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Moving CFA exams to computer based testing?

I just got an email from CFAI outlining a review of whether or not to move the CFA to a computer based test. They say it’s just for discussion, but this is an organization with a world-class ability to make money so of course it’s just a matter of time until all 3 levels will be computer based. Cheaper to administer and able to get more people to sign up.

I wondered what people thought? My initial reaction is that it should never be computer based - part of the CFA is the rite of passage of being physically present with the other candidates; the “we’re all in the same boat” feeling. Plus, my experience has been that invariably, once a ‘test’ is available online, it seems to cheapen and devalue the qualification. You only need look at the many ‘wonderful’ online inly universities out there. Basically I’m against any move to a computer based system. How much money does CFAI need to make? How would this possibly be a positive for the charter?

" Wiley's prep material was a huge part of my success." - Lindsey G., USA

“Cheaper to administer and able to get more people to sign up” - you know that is gonna be a huge driver!  This will be especially true for anything multiple choice oriented.

Anything written answer needs a human with eyes and a brain - and a grading outline.

“Mmmmmm, something…” - H. Simpson

I’m against computer based testing for the CFA as well! Candidates should be as well… i agree with the rite of passage feeling… loved the tension and the atmosphere!

We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, 'Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore. Mr. President, it’s too much.' And I’ll say, 'No, it isn’t!' We have to keep winning!

I agree that Level III may be tough to move online, but I and II are easily done. Then again, the CFAI loves making money so I’m sure they can find a creative way to put LIII online.

I’ll be emailing CFAI with my thoughts and I encourage all charterholders and candidates to do the same.

This is a dedicated email address they have provided for feedback:

fed@cfainstitute.org

(fed= Future of Exam Delivery)

Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with L1 being computer-based.  However, I think L2 and L3 should stay the way they are.  The format of the exam, plus the fact that it’s only offered once per year is part of the entire process. 

That being said–actually attending the test for L1 is good practice for…well…taking the test at L2 and L3.  So maybe it should stay the same. 

82 > 87
Simple math.

I had to take a 3-hour flight to get to the nearest cfa exam center, compare that to the 20 min drive to cpu-based test center and computer-based exam is already looking like a winner to me

Unless a computer-based approach still requires dedicated testing facilities then the exam process effectively becomes open book. This greatly diminishes the achievements of those who have already made the gruelling journey, however low the real world applicability of formula memorisation. Not a good idea for any level IMO; can understand the short term commercial appeal, however if the charter loses its esteem in the process then over the longer term this may actually be damaging to the bottom line.

I think the computer-based at testing centers is a terrible idea. I’ve taken tests at these places before.

So much opportunity for cheating as those testing centers are pretty weak with enforcing things. Whereas the CFA proctors are notorious for nailing people for doing practically nothing.

A terrible, terrible idea.

Another reason I think it’s terrible is because they’ll no doubt do the test over a 2-3 week window. There were ethics questions about people in different time zones helping each other, what’s going to happen if they have weeks?

We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, 'Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore. Mr. President, it’s too much.' And I’ll say, 'No, it isn’t!' We have to keep winning!

“I think the computer-based at testing centers is a terrible idea. I’ve taken tests at these places before.

So much opportunity for cheating as those testing centers are pretty weak with enforcing things.”

This is pretty much the exact reason I don’t want to see it go down this path. You can forget about the integrity of the charter if this happens. And what for? All so the Institute can make an extra buck? Where’s the benefit for Charterholders? None.

Cash is King!

Ya’ll should know this by now…

Big Dreams Require Big Sacrifices - VWJETTY

elcoelhon wrote:

I had to take a 3-hour flight to get to the nearest cfa exam center, compare that to the 20 min drive to cpu-based test center and computer-based exam is already looking like a winner to me

Maybe you shouldn’t live in the effing boonies and move to a real city.

Ramos4rm, CFA, CAIA

Ramos4rm wrote:

Maybe you shouldn’t live in the effing boonies and move to a real city.

