Regan’s CFP® Reflection Post
Update: I passed
I took the CFP® exam on Friday, March 18th. I’m not one for remembering dates, but I can’t see myself forgetting March 18th anytime soon. Here I am writing this post almost a week later feeling a little less like an institutionalized prisoner every day. Thankfully I’m faring better than Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending my additional free time binging on Peaky Blinders and playing fetch with my dog at Golden Gate Park. It’s been quite the journey, you can read what I was thinking back in November here. Aww, what a naïve little baby I was. You don’t know pain, past self. Unless you’re a gifted person (or a liar), the six weeks before your exam will be brutal and the exam itself will be a testament to your endurance (or lack thereof). To be perfectly honest, I’m conflicted over my assessment of the exam’s difficulty. As you may know, about every five years the board reweights the exam for relevancy and conducts additional analytics to determine the base passing level. Meaning, as of right now I still don’t know whether I passed. All the old-timers are probably rolling their eyes at that because “back in my day, we had to wait four years for our exam results!” Listen up grandpa, we now live in a world of instant gratification where I can literally summon fresh baked cookies, a personal driver, or even a dog walker by simply pulling out my phone, I want my exam results immediately! All jokes aside, I’m hoping my perspective can be beneficial as it is not yet warped by post-exam jubilance.
OK, are you excited to hear how to pass this thing from a guy who may or may not have passed himself? Great, because I think I did a pretty solid job, which leads me to my first piece of advice: Don’t psyche yourself out based on others’ opinions of the exam. Their experiences do not equate to your experience, and unfortunately we live in a society where people love to understate the effort they put into their accomplishments. If someone doesn’t try his hardest then failure can be attributed to a lack of effort rather than as a reflection of his limitations. The CFP® was my fifth licensing exam after passing Life insurance, Accident & Health insurance, Series 7, and Series 66. In fact, the exam day experience wasn’t all that different from the Series 7, which consists of 250 questions over two three-hour sessions. Prior experience allowed me to fully focus on the actual exam content without getting caught up in the details. Maybe you don’t have similar standardized test taking experience, and that’s OK, because you have other strengths. Not only are you a special butterfly with your own unique skillset, but there’s more than one way to skin this cat. Being confident in my strengths allowed me to have a level head and transform the exam room into my own personal dojo. Know your strengths, and keep them front of mind when the illogical thoughts start popping up (they will). Dwelling too much on the experiences of others will only fuel the illogical fire.
The Dalton Review’s stellar reputation amongst my friends and colleagues lead me to purchase their comprehensive preparation course. Kaplan carried me through the previous exams, but I felt a change would be beneficial considering the amount of time I would be committing to this endeavor. Seriously contemplate your program’s recommended study hours in relation to your situation, and don’t short yourself. There is no shame in needing more time. Unsurprisingly, in my review class the instructor told us the most common mistake made by those who fail is not leaving enough time for preparation. My materials were shipped to me in October, and I meticulously read every piece of information over the next few months. By the time December rolled around I was consistently studying for at least two hours every day, which progressively ramped up to 4-5 hours the six weeks prior to the exam. By mid-January I had made a solid dent in the testbank, and by mid-February I had completed my first lap, consistently knocking out over 100 questions a day. I never made it through a full second lap, but rather chose to focus on my weak areas and the questions I missed the first time around. My studying was dynamic in an effort to keep things interesting and maintain a steady pace. For example, if my brain was sluggishly making its way through estate flashcards, I’d switch over to drawing diagrams of various trusts and make my way back to the flashcards later. I utilized various retention strategies as well as active learning through the testbank. Minimizing wasted time was a top priority from the beginning. I worked my tail off, logging well beyond the recommended number of hours. Everyone who witnessed my commitment was convinced I would pass, and I even received a “guarantee” from Dalton. Guess what? I still didn’t feel ready. For months I was convinced a feeling of certainty would arise in due time, until a few weeks before the exam when I accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to happen. There’s simply too much content, that’s the nature of the beast. Although it was initially disheartening, I found a sense of comfort in the realization that there would never be a clear bolded line I would eventually cross over. Trust me, if you think you’re approaching your bolded line, it’s a mirage that will quickly disappear. My review instructor also informed us that the vast majority of people come within six questions of passing or failing. For many, the indication is that any one factor can be the difference, including a mere ten extra minutes of review time. Understanding that you’re committing your life to something for several months and still have such a small margin for error should a sobering thought. Personally, there was no greater motivation.
A friend of mine often described my studying mentality with the phrase “leaving nothing to chance.” As I described in the previous paragraph, that’s not how things tend to play out in reality. That’s why it’s crucial to manage the factors you can control, and be comfortable with the ones you can’t. There may be an annoyingly loud typist behind you, or perhaps you have to take the exam in a stifling hot room, or maybe the person next to you smells like they haven’t showered this year, OR maybe even a combination of all three! Your exam day will be full of systematic risks. By the time your day arrives, your out-the-door checklist should be as simple as: ID, calculator, snack. Those are the essentials, and everything else should be taken care of ahead of time so that you can be comfortable with strapping on your exam blinders. “Everything else” includes physically visiting your testing center ahead of time (including locating the actual suite within the building), eating healthy, maintaining an exercise routine, getting adequate sleep, picking out a comfortable outfit, staying hydrated, and of course, studying.
One of the few things I can guarantee about your experience is that you will learn a lot about yourself. For many of us, this will be one of the most challenging undertakings of our lives so far. Between studying, working, dating, caring for my dog, and adjusting to a new city, the balancing act was unprecedented in my life. In some ways I already miss it because the “forced” productivity led me realize how much more satisfied I am being involved in a long-term project. The exam gave me a sense clarity and purpose. We all have the ability to be better, and a drawn out challenge like the CFP® exam will test your limits. As you move through the process, pay attention to your strengths and weaknesses. They’re not going to change simply because you passed an exam. You will grow as a person through this process, and that should genuinely excite you. Good luck!