CFA Exam candidates sitting for the exam in the new computer-based format

Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: December 10, 2019

CFA Institute recently announced it will move the Level I CFA® exam to a computer-based format in 2021 with four sittings a year, instead of the current two. Each quarter, there will be a one-week exam window candidates can test within. This represents the most significant update to the exam framework that we’ve seen from CFA Institute in many years. (Note that there are no current plans to change the paper-based format of the Level II or Level III exams.)

Why Is the Level I CFA® Exam Format Changing?

The move to computer-based assessment makes perfect sense for an exam that consists entirely of objective test questions. Currently, candidates sitting for the paper-based exam fill in their A, B, or C answers on a scantron sheet, which is already assessed electronically. The switch will therefore have no impact on the mechanics of that marking process, other than speeding up the time it takes to collate the results. Although we have no information on the effect that will have on the time it takes to get results processed, it seems logical that it will speed things up.

In terms of the integrity of the exam and its difficulty, the exam format again lends itself to being delivered electronically. The largest task the Institute will face is maintaining a large enough bank of questions to allow the delivery of the exam in four windows. This is certainly no small task and is undoubtedly a large factor in the decision not to roll out the computer-based assessment until 2021.

Four sittings a year clearly adds a lot more flexibility for candidates who are just starting the program. They have more choices about when to take the exam, and it is likely that candidates will get feedback and results sooner. However, it’s important to note that any candidate who wants to retake the exam must skip a window, thereby waiting 6 months to sit for the exam again. Candidates will not be able to sit for Level I and Level II in the same calendar year.

Considering the CFA charter? Before you choose your CFA exam date, download this free Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA Exam eBook.

How Will the Changes to the CFA Level I Exam Format Affect Preparation?

The biggest question is how these changes will affect preparing for the exam. The short answer is that it shouldn’t. The volume of information in the curriculum is not being reduced, and the consistent pass rate of 43% over the last several sittings shows that the Institute is committed to upholding a rigorous standard of testing. It would be a mistake to think that a more frequent computer-based exam will be in some ways easier to pass.

The ideal approach will still require a significant time commitment and question practice. Our Level I exam preparation packages offer adaptive question banks and exam-focused reviews will be valuable tools in ensuring that happens. Our job at Kaplan Schweser is to make sure we maximize your ability to take advantage of these opportunities. For many years, we have offered market-leading online study tools. And as a founding member of CFA Institute’s approved prep provider program, we have been working closely with CFA Institute to ensure our products fully align with the new format of the exam.

Considering Sitting for Level I of the CFA Exam in 2020?

Good news! The fastest path to earning the CFA charter is to sit for the June 2020 or December 2020 exam and then sit for Level II in June 2021. Waiting until the first window in 2021 means that you must wait nearly a year and a half to sit for Level II and another year for Level III. Our June 2020 study packages can help you get started.

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