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

Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: January 20, 2021

CFA Institute has announced changes to the dates and format of the Level I CFA® exam effective in 2021. This article has all the information you need to understand what this means for candidates.

What Are All the Changes to the Level I CFA® Exam in 2021?

Beginning in 2021:

  • The Level I CFA exam will change from a paper-based format to computer-based.
  • There will be four sittings of the Level I CFA exam. Due to the 2020 postponements, CFA Institute added two temporary windows for 2021.
  • Each quarter, in the second month (February, May, August, and November) there will be an exam window that candidates can test within. For 2021 only, there is an exam window in March and July.
  • CFA Institute is reducing the number of questions from 240 to 180. The exam will still have a morning and an afternoon session. Each session will have 90 questions and will each be 2 hours and 15 minutes long.

Why Are the Level I Format and Dates Changing?

CFA Institute had planned for four seatings In 2021. However, the Institute added two more seatings for Level I of the exam in 2021 because of the June and December 2020 postponements related to the Covid-19 pandemic. CFA Institute will, therefore, return to the planned February, May, August, and November seatings in 2022.

These changes represent the most significant update to the exam framework that we’ve seen from CFA Institute in many years. The main reason for the changes that was given by CFA Institute in an announcement in February 2020 is that the computer-based format will better reflect a workplace setting where Excel and other software tools are used. CFA Institute also stated that the four exam windows will enable the exam to be offered in 400+ locations around the world (it is currently offered in 87). Based on demand, the dates and windows offered in February, May, August, and November will vary from city to city.

In addition, CFA Institute says, their research indicates that accurate measurement of concept mastery has evolved and that 180 questions and a proportional reduction in the length of time for the exam is more suited to today’s world. Also changing is the fact that the candidates will be able to leave the testing center as soon as they complete their exams.

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How Will the Changes to the Level I Exam 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 41-43% 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 with fewer questions will be in some ways easier to pass.

The ideal approach will still require a significant time commitment and question practice. Kaplan Level I exam preparation packages offer adaptive question banks and exam-focused reviews. These will be valuable tools in ensuring that happens.

What Isn’t Changing?

As noted in the previous section, how you prepare for the exam won’t change. Other aspects of the exam that will remain the same are:

  • The 10 exam topics
  • Passing rates and calculations
  • Registration fee (although there will be a $250 rescheduling fee for students who need to retake the exam)
  • Candidates must wait a minimum of six months before taking their next exam

What About Level II and Level III?

The Level II and Level III exams are also going to be offered in the computer-based format with multiple exam windows in 2021. This article has the Level II and Level III details.

Considering Sitting for Level I in 2021?

Registration for all 2021 exam windows are open and Kaplan Schweser’s CFA exam study packages are available.

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