It took me 2 attempts to pass the CFP® Exam. And it was the most rewarding, emotional, grueling 6-7 months of my life.
The roller coaster that I went through was tough, but also worth it. What I learned after the first time is that I was studying wrong. To paint the picture, I was training for a sprint, when the 6-hour exam at 8:00am is actually a marathon. I had to learn how to train and prepare for the right race.
Below, I’ll share my 12-week, “crunch time” study guide that I used to conquer the CFP® Exam last year.
At the top, you should see the focus areas that you’ve probably seen a couple times before. I actually ripped these pie charts from my original CFP results. It wasn’t useful until I looked hard at it, and realized that I was studying inefficiently. It is is super useful:
Your Study Game Plan
Fundamentals + Retirement + Rules of Conduct = half of the exam. Think about that. If you get 100% of those, and then 50% of the rest of the exam, you can still pass. At least that’s how I viewed it.
If you’ve already made it through the material, all you have to do now is learn how to ‘take the test’. The only way to do that is to take (and bomb) practice quizzes – Everyday.
One of my best friends gave me some great advice about studying via practice questions: “you can only ask so many questions about 1 topic.” That means if you’ve seen all of the questions, there is no way that you can be stumped; no surprises.
I have to admit, I didn’t really read any material this time. That’s pretty much all I did last time - Dumb. It’s inefficient to just start reading the text. There’s too much, and they only test you on certain parts that they think are important. So the only way to better prepared for the test is to test yourself everyday – practice quizzes.
Every morning I created a 15-20 question practice quiz, tried really hard to get 100%, then ended up with like a 50%. It hurts the ego. But then you learn why you got the questions wrong and why you got the other ones right (b/c sometimes you guess and you can’t count on luck during the exam).
Every week you should pick 1 subject, then take practice quizzes on them. Bomb the quizzes, bruise your ego, and then figure out why you did poorly.
Here’s the schedule I used:
1. (1 week) Read (this is the only part I truly took time to read) the Practice Standards and Rules of Professional Conduct. I think it took me a few mornings to do so. Parts of this section are scattered across the entire exam.
2. (2 Weeks) Quizzes on Fundamentals. It’s ¼ of the exam and it’s definitely worth two weeks of quizzing. The exam is big on education funding tools, basic economics, and TVM. For example: how much should Joe save each month if he wants to retire with X in 20 years, etc. I can’t stress enough that they love their own Process (6 steps). In a process question, the trick is to always find out which step you're currently in, so you'll know what step is coming next. Again, the CFP® loves to test on their own process.
3. (2 Weeks) Quizzes on Retirement. I took a Retirement Planning class in college, and it was difficult because there are so many plans and unique rules for those plans. The most common question I saw was: Joe wants an employer plan. His company has X employees, they are mostly X years old, his goals for the plan are ___ and ___. What retirement plan should he have? It’s difficult because it requires a broad knowledge of every employer plan, and there seems to be a million. Also, you need to know if someone is able to contribute to an IRA if they are also contributing to an employer plan.
4. (1 week) Quizzes on Investments. Not a heavy investments test in my opinion. Standard deviation and beta popped up a lot. Finding interest rates on a bond popped up a couple times. My advice is pretty limited in this section; cut me some slack, the exam was long.
5. (1 week) Quizzes on tax. For some reason, CFP® loves NQSO, ISO, and RSU questions. Tax is tax, it kind of sucks.
6. (1 week) Quizzes on Insurance. What can I say? Insurance is insurance. Taxes on Disability, LTC, and Life Insurance premiums/proceeds seem to be popular. But those might be more tax...
7. (1 week) Quizzes on Estate. Any cheat sheet you may have for ownership/probate/gross estate is mega helpful. I got mine from the live review, you probably have one. Another heavily tested area is the difference between trusts – A, B, C trusts. Also know the differences between a living will, different power of attorneys, and health care directives.
8. (1 week) Review again of Fundamentals + Ethics
9. (1 week) Review again of Retirement
10. Practice Exams. If you bomb, that’s okay. I think I scored 65% on one of the practice exams like a week before the exam. As you can imagine, I did not sleep very well that night. But the key is to learn why you missed those questions. Also, for the questions that you guessed on, learn why you guessed correctly. You don’t want to hope to get lucky on exam day.
Get Ready for Training
Study in the morning. Get your brain ready to be awake and ready during test time. For me, my brain was ready to go by 8:00 (my exam time). Get into a routine. You’re a grown up now, so adopt a big boy/girl sleeping schedule that enables you to be awake and mentally sharp by 6:00 or 7:00am.
The trick is to train your brain for this exam. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done; but now that I’ve done it, I have this new sense that tells me I can do anything.
Edit: If you've made it this far in the article, odds are you are serious about this exam. When you're within 2 weeks away from the exam, be sure to read this post - it describes my last minute (non-technical) pieces of advice that are sure to take some of the edge off. Let me know in the comments what else you're wanting to learn more about. Happy testing!