types of essay questions on the CFA Program exam: the constructed responses (word-based) and calculation-based responses. To do your best on these questions, frame your study and focus around these formats.

    2) Show Your Calculation Methods

    For the calculation-based questions, make sure you show how you arrived at your answer because, even if you make a simple math error, you may get points for successfully completing part of the calculation.

    3) Provide Exactly what is Asked for (and no more)
    There’s no extra credit for producing a lot of words, and long-winded writing can potentially hurt your score. So answer as succinctly and to the point as you can, making use of bullet points and other formats to layout your answer.

    For more exam tips check out CFAI’s Level III Quick Start Guide.

    Learn more about the recent CFA exam schedule changes by checking out the Exam Dates and Schedule.