Passing the CFP® exam is no walk in the park. In fact, about half of those who take the exam don’t pass it, regardless of whether they’ve taken a CFP® review course or not. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll pass the exam, there are things you can do to boost the odds that you’ll pass.
Here is a list of 7 things you can do to help pass the Certified Financial Planner™ exam.
1. Expect Things to go Wrong, so Prepare for Them
Things break and batteries go bad. Worse yet, they break and go bad at the worst
possible time and a calculator malfunction during the exam is possibly the worst
time you can imagine. When I took the exam, I bought an extra set of batteries and a
calculator and left them in the car. I had just completed an intensive 9-month
curriculum, studied an endless number of hours after work (and sometimes during) and
sacrificed a majority of my free time for almost a year to take the exam. There was
simply no way I was going to let something unpredictable bring me down. Therefore,
my advice is for you to buy an extra set of batteries and a calculator and if you’re short
on cash, you can always return the unopened packages to the store and get your money
2. Expect Things and People to Annoy You
When I took the Certified Financial Planner™ exam, it had to be in what is probably the loudest classroom in the history of exams. Some developer had the bright idea to take half of a factory and convert it into a college campus. Better yet, the room we took the exam in shared a wall with a loading dock. So, for ten hour over two days, all I heard were forklift engines roaring, backup warning beeps, workers shouting orders across to each other and pallets being put down so hard that the floor shook. Did I mention this went on for the entire ten hours? Even though this is an extreme example, don’t you think you’ll be a bit annoyed if a noisy air conditioning vent, or someone tapping a pencil or worst of all – someone with a cold sniffling away will ruin your concentration? That’s why I recommend using ear plugs and the type I use when traveling or trying to concentrate are Mack’s Earplugs. I find that they block out a great deal of noise since they conform to the contour of your ears. Also, if you have a cold, bring some tissues in case the testing center doesn’t have them. You want to be as comfortable as possible and you certainly don’t want to annoy fellow exam takers.
P.S. When I took the Series 7, there was road construction complete with jackhammers
going for a full six hours. Did someone not want me to pass my exams? Talk about bad
3. Work on Your Game-Time Conditioning
Sitting and concentrating for six hours is not easy and you have to work on your test-
taking conditioning the same way you would for an athletic competition. For example, as part of my CFP® exam prep, I mimicked the exam as best I could. I took two ten hour exams, one week apart, taking the first two sessions (three hours each) one day and the final four-hour session on the next. But I didn’t jump right in; I worked up to it. Luckily, the exam has been cut back to six hours, but I would still practice on taking a mock exam or two 3-hour segments with a forty-minute break in between.
4. Quit Studying
Yes, quit studying! Not completely of course, but enjoy some time off as you go through
the CFP® exam journey. Have some fun with it and take time to get to know some of
your classmates if you’re in a live class. I was so focused on passing the exam, I think I
only took three days off from studying while going through the curriculum. One of
those days were taken to go on a date with my future wife and after the date I even told
her I wasn’t going to call her for a couple of weeks! Thankfully she understood. Also, I
can only say this worked for me since I passed (I don’t know how given how loud our
classroom was) but I stopped studying for the exam two days prior. I just felt that I
needed time for my brain to relax a bit and I thought if I hadn’t remembered it by then,
any more time wouldn’t help. Everyone’s different but just take time to relax
5. Take a CFP® Review Course? Maybe Not
I don’t think I have the ability to sit through a four-day review course; it would be a waste of my time and money. For others, a 36-hour marathon review course will pay off. Think about how you learn and retain information before shelling out money.
6. Think About It
It’s helpful to treat each question as a mystery – you’re interested in the who, what,
when and why. In other words, who in the question is of importance? The exam
content creators will mention a person just to throw you off the trail. The ‘what’ part is
highly important because we need to understand what they are asking or what they are
looking for. ‘When’ is important, especially as it relates to the questions that involve
time value of money calculations. Lastly, the ‘why’ in the question is helpful to
understand since it will help you possibly weed out some of the incorrect answers.
7. Hire a CFP® Tutor (of Course)!
Well, you knew this was coming but had a tutoring service been around when I was
studying for the exam, I would have hired him or her in a minute. The reason is that I
was relatively new in financial services and YouTube was nowhere near as robust as it is
today. Even then, I could have watched all the videos in the world on Family Limited
Partnership gifting strategies (maybe there are two such videos today?) and I still
wouldn’t have understood the topic. At least with a tutor that has both the book
knowledge and real life experience, you can cut right to the chase and understand the
material a lot faster. It’s possible that just a half hour of tutoring can save you hours of
trying to comprehend a frustrating topic written in a book. Also, some students respond
better to one-on-one coaching as opposed to a virtual or live instructor who likely won’t
have the time to spend with you on an individual basis.