It is a possibility but I cant because I need 11 months of sunshine and good weather

I don’t see why can’t they do this electronically, although it must be invigilated like the current exam, which may still be problematic to find test centres, etc…

I think CFAI is about 15 years late to computer-based testing, but maybe better late than never.  CFAI should  go to module-based testing like the CPA exam, say 4 modules: Ethics-Econ-CF, FRA, FI-EQ, Alt-Deriv, testable in two 4-week windows, Fall and Spring. Each module would have about 100 questions for a 4 hour test– and test in depth, so it’s more quantitative, sort of like the FRM. The curriculum has become too bloated for a 120 Q test, where some sections have only one vignette (speaking of L2).  Anyway, the CPA went electronic 16 years ago in 2001, think about that for a sec… there was no Facebook or iPhone when the last paper and pencil exam was given to CPAs.  That’s how glacier-slow CFAI is to change.

Yeah but what was the benefit? To existing CPA’s or would-be CPA’s? Why is electronic testing better than the current method? Except for the fact it saves CFAI money?

From the top of my head - 1. No “scanner didn’t read your answers correctly” BS. 2.Instant results on lvl 1 and lvl 2 (or even if they analyse MPS and so on, still way faster than 2 months). 3. More than one sitting a year. 

newsuper wrote:
Yeah but what was the benefit? To existing CPA’s or would-be CPA’s? Why is electronic testing better than the current method? Except for the fact it saves CFAI money?

CPA :: Four modules * 100 questions = 400 Q  >  CFA :: One exam * 120 Q

Much better representation of what the candidate knows.  E.g. can you honestly say your knowledge of L2 PM is accurately represented based on a six question set?  

I’m against anything that lowers the passing rate or makes the certificate easier to obtain..

computer based or year round testing would just dilute the value.. CFA is hard not just because the curriculum but because the “process” is hard

Also.. at some locations (NYC) there are a few thousand people taking level 1.. I don’t see how a computer based system would be administered 

A computer based format would potentially be more convenient, more secure, and less prone to spurious ethical violations that those that are seen on AF regularly. However, as mentioned above, there aren’t many facilities, if any, that can administer a test simultaneously for so many candidates. If the test were spread over a window of time, then there would have to be many versions of the test to avoid rampant cheating. CFAI would have to invest a lot more money and effort to produce these versions and ensure a uniform passing standard. 

However, to the argument that the central exam location makes you feel like your achievement is more special… I think snowflakes who argue this should pursue some more important higher achievements. 

“Visit the Water Cooler forum on Analyst Forum. It is the best forum.”
- Everyone

I have taken a number of certification exams, mostly from FINRA in the US.  All of them have been on computer at Prometric.  Prometric isn’t the only provider for these tests, but its big, with a huge number of choices of location.

Given the various FINRA exams I’ve already taken, I don’t really like the idea of the CFA exams being given there.  Here’s why:

1. The other exams are pretty much stuck with a slowly changing large bank of exam questions.  The questions are categorized and rated for difficulty.  For a particular exam there might be 2000 questions to select from and you get 100.  These exams have to be kept current.  

2. I don’t have much problem with Prometric/FINRA security regarding things like a ringer taking a test for someone else, bringing notes, or nonpermitted calculator.  If the CFA society was doing this worldwide, there are countries with poor facilities and security for such exams.

3. If the Institute uses a question bank that slowly changes, they are vulnerable to somebody getting most or all of the questions.  Imagine having to dump all the questions and write new ones.  No tests would be administered for a while.  Because the bank would contain many more questions than a single exam, it would be harder to replace.

4. Ransom.  Yeah, that ought to scare the hell out of the Institute.  Imagine someone asking for money to not publish or sell questions.  Have the exams on computer in 100+ countries and this is a real possibility.  

MunicipalBob wrote:

4. Ransom.  Yeah, that ought to scare the hell out of the Institute.  Imagine someone asking for money to not publish or sell questions.  Have the exams on computer in 100+ countries and this is a real possibility.  

