What Should Finance Professionals Do About the CFA Exam?

Candidates hoping to earn the coveted Chartered Financial Analyst designation are wondering whether what to do about the December exam.

Earning the CFA designation requires passing three different, challenging exams that take 300 hours of study each. Typically described as grueling, the passing rate for the first two is below 50% and only somewhat better for the third.

Despite the effort to pass and the cost — several hundred — to take each exam level, annually almost a quarter million finance professionals from across the globe register to take one . When the CFA Institute, which administers the tests and awards the designation, cancelled the June exams due to the COVID pandemic 245,000 were signed-up.

Many re-registered for the December exam.

Now, with the outbreak still not under control and voluntary postponement deadlines approaching, candidates are uncertain whether to stick with the December test date or switch to a date next year. Complicating the decision is that next year’s exams will be conducted online and will be shorter by 90 minutes. That might seem a good enough reason to delay, but many disagree.

Adding yet another uncertainty is the possibility some of the 193 testing locations may not meet local health and safety requirements. The CFA Institute explains this on its website saying, “Beginning in October, we expect to make preliminary determinations about our ability to administer at each test area. We will inform candidates who are impacted by exam cancellations via email as soon as possible following each decision.”

In an article for eFinancialCareers, Zee Tan, founder of the CFA help site 300Hours.com, says apprehensive candidates have been asking him what to do..

“Personal choices and circumstances will drive a lot of your reasoning,” he writes. “But at the same time, there are some definite advantages and disadvantages of postponing to 2021.”

He gives candidates three reasons for and three against postponing. More test dates, a shorter exam and the reduced chances the 2021 tests will be cancelled are good reasons, he says, to postpone.

On the other hand, sticking with the December schedule means getting it over with. “Don’t delay the pain,” is Tan’s bullet point. Another reason applies to those hoping to get their fees refunded. If the test is cancelled, the CFA Institute has promised to refund the money.

Some, Tan says, just want to take the test on paper. “Whatever the reason, there is genuine preference by many candidates for a paper-based CFA exam, and Dec 20 will be the last chance to take the CFA exam in a paper-based format.”

What’s his recommendation? Postpone.

“Personally, I’m leaning slightly towards the idea that it might be better to postpone – it’s likely COVID-safer, more certain to take place as planned, and will be a shorter, more flexible exam.”

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

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