Alert: COVID-19 Update - The American College of Financial Services remains fully operational on a remote basis in accordance with federal and state guidelines. Continue to enroll online or by calling the Professional Education Department. Students should check their Student Portal for Academic Updates and FAQs regarding exam extensions and testing centers.

The CFP® Exam: Your Guide to Success

The CFP® Exam: 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 advisor’s career. Achieving it shows potential clients and fellow professionals you’ve mastered both the theory and application of financial planning. With the next exam period coming up in less than a week, and with additional dates scheduled for June and November, the time to get a head start on your professional future and take a step up by earning your designation is now.

The American College of Financial Services has a faculty of trained financial advisors and instructors who are more than happy to share their knowledge and expertise with those testing for their CFP® designation. 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 another attempt.


What Does the CFP® Exam Look Like?


The actual CFP® exam is made up of 170 multiple-choice questions. These questions include a mix of one-off issues, analyzing short scenarios, or comprehending lengthier case studies. Aside from needing to complete the exam within six hours, CFP® candidates test at their own pace and receive preliminary pass or fail results 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.

You’re also allowed to bring a non-programmable watch and a battery-powered, non-programmable calculator into the exam with you. Everything else, including cell phones, must be checked at the door.


What’s on the CFP® Exam?


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

  • Education Planning (6%)
  • Professional Conduct and Regulation (7%)
  • Risk Management and Insurance Planning (12%)
  • Tax Planning (12%)
  • Estate Planning (12%)
  • General Financial Planning Principles (17%)
  • Investment Planning (17%)
  • Retirement Savings Income Planning (17%)

You’ll need to answer questions on all these subjects when you tackle the test, so be sure to study a broad range of financial planning subjects.


Where and When Can I Take the CFP® Exam?


Available only at pre-designated and approved testing centers, the CFP® exam is set at three windows during the year, each a week long. In 2020, those windows are:

  • March 10-17
  • July 7-14
  • November 3-10

You can schedule your test any day during those windows, but you’ll have to report to a set testing center--know which one is nearest to you.


How Can I Prepare for the CFP® Exam?


Taking your CFP® exam requires dedication, mental fortitude, and of course a wide breadth of knowledge in financial services, and a big part of success is having a plan. Lay out a course of study, scheduled and regimented on your personal calendar leading up to your chosen testing session. Be realistic, but also be responsible. Know how much time you’ll need to prepare and set benchmarks accordingly. If you’re going on vacation, make sure to bring your notes along and study in between whatever activities you’re doing--and if you can’t, factor that into your planning as well.

Don’t try to rush the exam, and don’t try to ace it. Six hours is a lot of time provided you keep yourself on pace and don’t get distracted. If a question stumps you, skip it and come back to it later. Additionally, the CFP® exam isn’t graded: it’s pass or fail. Even if you get a “B,” it won’t make any difference to anyone once you get that designation. You don’t have to be perfect to pass the test--just do your best.

Make sure you’re using all the resources available to you to prepare. If you work with or know other financial professionals, talk with them about helping you study or gather the necessary information. Maybe some of them have taken the exam before and can give you some perspective. Minimize distractions and ensure you’re focused before you take the exam. Consider taking a day or two off work, or unplugging from social media, to properly study and set yourself up for success. Drive the route to the testing center near you so there’s no chance of you getting lost or being late on test day.

Above all, make sure you’re 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 starts with or without you. Pack a lunch, and make sure it’s a healthy and satisfying one that will give you fuel and focus. The last thing you need during a grueling six-hour test is a growling stomach or uncomfortable shoes.


I Need Help. What Resources are Available?


The CFP® exam is complex, time-consuming, and a bit intimidating. A lot of prep work is required if you expect to pass, but fortunately, The College is here to help.

If you have yet to complete the required educational coursework, The College offers a comprehensive training program with industry-leading pass rates. If you’ve already completed the prerequisite work, The College can also offer tips and resources to help you prepare for the next exam session. To go along with this, we’re giving our programs, including the CFP® certification training, a facelift with a new online learning management system. Take your knowledge to the next level and make it available in the palm of your hand with an immersive experience featuring webinars, live chat sessions, interactive exercises, and more.

By offering multiple review tools and educational options for the on-the-go financial professional, The College equips serious CFP® candidates with powerful steps to ensure you’ll pass the exam with flying colors.

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.

Learn More