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

Posted by: Richie Owens, CFA
Published: March 14, 2019

CFA Institute recently announced it will move the Level I CFA® Program 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.

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.

The move to four sittings a year clearly adds a lot more flexibility for candidates looking to start the program. Currently, if things don’t go well on exam day, a candidate looking to retake faces a 6-month wait. That is likely to be halved, depending on the timing of the new sittings. Overall, these changes should benefit candidates enrolling in the CFA Program, giving them more flexibility and potentially quicker feedback

The biggest question is how these changes will affect the approach a candidate takes to 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. Perhaps the most significant change will be for the candidate who misses out on the first attempt, as there is likely to be another sitting to attempt within a few short months. Using that short window effectively will be crucial. Our adaptive question banks and exam-focused reviews will be valuable tools in ensuring that happens.

For those candidates considering enrolling in 2020, it is worth noting there are no current plans to change the paper-based format of the Level II or Level III exams.

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 long-time member of CFA Institute’s approved prep provider program, we will work closely with the Institute to ensure we align our products with the new format of the exam as further details are confirmed.