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2021 CFA Level III Exam Question and CBT Format


The investment profession is moving to a primarily digital format. To align with the professional environment and have operational flexibility, the CFA Institute has transitioned from paper-based to computer-based exams. The COVID-19 global pandemic has just accelerated CFA Institute’s decision to adopt the move early. As the exam will be computer-based, the CFA Institute has made certain changes to its Program Exams to facilitate the testing process.

What is Changing for the 2021 CFA Level III Exam?

  • Starting 2021, Level III of the CFA®exam will be offered in a computer-based testing format.
  • Exam duration will be approximately 4.5 hours, split into two sessions with a 30-minutes optional break in-between.
  • Expect 132 minutes of each exam session – item sets with multiple-choice items and constructed response (essay) questions.

Click here for the Exam Software Tutorial

Calculation Questions

You are not required to show your work for calculations in the essay exam. A correct numerical value will receive full credit. If you would like to show the steps, it is possible to use the equation editor that is part of the exam software. This allows you to build a formula as part of a response. You can also write simple steps used in a calculation. If you choose to show your workings, it will be evaluated as part of the response and can earn partial credit in cases where the answer is not entirely correct.

What is Not Changing?

Exam Format

The 2021 CFA Level III exam, as in the past, will be divided into two sessions. The first session is the essay exam, and the second session is the multiple-choice items exam.

CFA Exam Constructed Response (Essay) Format

The first session will be comprised of 8 to 11 constructed response (essay) questions. Each essay question based on a vignette can have several related items that require a written response. There will be some multiple-choice items in this session, as well. For example, you may be asked a multiple-choice question to select the portfolio (A, B, or C) that meets a particular objective, followed by an essay question to justify that response.

Essay questions have varying point values. 1 point is to equal 1 minute for time management purposes to be spent on that essay question. For example, if a question part says 4 minutes, then it is worth 4 credit points.

CFA Exam Item Set Format

The second session is comprised of 44 multiple-choice items, each worth 3 points. You will have item sets with four multiple-choice questions (MCQs) per set and/or six MCQs per vignette. The mixed length of four and six-question item sets will continue for 2021, and the total number of item sets on the exam may vary slightly.

Final Scoring

As before, each item set question has a set number of points, so a four-question item set has 12 points. Essay questions are scored based on length and complexity. Like before, wrong answers do not count against you.

The Minimum Passing Score based on performance will be determined as before after each exam window.