CFP® Exam Prep: Your Guide to Success

CFP® Exam Prep: Your Guide to Success

The American College of Financial Services
March 5, 2020

The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) designation is a major milestone in any financial planning professional's career. Earning your CFP® certification shows potential clients and fellow advisors you’ve mastered both the theory and application of financial planning principles. With the next exam period coming up, the time to get a head start on your professional future through continuing education and step up your exam review is now.

The American College of Financial Services' faculty of trained financial professionals and instructors are experts on the certification process, with access to constant updates from the CFP Board on the topics and conditions of the exam, and are more than happy to share their knowledge with those testing for their CFP® certification through coursework, study materials, and other advice. The following are some of the questions we hear most frequently about the exam, along with some tips and tricks for success, whether it’s your first time or an additional attempt.


What Is the CFP® Exam?


The CFP® exam is a test for financial professionals produced and monitored by the CFP Board made up of 170 multiple-choice questions: these questions include a mix of one-off issues, analyzing short scenarios, and comprehending lengthier case studies. Aside from needing to complete the exam within six hours, CFP® certification candidates test at their own pace and receive preliminary pass or fail updates immediately after the final question is answered via the computer-based testing system. The six-hour window is broken into two three-hour periods, with a 40-minute break in between for lunch. Official verified results from the CFP Board may take up to three weeks to receive.

Test-takers are allowed to bring a non-programmable watch and a battery-powered, non-programmable calculator into the exam classroom with them. Everything else, including cell phones, must be checked at the door to ensure fairness in the test.



What Is On the CFP® Exam?


The exam for CFP® certification covers eight major financial topics, with a weighted breakdown as follows:

Test-takers need to answer questions on all these subjects when they tackle the exam, so be sure to cover exam review and study materials on a broad range of financial planning subjects.


When Are the CFP® Exam Dates, and Where Is It Taken?


Available only at pre-designated and approved classroom testing centers, the CFP® exam has three windows during the year, each a week long, during the months of March, July, and November. In 2021, those windows are:

  • March 9-16

  • July 6-13

  • November 2-9

Financial professionals can schedule a test any day during those windows, but they have to report to a set testing center, so it's important to figure out which one might be most convenient.



How Do People Prepare For the CFP® Exam?


Taking the CFP® certification exam requires dedication, mental fortitude, and of course a wide breadth of knowledge in financial services, but a big part of success is also having a plan to succeed. Lay out a course of self study, scheduled and regimented on a personal calendar leading up to the chosen testing session. Be realistic, but be responsible: know how much time is needed to prepare and set benchmarks accordingly. If a test-taker is going on vacation, bring notes along and review course materials in between whatever activities are going on. If that's not possible, it should also be factored into planning. Basic study tools like flashcards have been proven to help test-takers succeed on the CFP® exam.

Don’t try to rush the exam, and don’t try to ace it. Six hours is a lot of time provided a test-taker keeps on pace and don’t get distracted. If stumped on a question, skip it and come back to it later if there's time. Additionally, the CFP® exam isn’t graded: it’s a simple pass or fail. Even if financial professional gets a “B" on the exam, it won’t make any difference to anyone once they get their CFP® certification. The lesson here is people don’t have to do perfectly to pass the test: just put in the best effort possible.

Exam-takers should be sure to use all the resources available to them to help them prepare. Talk with other advisors or connections about studying or gathering the necessary information: maybe some of them have taken the exam before and can provide some perspective. Minimize distractions and ensure focused before taking the exam: consider taking a day or two off work and/or unplugging from social media to properly study materials and go over practice questions.

Above all, seek to be relaxed and comfortable while taking the test. There’s no need to make a fashion statement: wear comfortable clothing for the testing center, and eat right both before and during the exam. Don’t rely on local vendors around the testing center and get caught looking for food, because the next three-hour period will start with or without participants. Pack a lunch, and make sure it’s a healthy and satisfying one that will provide fuel and focus. The last thing a test-taker needs to be thinking about during a grueling six-hour exam is a growling stomach or uncomfortable shoes. Driving the route to the chosen testing center before exam day can also ensure there's no chance of getting lost or being late.


What Resources Are Available For CFP® Exam Prep?


The CFP® certification exam is complex, time-consuming, and a bit intimidating. A lot of prep work is required if one expects to pass; but fortunately, The American College of Financial Services is here to help.

For those who have yet to complete the required educational coursework to prepare for the CFP® exam, The College's CFP® Certification Education program offers a comprehensive CFP® exam prep course series with industry-leading pass rates featuring practice tests, self study options, flashcards, and access to instructors who are experts in the fields on the exam. To go along with this, The College's new Personal Pathway® learning model puts coursework on the busy financial professional's terms and allows those preparing for the exam to construct a self study plan that's right for them. Take preparation to the next level with an immersive experience featuring webinars, live chat sessions, practice exams, interactive exercises, practice questions, and more available in the palm of any student's hand.

By offering multiple exam review tools and coursework options for the on-the-go advisor, The American College of Financial Services equips serious CFP® certification candidates with powerful steps to ensure they'll pass the exam with flying colors. See what our programs can do for you.

Invest in your career with a professional designation.

Earning CFP® certification can increase your income, elevate your job satisfaction, and help you win new clients. But before you sit for the CFP® exam, you have to complete CFP® certification education. And there’s no better choice for that education than The American College of Financial Services, where graduates routinely pass the CFP® exam at a rate higher than the national average.

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