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Best Practices for a Successful CFP® Exam Result

Emily Koochel May 23, 2024

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CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals have achieved a prestigious designation that signifies a high level of expertise and a commitment to ethical standards in the financial planning industry. Recipients must meet certain rigorous requirements set forth by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board). These requirements encompass education, examination, work experience, and adherence to a code of ethics and professional responsibility—often called the four Es.

The examination portion of the requirement continues to evolve from its introduction in 1991 to ensure exam content reflects the current practice of financial planning. CFP Board regularly conducts a Practice Analysis Study to identify the important tasks performed by planners and assess the knowledge and skills needed to perform these tasks. It is the largest research project in the U.S. related to the body of knowledge for financial planning. It incorporates a multi-method approach, led by testing experts to ensure the exam remains current, reliable, valid, and legally defensible.1

When asked about it, several of my colleagues who have achieved this designation referred to it as one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things they’ve ever done. If you are exploring the option of becoming a CFP® professional, here are some important factors to consider as you do your research. You’ll also find words of wisdom from eMoney’s in-house staff of CFP® professionals included throughout.

Planning Your Path to the CFP® Exam

As someone interested in a future in planning, it should be no surprise that the journey to successfully completing the CFP® exam starts with planning the path that makes the most sense for you. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:

Understand the Eligibility Requirements

One of the requirements for CFP® certification is completing the coursework requirement through a CFP Board-registered program. All registered programs cover the same core topics but vary in style, length, and delivery approach. Review the options to determine what’s best for you based on your background, timeline, and budget.

Consider Timing and Employer Support

Think about when to take the exam—right after finishing your education while you’re still in test-taking mode or after gaining some professional experience. Taking it soon after completing the required coursework can be beneficial while the knowledge is still fresh. However, having work experience can provide useful context for some exam content. Check if your employer offers financial support or reimbursement for exam fees and materials.

When I had staff members who were preparing for the exam, they were fully supported by me as a leader. When they were a few months out from the exam, I told them to block out work time to study and I provided any review materials they needed.
Joe Buhrmann, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®, Senior Financial Planning Practice Management Consultant, eMoney

Assess Costs and Create a Budget

Be sure to fully budget for the expense of taking and preparing for the exam. The costs can add up between registration, books, flashcards, practice exams, prep classes, and more. Review your financial situation and create a plan to cover the costs over the next few years. Having a clear budget and sticking to it will help you stay on track.

Crafting a Study Plan

Preparing for the CFP® exam requires dedication, focus, and discipline. To maximize your chances of passing, it’s important to craft an intentional study plan.

Reflect on your past experiences taking exams. What study methods worked well for you? What didn’t? Understanding your learning style and test-taking strengths is key. For some, flashcards are a tried-and-true technique. Others prefer to craft mnemonic devices or songs to aid memorization.

Compared to other exams I’ve taken, the CFP® exam was longer in duration and quantity of questions, was administered at a third-party testing center, and I felt prouder for having passed than any other test.
Brandon Tucker, CFP®, Financial Planning Practice Management Consultant, eMoney

Don’t fall prey to studying the material you already know—it’s one of the sticking points I’ve found with students in general. We have a reward system in our brain, and it feels good to study the stuff we know well—it already makes sense to us and when we take the quiz at the end we score well. That’s a great feeling but it can give us a tendency to stay away from the things we don’t know as well.

Solve this by prioritizing your areas of weakness over your strengths when planning your study schedule. It takes discipline to focus on the challenging topics but conquering them is what will achieve the best results.

No matter your learning preferences, consistent discipline in your preparation is vital. Cramming is not an effective strategy for the CFP® exam. Dedicate time each week over several months to deeply learn the material. Explore the wide variety of study guides, practice questions, sample exams, and other preparation resources available.

The most effective environment for my learning style is to be in a classroom where I am interacting with instructors and fellow students—engaging with them, asking questions, and sharing my own perspectives—while also entertaining their perspectives and points of view.
Brett Tharp, CFP®, Advisory Training Specialist, eMoney

Executing Your Preparation

After you’ve crafted a study plan, it’s time to put that plan into action. This is when consistent dedication and discipline become crucial. To maximize your chances of passing the exam:

Use all available study materials. Don’t limit yourself to just one textbook or online course. Explore the full range of study guides, flashcards, practice exams, and other materials to reinforce your knowledge. Each resource may explain concepts in slightly different ways or provide unique practice questions. Using multiple materials gives you more exposure to the content.