The real answer to this one is to tell the person to screw off and begin writing new questions. A reserve bank of prior experimental questions on a different, secure server would also allow for testing to continue for a period of time. It may take longer for scores to release, but that’s just to validate these newer items that just passed the experimental stage.

Any thoughts on paying off a ransom-seeking individual are silly because nothing stops them from releasing information at a later time or making copies of what they might have. Lives aren’t at stake, so it’s better to tell them to buzz off and wait for legal consequences.

I agree that there would be a need for heightened security, but there are plenty of high stakes computer administered tests that handle this well.

I also believe that potential security issues stem from the fact that candidates can take a level as many times as needed to pass the exam. Unlimited attempts per level also makes the designation easier to achieve since the CBOK changes so slowly. Placing a limit on the number of attempts per level, not on average, would increase the challenge faced in obtaining the designation as well as reduce the risk of people taking a level multiple times for the sole purpose of memorizing a few exam questions to report back to a testing company. It wouldn’t be terribly hard for an examinee to run to the car and write something down a few times during a section if their one purpose is to obtain 6-7 questions per 120.

Overall, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to move the exam to computer based administration for L1 and L2. Security is probably no greater a concern if this is implemented properly and the exams are proctored by well known centers like Prometric. I don’t think this would necessitate the exam being administered at-will throughout the year as some people have suggested, nor do I think it necessarily devalues the designation. The grades won’t necessarily come back much quicker, though. Most of the time used for exams like this is on quality control and determining the pass line. Score reporting is a thorough process and can take many weeks for exams administered in this format.

Ticker, do you think Prometric and its foreign equivalents could handle 100,000 candidates in one day?  Remember, they have hundreds of other types of exams they administer.

MunicipalBob wrote:

Ticker, do you think Prometric and its foreign equivalents could handle 100,000 candidates in one day?  Remember, they have hundreds of other types of exams they administer.

No, but that’s part of the logistics behind implementing it correctly. Possibly X different forms for those who test on any of the X possible testing days (if they move to scaled scores where a certain scaled score is passing, they can do away with “forms” and rely on a random question set of previously vetted questions). I’m also sure that with the exam fees as they are, they could probably reserve several prometric centers for the time needed in a day. Part of those 100,000 candidates can be weeded out by putting a per level cap on the number of attempts you get, and the per day number of candidates can be alleviated by having different levels test on different days (also, L3 wouldn’t be at these prometrics). 

Assuming that the current testing setup would be appropriate for a new testing environment and delivery would increase the chances that it doesn’t work. There are other exams that have large numbers of test takers annually, which is obviously only possible because they allow testing on multiple days of the year (and they don’t have to reserve an entire center as I suggested…more testing days would eliminate this). You can bet the exam integrity and security is at least at the level of the CFA exams.

Again, CFAI should cap the number of attempts per level, which would reduce the burden and increase the meaning of the credential. Multiple testing days during the year with the option (or requirement) for different levels to test on different days would work. They could still put a mandatory 6 month gap between when any one test taker sits for an exam at L1 and 12 months for L2/L3. Just an idea.

Edited: I mistakenly put a 6 month gap between attempts at L2, when I meant 12, to keep it consistent with the current framework.

That ain’t work efficiently for level III/AM session. Those who are slow in typing will suffer. Besides, writing some formulas through keyboard might need a special trainer!

I took CFP at Prometric and it was like going through a strip search at a NSA lobby… had to empty pockets, turn inside out, then do cartwheels to shake out any aids, then roll up sleeves and lift shirt to check for ink, and finally checked ears for electronic listening devices… really thorough search, much more secure than CFA checks.

