One Piece of Advice for the CFP® Examination

One of my favorites excerpts from Principles by Ray Dalio goes as follows:

199) Distinguish the important things from the unimportant things and deal with the important things first.

  • 199a) Don’t be a perfectionist, because perfectionists often spend too much time on little differences at the margins at the expense of other big, important things. Be an effective imperfectionist. Solutions that broadly work well (e.g., how people should contact each other in the event of crises) are generally better than highly specialized solutions (e.g., how each person should contact each other in the event of every conceivable crisis), especially in the early stages of a plan. There generally isn’t much gained by lots of detail relative to a good broad solution. Complicated procedures are tough to remember, and it takes a lot of time to make such detailed plans (so they might not even be ready when needed).
  • 199b) Since 80% of the juice can be gotten with the first 20% of the squeezing, there are relatively few (typically less than five) important things to consider in making a decision. For each of them, the marginal gains of studying them past a certain point are limited.
  • 199c) Watch out for “detail anxiety,” i.e., worrying inappropriately about unimportant, small things. 
  • 199d) Don’t mistake small things for unimportant things, because some small things can be very important (e.g., hugging a loved one).

Understand aiming for a perfect score on the CFP® examination will not help your studying process - it will hurt it. Shooting for perfection is a losing strategy. This is not to say that you should shy away from the hard topics; it is a good idea to focus on what you don’t know. Rather, the point is to understand you only have a limited amount of time to study. Use that time efficiently. Don’t waste time on the obscure stuff. There may even be questions that the CFP® board is experimenting with which you have never heard before. I recommend accepting this and focusing your efforts on material that you know you will see. The bottom line is this: you only have a finite amount of time to study, and due to the breadth of the exam questions, that time must be used in an efficient manner.