Talk to current CFP® professionals about their journeys. Connect with professionals who have already passed the exam to understand how they prepared. Learn from their experiences about which study methods and materials worked best. Ask for tips about areas to focus your preparation efforts.

There is a large network of CFP® professionals out there and we all want the bar on our profession to be high. Tap into their support by reaching out, asking questions about their experiences, and any recommendations for success.
Connor Sung, CFP®, Director, Financial Planning Group, eMoney

Simulate the testing experience. Practice taking full-timed exams in a quiet environment without distractions. Strive to make your practice exams as close to the real thing as possible. This will help you experience the timing, stress, and fatigue you may feel on exam day. Review your practice exam performance to identify weak areas to improve.

The CFP® exam is very long. One of the harder parts for me was being able to focus for six hours on an exam. I definitely had to do a few practice tests and start building up my test-taking stamina.
Lindsay Robinson, CFP® Manager, Financial Planning Service and Research Team, eMoney

Approaching the preparation phase with diligence and using all the resources at your disposal will set you up for success on exam day. Don’t cut corners on your studying. Put in the hard work upfront to give yourself the best shot at joining the ranks of CFP® professionals.

Exam Day Routine

The CFP® exam day itself requires some strategic planning and understanding of what to expect.

Leading up to test day, check the historical CFP® exam pass rates released by CFP Board. This data can benchmark reasonable expectations. Having a set routine and plan ahead of time can help reduce stress. Consider details like what to eat the night before and the morning of the exam, when you’ll wake up and leave for the testing center, and any other personal prep rituals.

Once at the testing center, understand the environment will be extremely quiet and focused. There is no casual chatter or noise allowed. Keep this in mind as you plan your mindset and tactics for test day.

After the Exam

You’ll receive your pass-fail status soon after submitting your exam. Each question is worth 1 point, and passing is determined by your total score across the entire exam. This means the pass-fail status you receive after completing the exam is preliminary and subject to change. In approximately four weeks, CFP Board will send your official diagnostic report.

When you receive your report, it will break down your performance by topic area. Reviewing where you did well versus where you struggled can help guide what to focus on if a retake is needed. There is a maximum of five lifetime attempts allowed for the CFP® exam.

This breakdown is invaluable for focusing your preparation if you need to retake the exam. Carefully review each knowledge topic and your performance, looking for the areas where you scored the lowest. This data reveals where to concentrate your studies moving forward.

Reflect deeply on your overall exam experience as well. What preparation strategies worked well? Where did you feel less confident during the actual test? What might you do differently next time? Everyone has a unique path to passing the CFP® exam. Learn from your experience and make a plan to improve.

Financial Planning Is a Helping Profession

Becoming a financial planner can be a rewarding job that helps others financially plan for a secure future. Passing the CFP® exam is just one aspect. Before pursuing financial planning as a career, take time to determine if the responsibilities, the nature of the work, the hours, and the education required are worth it for you.

People from every walk of life are seeking meaningful guidance to help them achieve their financial dreams. From Baby Boomers to those just starting to explore their financial goals in life, everyone needs help with basic planning.

The need for financial planning continues to grow as a vital part of the financial services industry. To learn more about the positive impacts of helping people with their finances, read our eBook, From Portfolio Manager to Financial Planner.


1 “How We Develop the CFP® Exam.” CFP Board n.d.

DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.

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About the Author

Dr. Emily Koochel is an experienced financial professional, academic, and researcher. She currently serves as a leader for eMoney Advisor’s Financial Education and Wellness initiatives in her role as Manager of Financial Wellness. Dr. Koochel’s PhD in Applied Family Science and Master’s in Financial Planning provide a multidisciplinary lens to inform her work where she focuses on understanding the effect of financial behaviors and financial decision making on personal and financial wellness. She serves as a subject matter expert in the field, reviewing and authoring peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and contributing to public scholarship. Most notably, she served as a co-author for the CFP Board’s book – The Psychology of Financial Planning - and was awarded 2020 Outstanding Research Journal Article of the Year by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. She holds the Certified Financial Therapist – I designation and is an Accredited Financial Counselor and Behavioral Financial Advisor.

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