The Level I CFA® Program Modernizes as it Transitions to Computer-Based Testing

CFA Institute announced in March 2019 its plan to transition Level I of the CFA Program to computer-based testing. This capability will enhance the overall candidate experience and enable our organization to reflect global testing and credentialing best practices. For more information, please read the FAQs below.

The highest priority of CFA Institute is to uphold the value of the CFA charter. We are committed to delivering the highest-quality exam experience in the investment management profession. The transition to CBT is an essential next step for exam delivery to ensure the long-term competitiveness, relevancy, and sustainability of the CFA Program. CBT will provide greater exam scheduling flexibility and faster results for candidates all with an exam that reflects today’s digital workplace. We anticipate that CBT will allow us to improve exam content, delivery, and the candidate experience in the future. CBT will also align our testing experience with global testing and credentialing best practices. This shift in how we deliver the Level I exam also supports our commitment to environmental sustainability efforts .


We plan to offer Level I CFA Program computer-based testing in four windows each year (February, May, August, and November) held in more locations around the world than we currently offer. The first computer-based exam will be offered in February 2021. Each window will offer a maximum of seven days during which candidates can sit for the exam. The length of exam windows will vary from city to city depending on demand.

We are committed to maintaining the rigor of the exam and the candidate experience. Every candidate who does not pass Level I will have to wait a minimum of six months to retake the exam – the same timeframe as current candidates must wait. Candidates who pass the first Level I CBT exam will have to wait until registration opens for the next available Level II exam, which is also a minimum of six months. Candidates will move through the program at the same pace as they can currently.


Our primary objective for the CFA Program is, and has always been, to develop future professionals who exemplify the highest standards of ethics and professionalism. CBT will enhance the Program’s value to the industry by allowing us to deploy new question types that employers, candidates, and other stakeholders would recognize as being more reflective of the day-to-day application of concepts on the job.

We are confident CBT will increase the Program’s value to the industry.


Exams will be delivered in proctored exam centers with robust security measures in place. Testing at home will not be an option. Each test center will closely monitor candidates for cheating in any form. Finally, the passing score calculations and standards will remain unchanged so candidates who complete the exam in CBT will be held to the same standard as those who completed a paper-based exam.


The potential risks related to CBT are different but not greater than those we face currently with shipping paper exams to and from locations across the globe. We have strict cyber-security measures in place, and we work continuously with our IT experts to thoroughly define any potential risks and solutions. Our selected vendors have a track record of success and years of experience in this area, and we will partner with them to implement security measures that mitigate any potential risks. We will take all available precautions to secure the exams.


We will provide a complete list of test centers in June 2020 when registration for the February 2021 Level I CFA Program CBT window opens. We expect to offer the exam in more localities than we currently do.


With the transition to computer-based testing, CFA Institute will implement a change in exam length. In February 2021, we will reduce the Level I CFA Program exam to 180 questions resulting in a proportional reduction in testing time. CFA Institute invested in independent psychometric research which clearly showed that a shorter exam would not affect our ability to reliably determine who has demonstrated the required competency to pass the exam. Just as a thermometer does not provide more accurate readings with longer measurements, the longer exam is not providing sufficient additional insights to warrant remaining at 240 questions.

Each exam appointment will include:
  • 30 minutes allotted to pledge, tutorial, and survey
  • 135 minutes for session 1
  • 30 minutes for mandatory break
  • 135 minutes for session 2
  • Total testing time is 4.5 hours
  • Total appointment time is 5.5 hours

Following each exam window, we will determine the Minimum Passing Score based on performance as we always have. We know exam results will be released faster, however, we have not yet established the exact amount of time for results to be released. We expect to provide a more reasonable expectation after the first few CBT administrations.


Throughout this transition, we actively engaged with our global community, including candidates, charterholders, members, societies, prep providers and institutional partners, to gather ideas and listen to concerns.

The highest priority of members and charterholders, and thus of CFA Institute, is to maintain the integrity of the CFA Program and the reputation of the CFA charter as the gold standard in the industry. CBT will accomplish that and enhance the value of the CFA Program. CBT is an improvement that builds on what is already working – a rigorous exam environment that tests the largest breadth of knowledge industrywide – while modernizing how the exam is administered to protect the long-term competitiveness, sustainability, and value of the charter.


No, we believe CBT will improve the candidate experience by offering a wider selection of testing venues, more flexible scheduling, and faster test results. Candidates have long commented that the rigid exam dates provided no flexibility to address personal or professional obligations or conflicts. We also field concerns about the physical stresses, challenges and distractions, of sitting for long exams in a single day and the concerns of crowded exam centers in many locations.


Adopting CBT for Level I of the CFA Program will ensure the substantiality of the exam, thus enhancing the image and brand of CFA Institute. We would not proceed if there was a threat that this could negatively impact the value of the charter.


At this time, we’re only focused on delivering computer-based testing for Level I.