CFA Institute has announced some major changes to the administration of the CFA® Program for 2021 and beyond. This article makes sense of it all and puts things into perspective for current and future candidates.
The story so far
Earlier this year CFA Institute announced that the Level I exams were transitioning to computer-based testing from 2021 with four exam windows i.e. February, May, August and November. This had been in the pipeline for a number of years and so was not surprising. As a result of Covid-19 there was a major announcement postponing the June 2020 exams and freezing the syllabus for 2021. Candidates who were due to sit exams in June had the option to register for December 2020 (health considerations permitting) or defer to the next available sitting which would have been February 2021 for Level I and June 2021 for Levels II and III.
Hot off the press
Earlier today (4th August 2020) CFA Institute made the following key announcements which, dare we say, will have taken the majority of CFA candidates by surprise:
• After December 2020 all exams, i.e. Levels I, II and III, will be computer-based.
• All three levels of the CFA Program will be available during the May 2021 exam window, which had previously been stated as being for Level I only.
• In addition, Level II will be tested in the August 2021 window and Level III in the November window.
• Registration for all 2021 exam windows and levels will open on 20 August 2020.
• The new computer-based exams will be shorter in length (approximately 4.5 hours versus the current 6) and will contain ‘pretest’ or trial questions. These will not count towards your final score but will be intermingled with ‘live’ questions.
• No on-screen calculators just yet – you will still need to take your Texas Instruments or HP calculator to the exam. Your Prometric exam centre will provide scratch paper as required.
• Refunds – if you suffer two deferrals (whether from Covid, politics, weather or any other cause), then you will be offered the option of a refund, a further deferral, or a change of test centre.
What about December 2020?
According to CFA Institute, they are keen to ensure that the December 2020 exams go ahead as planned. As such, testing in December will be available in all locations that are permitted to operate, given suitable social distancing and health policies. New candidates wishing to sit Level I in December 2020 still have a couple of weeks to register as the deadline is 19 August 2020. Note that this is earlier than the original deadline of 9 September.
Some good news in terms of progression: the usual rule of “six months between exams” is slightly adjusted for May 2021. Candidates sitting in December 2020 will be able to progress if successful, or resit if unsuccessful, in May 2021.
There is also the one-off potential to sit all three levels in 11 months. This is not for the faint hearted so beware! With the current exam timetable, there is the possibility of doing Level I in December 2020, Level II in May 2021 and Level III in November 2021. Get in touch to find out more if you feel up for the challenge.
A few further guidelines for different groups:
(1) New candidates, not yet registered
If you prefer a paper-based exam you need to register for the December 2020 sitting by 19 August. Alternatively, for computer-based exams, registration for the February 2021 exam window is currently open. Registration for all other exam windows will open on 20 August. If you book December and are deferred, your studying will remain relevant as the curriculum for 2021 is the same as 2020.
(2) Level I candidates booked for December 2020
Keep studying! If you pass, you will have the option of doing Level II in May 2021. If not, you can resit in May. If you are deferred, remember the curriculum has been frozen and will be the same for 2021.
(3) Level I candidates booked for February 2021
Keep studying! No major updates for you as you should already be aware of the protocol for the computer-based exam. If you are successful, you can sit Level II in August 2021 and Level III in May 2022.
(4) Level II candidates booked for December 2020
If successful in December, you can sit Level III in May 2021. You also have the option to defer Level II to May or August 2021 if you prefer the computer-based exam, but you must do so by 20 October.
(5) Level II candidates booked for June 2021
If you prefer the paper-based option, you have until 19 August to bring your exam sitting forward to December 2020. Alternatively, if you are happy to sit the computer-based exam next year, you will need to select either May or August 2021 as your new exam date.
(6) Level III candidates booked for December 2020
Keep studying! If you pass, you avoid the computer-based era of testing. If not, you can resit in May or November 2021. The 2020 curriculum will remain the same for the 2021 exams.
(7) Level III candidates booked for June 2021
If you prefer the paper-based option, you have until 19 August to bring your exam sitting forward to December 2020. Alternatively, if you are happy to sit the computer-based exam next year, you will need to select either May or November 2021 as your new exam date.
Check also on our YouTube channel the video Major Changes to the CFA® Program for 2021 and Beyond made by Dianne Ramdeen, CFA.
For any queries, please get in touch.
Follow Nicholas Blain, CFA, on Twitter @njblain
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