Ramos4rm wrote:

elcoelhon wrote:

I had to take a 3-hour flight to get to the nearest cfa exam center, compare that to the 20 min drive to cpu-based test center and computer-based exam is already looking like a winner to me

Maybe you shouldn’t live in the effing boonies and move to a real city.

lol yeah

"A theory that you can't explain to a bartender is probably no damn good."
- Ernest Rutherford

calvol wrote:

I took CFP at Prometric and it was like going through a strip search at a NSA lobby… had to empty pockets, turn inside out, then do cartwheels to shake out any aids, then roll up sleeves and lift shirt to check for ink, and finally checked ears for electronic listening devices… really thorough search, much more secure than CFA checks.

Did you also get the metal detector wand, fingerprinting, photo ID check, and signature requirement each time you entered or exited the testing room? I’m forgetting a few, but I’ve had this experience a few times, although it might depend what test you’re taking. I don’t think people give Prometric enough credit. They run a secure operation in my opinion.

calvol wrote:

I took CFP at Prometric and it was like going through a strip search at a NSA lobby… had to empty pockets, turn inside out, then do cartwheels to shake out any aids, then roll up sleeves and lift shirt to check for ink, and finally checked ears for electronic listening devices… really thorough search, much more secure than CFA checks.

See that’s the thing - some testing centers are secure like this, whereas others are the complete opposite. No uniformity. When I took the CAIA exams on a computer, security was a joke. I could have walked in there with a freggin textbook. I guarantee in foreign countries and I’m sure even in the US it can get even worse than this, or even have guys pay off the security dudes at the testing centers.

This is an awful idea. I’ll say it again. Cheapens the charter to the point where its like getting your MBA - anyone can get one now, it’s nothing special.

PistolPt wrote:

See that’s the thing - some testing centers are secure like this, whereas others are the complete opposite. No uniformity. When I took the CAIA exams on a computer, security was a joke. I could have walked in there with a freggin textbook. I guarantee in foreign countries and I’m sure even in the US it can get even worse than this, or even have guys pay off the security dudes at the testing centers.

This is an awful idea. I’ll say it again. Cheapens the charter to the point where its like getting your MBA - anyone can get one now, it’s nothing special.

Was your experience at a Prometric center? If employees at your testing center weren’t following security protocols that should be reported. Also, I would imagine different testing companies have different procedures, but also different examining bodies request different security measures.

Aside from that, I don’t think the issues you’ve described are eliminated by the paper and pencil testing currently employed. In fact, I think it’s more likely that a “rent-a-proctor” could be paid off more easily than someone who works full time at a test center. If the former gets caught, it’s usually only their second source of income that’s ruined, whereas the latter is screwing with their main source of income. Further, it’s more difficult to police a giant ballroom with hundreds upon hundreds of candidates test without video surveillance. The Prometric type centers seem to be much more tightly regulated, in my experience, and they have video recordings of each cubicle.

What about computer based testing, necessarily, cheapens the charter? I don’t think anyone is arguing that you can take it any day of the week nor that you can take it from home.

Personally, I think one of the worst ways to cheapen the charter is to allow unlimited attempts at any level. It’s clear this is a money making scheme masquerading as sympathy for “a bad exam day”…again, and again, andddd again…I think this also artificially depresses the pass rate on the exams. I knew of several people “just winging it” because the company paid for it unconditionally (but capped the number of attempts they would sponsor per level).

I think the quickest way to beef up the value of the charter is to cut the fat and limit attempts per level to two attempts and, if you fail L1, you need to wait the full year for your next attempt (it’s by design for the other levels). This would weed out many people who are just winging it, possibly increase candidate preparedness, and cut loose a bunch of people who aren’t passing.

tickersu wrote:
Dif you also get the metal detector wand, fingerprinting, photo ID check, and signature requirement each time you entered or exited the testing room? I’m forgetting a few, but I’ve had this experience a few times, although it might depend what test you’re taking. I don’t think people give Prometric enough credit. They run a secure operation in my opinion.

Yes, forgot to mention all that, also had to put all belongings in a locker… It was in San Jose, CA… Also video cameras all over the place… very secure, but it was kind of noisy with people coming and going taking different tests with different ending times. 

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