Since 1991, the CFP Board has offered the CFP certification exam to establish a high standard of excellence for financial advisors to act as fiduciaries for their clients. The exam is a rigorous, 6-hour test, and is offered only three times a year. Because of the rigorous nature of the exam and the scope of material covered (not to mention the relatively low pass rate generally ranging from 60–65%), candidates aspiring for CFP certification invest an inordinate amount of time to ensure that they pass the exam. And to make sure that they structure the time devoted to test preparation most accurately, candidates need to consider several factors, including the requirements to take the exam, their own learning styles and study habits, the resources available to them, and how to structure a schedule to follow to stay on track to best prepare for the exam.
The first important key for any CFP candidate to create a workable study plan for the CFP exam is to understand whether they are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. By knowing their own learning style, candidates can implement the most useful CFP exam prep tools to help them retain and apply the information they will need to pass the exam. Understanding their learning style can also help candidates choose the right CFP exam review course to prepare for the test. While review programs can be expensive (generally ranging from $800 to $1,500), they have helped many candidates successfully prepare for (and pass!) the exam by conditioning them to the style and pacing of questions, helping them review material and create a framework to recall important facts, and providing general support and practice materials.
Candidates will find that creating a structured study schedule is critical for successfully preparing to take the exam. The general recommendation is to devote at least 10 hours per week, with a total of 150-250 hours (which means approximately 4-6 months of preparation), to study for the CFP exam. While most review courses guide candidates through creating a structured study plan, candidates should ensure that they actually stick to their plan of action and devote ample time to any areas they may be struggling with, being mindful to learn and understand the material – not just to memorize it – knowing how the breakdown of topics covered by the exam are weighted. Taking practice exams and working through as many practice questions as possible will help candidates get accustomed to the nature and scope of questions that will be on the exam.
During the final stage of exam preparation, candidates should focus on developing confidence in passing the exam, spending time reviewing the basics in each topic area, and getting plenty of rest to mentally prepare for exam day. On the day of the test, candidates should ensure they have their calculator (and a backup, if possible), a valid photo ID, and a packed lunch that can be kept in their car or on-site locker.
Ultimately, attaining CFP certification is no small task; the exam requires a great deal of commitment and requires candidates to build up enough confidence to actually decide – with conviction! – to pass the exam. While preparing for the exam requires hard work, focus, tenacity, and a lot of effort, the payoff is well worth the sacrifice. CFP professionals can confidently set themselves apart as competent and knowledgeable financial planners who can use their financial planning knowledge to positively impact their clients’ lives by helping them achieve their goals!