CFA Institute Will Transition the CFA® Program Level I to Computer-Based Testing

CFA Institute is pleased to announce its plans to transition Level I of the CFA Program to computer-based testing. This capability enables our organization to keep pace with the evolution of global testing and credentialing practices and will enhance the overall candidate experience. For more information, please read the FAQs below.

This is a natural evolution in response to how the global testing and credentialing practices have changed and the recognition that a sustainable path for exam delivery is dependent upon CBT. CFA Institute has carefully explored the long-term sustainability of the CFA Program exam delivery model, which in some ways remained unchanged since it was first delivered in 1963. As candidate numbers continue to grow and technology continues to advance, more flexible and innovative approaches to exam delivery are necessary. As such, a multi-stage, multi-year investigation and procurement process has been completed and we have successfully identified effective alternative methods of delivering CFA exams, including CBT. As part of our investigation, we actively engaged with our global community, including candidates, members, societies, prep providers and institutional partners, to gather ideas and concerns regarding exam deliver methods. This shift in how we deliver the Level I exam aligns with our environmental sustainability efforts.

CBT has existed for nearly 35 years and has been broadly accepted as an exam solution for more than two decades. CFA Institute is already using CBT for our CIPM and Investment Foundations Programs. This first-hand experience has proved the efficacy of the administration method. The CFA Program Level I transition to CBT will also benefit from the lessons learned by the many professional programs (GMAT, FINRA, CPA, GRE, that have adapted before us. We are confident a transition to CBT is the best way to meet the growing testing demands of our program candidates.


We believe CBT is an essential next step for exam delivery to ensure sustainability and relevancy of the CFA Program. The world we knew when the CFA exam began as a paper-based test is dramatically different today. The investment profession operates in a digital world; offering the exams on computer would allow us to better model the tasks and work experience of investment professionals today. After examining how the CBT community has evolved over the last decade, we believe it is time to enhance our exam delivery effectiveness to satisfy a growing global body of candidates around the world. CBT will also enable us to be more agile in making future improvements in candidate services and exam content.


We anticipate administering the first computer-based Level I exams in 2021. There are many details to work out to make a change of this significance, and we want to ensure we maintain exam quality and the rigor of the candidate experience. As such, we’re taking a thoughtful and methodical approach, working in stages. We received approval from the CFA Institute Board of Governors in early 2018 to proceed with an RFP process to identify vendors who could meet our needs. The procurement process was completed in December 2018 and we are now working with Prometric to implement and deliver CBT.


We are in the early stages of implementation, targeting 2021 for the first Level I CFA exams. We anticipate CBT administration for the Level I CFA exam will be offered annually around the world in four one-week windows.


First and foremost, we will uphold the passing standard and value of the CFA charter, and the rigor and security of exam development and delivery. Exams will be delivered in proctored exam facilities with robust security measures in place. Testing at home will not be an option. We do anticipate changes and enhancements to how we administer the CFA exam Level I. CBT allows for flexible windows of test taking, which our candidates have told us they would welcome. During exam windows, candidates will take exams on different days therefore exams will be completed at the end of an exam cycle rather than one exam day. Candidates will continue to share a common testing experience.


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


Our primary objective for the CFA Program is to develop future professionals who exemplify the highest standards of ethics and professionalism. CBT will enable us to improve the relevance of the exam because the CBT environment would more closely resemble that of the daily practice of investment managers and their use of technology versus paper, pencil, and calculators. We are confident CBT will increase the Program’s value to the industry.


The 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 take cyber-security risk seriously and we continue to work with our IT experts to thoroughly define the risks and solutions. Our selected vendors demonstrate deep experience in this area and we will partner with them to implement security measures that mitigate these risks. We will take all available precautions to secure the exams.


We don’t yet have a complete list of local areas having a test center, but we expect to offer the exam in many more localities than is the case now.


All testing programs that convert to CBT take the opportunity to review the exam format, including the length of the exam. We are evaluating it, as well, and will communicate well in advance if a decision is made to change the format.


The main concern of members, and thus of CFA Institute, is to maintain the integrity (e.g., rigor, exam security) of the CFA Program and the reputation of the CFA charter as the gold standard in the industry. CBT would accomplish that and enhance the value of the CFA Program.


No, we think CBT will improve candidate services by offering a wider selection of test venues, more flexible scheduling, and results will be delivered sooner. Industry practice today depends on computer-based programs with algorithms and spreadsheets versus paper, pen, and calculators. In addition, candidates have long commented about the fact that rigid exam dates provide 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 distractions caused by crowded exam centers in many locations. Because CBT allows for a flexible window of test taking we believe candidates will welcome the change.


We’re not anticipating fees to increase with CBT but there is still much work to do before we can say this with confidence.


We would not proceed if we thought this was likely. In fact, we expect the opposite. We are taking action now even though the current delivery model is working. With continued growth in the CFA Program and vulnerabilities of any large-scale paper-based model, we might eventually experience greater pressure to convert to CBT. We would prefer to move proactively to CBT in a careful, deliberate manner over the next few years.