CFA Exam: Choosing Dec 2020 or 2021

Posted by: Kaplan Schweser
Updated: August 13, 2020

Recently, CFA Institute announced the testing window for the new February 2021 Level I CFA® exam, and candidates may start registering on June 16, 2020. Registration for the December 2020 Level I CFA Exam opened in March. Given that the exams are not quite three months apart, which one should you sit for? This article compares the options and then explains why we recommend one over the other.

December 2020 and February 2021 Level I CFA® Exam Comparison

Here are the main facts about each Level I exam date as shared by CFA Institute.

December 2020

  • The date of the exam is December 5, 2020.
  • The exam is paper-based and has** 240 multiple-choice** questions.
  • Exam day is broken into two three-hour sessions with a break in-between. Each session has 120 questions.
  • The exam will be proctored and held in 192 locations globally.

February 2021

  • The exam window is February 23, 2021, to March 1, 2021.
  • The exam is computer-based and has 180 multiple-choice questions.
  • Exam days are broken into two sessions, each of which is 2 hours and 15 minutes, with a break in-between. Each session has 90 questions.
  • The exam will be proctored and held in more than 400 locations globally.

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Which CFA Level I Exam Date Should You Choose?

If you can, we recommend sitting for the December 2020 exam. It is your fastest track to the CFA Level II exam and beyond. If you pass, you can sit for Level II in May 2021. Then, if you pass the Level II exam in May 2021, you can take the Level III exam in May 2022. Even if you don’t pass Level I in 2020, you have the opportunity to take the exam based on the same curriculum two additional times, in May 2021 and November 2021.

Although the reduced number of questions, computer-based format, and the exam window for February 2021 might be appealing, taking the exam at that time can add months to the time needed to pass Level III and earn the charter. If you pass the exam in February 2021, you won’t be able to sit for Level II until February 2022. Should you pass Level II, you won’t be able to sit for Level III until May 2023. And if you do not pass Level I, you won’t be able to retake it until August 2021, and you will have no other opportunity to take it with the same curriculum.

An additional consideration is your comfort level with paper-based vs. computer-based exams. If you have never taken a computer-based exam or are unsure whether you want to be one of the first candidates to take a computer-based CFA exam, then you will likely want to sit for the December 2020 exam. While we have confidence in the new computer-based format, the fact of the matter is that the paper-based format is well known, and there are not likely to be any surprises or big changes in the exam day experience. By contrast, the computer-based exam experience still has several unknowns that have not been disclosed by CFA Institute. In time, all aspects of the experience will be made known, but if you prefer certainty over adventure, the December 2020 paper based exam may be the right choice.

Ready to Get on the Fastest Path to Your CFA Charter?

You can still register to sit for the December 2020 Level I of the CFA Exam and get in your 300 hours of study. If you want to increase your odds of passing Level I the first time, consider exam preparation packages from Kaplan Schweser.

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