Wall Street's most grueling exam is moving online to offer more testing dates and faster results

Wall Street's most grueling exam is moving online to offer more testing dates and faster results

China Students Exam

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  • The CFA Institute is moving its increasingly popular Level I exams online.
  • The Level I exam, currently offered just twice a year, will be administered more often, and results will be delivered faster.
  • Over 200,000 candidates registered for one of the three levels of CFA tests in June alone, a 20% increase in just a year.

Hundreds of thousands of aspiring financiers sign up for the notoriously grueling, three-level Chartered Financial Analyst exam every year.

To meet this rising demand, the CFA Institute plans to move the Level I exam online, Business Insider has learned. The test, currently offered in June and December, will also be administered more often. To be clear, test-takers will still need to head to physical locations for the exam, but the paper tests will be replaced with an online format.

Test-takers could see different types of questions through online exams than the current paper medium allows. For example, an online format offers more options to incorporate spreadsheets into questions, CFA Institute head of communications Anne O'Brien said in an interview.

The CFA Institute is still in the process of finding vendors for online exam administration, so the changes are a few years away, O'Brien said. A record 227,031 candidates registered to take the Level I, II or III test in June, up 20% from last year. Tests were administered in 286 centers around the world.


Electronic exams offered more often could help the CFA Institute offer a wider variety of venues - and students will see results faster, O'Brien said.

Read more: A selection of questions on a Level I practice exam

"It's becoming increasingly challenging to find and staff physical venues in some of our markets to accommodate the sheer volume of candidates we have," O'Brien said.

Becoming a CFA charterholder is a huge leg up for anyone hoping to build a career in money management. It's also less expensive than an MBA - a CFA costs about $2,500 in total, while an MBA can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Level I exams are six hours long and feature 240 multiple choice questions. Since the test is offered only twice a year, venues must accommodate sometimes thousands of students. In New York, for example, test-takers head to the Javits Center, a 1.8 million square foot convention center.


In Beijing, the June test was administered over the course of two days, because there was not a large enough venue to accommodate the candidates.

The Level I exam focuses on investment tools and business foundations, while Level II and II tests dive deeper into analysis and portfolio management. It takes most candidates four years to pass all three levels of the test. Less than one in five people who start the CFA program make it through all three levels and complete the other requirements to become a charter holder.

The first CFA exam was administered in 1963 to 284 candidates in the US, Canada, and London, according to the CFA Institute's website. There are now more than 154,000 CFA charterholders globally.

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