The Certified Financial Planner exam (or CFP exam) is one of the requirements to become a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), which is a professional designation for financial advisors.
The exam is administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board), and is meant to test your ability to apply financial planning knowledge to real-life situations within the financial planning industry.
In this article, we cover the CFP exam’s structure and content outline, as well as provide exam prep tips so you can successfully pass the exam on the first attempt.
What is the CFP Exam
The CFP exam covers topics such as the financial planning process, tax planning, retirement planning, estate planning, risk management, and insurance.
The exam is designed to be challenging, measuring not just factual recall but also the application of knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities as financial planners. It usually lasts about six hours, including a scheduled 40-minute break, and is conducted in a computer-based format.
The exam consists of multiple-choice questions that may be independent or related to short scenarios or longer case studies.
The CFP exam dates are usually held three times a year in March, July, and November.
Passing the exam shows that you are skilled and serious about following the high standards set by the CFP Board for financial planning jobs. It’s an important step if you want to move forward in a career in financial planning.
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Before taking the exam, you must meet the following prerequisites:
- A bachelor’s degree (or higher) from an accredited college or university
- Three years of full-time personal financial planning experience or the equivalent part-time experience (2,000 hours equals one year full-time). The experience requirement can be fulfilled before or after passing the CFP exam
- Completed a CFP-Board registered program
If you have certain advanced degrees or professional certifications, the CFP Board opens an accelerated pathway that allows you to skip the program coursework and proceed to take the exam.
Eligibility for the accelerated CFP path requires you to hold one of the following designations and/or licenses:
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Licensed Attorney
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
- Doctor of Business Administration, Financial Planning, Finance, or Economics
- Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
- Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
- CFP Certification from outside the United States (e.g., from the Financial Planning Standards Board affiliate located in the candidate’s territory of residence)
Once you meet the eligibility requirements, you can register for the proctored final CFP certification exam.
The CFP exam is structured as a computer-based test designed to evaluate candidates across several core areas of financial planning. Below is a brief overview of what is included in these core areas of the exam:
- Investment Planning: This topic covers the concepts and strategies related to investment planning, such as asset allocation, portfolio construction, risk and return analysis, and behavioral finance
- Retirement Planning: This topic solely focuses on retirement planning and other retirement needs, such as retirement plan types, retirement plan distribution rules, social security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, retirement risks, and retirement income strategies
- Tax Planning: This topic tackles tax planning and tax law fundamentals. It also includes income tax calculations, tax consequences of property transactions, tax implications of business entities, tax implications of employee compensation and benefits, tax implications of investment transactions, and tax compliance
- Risk Management and Insurance Planning: This topic includes risk management and insurance planning strategies, life insurance planning, health insurance planning, property and casualty insurance planning, liability insurance planning, annuity planning, and business uses of insurance
- Estate Planning: This topic explores anything related to estate planning, such as estate law fundamentals, estate tax calculations, estate planning documents, estate planning techniques, trusts and trust taxation, charitable giving techniques, and more
- Professional Conduct and Regulation: This topic focuses on professional conduct and regulation in financial planning practices, such as CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct, CFP Board’s Disciplinary Rules and Procedures, CFP Board’s Fitness Standards, compliance issues, consumer protection laws, etc
- General Financial Planning Principles: This topic includes general financial planning practices, such as financial planning process, financial statements analysis, debt management, emergency fund management, education planning, and financial goals setting, among others
The CFP exam is primarily made up of 170 multiple-choice questions with two 3-hour sections during one day. These questions can be standalone, or they might be grouped into sets that relate to short scenarios or longer case studies.
You will be able to move through the exam at your own pace within each 3-hour test section. Each section is divided into two distinct subsections. You can also take a 40-minute break in between sections, as well as an option for unscheduled breaks, as needed (after question 43 of the first subsection).
The goal of the exam is to assess not just your knowledge but also your ability to apply this knowledge in practical, real-world financial planning situations. This makes the CFP exam a comprehensive measure of the skills and abilities of CFP professionals.
Interested in finding out more about this qualification? Check out our in-depth CFP Certification article.
The content outline for the CFP exam is organized to assess your proficiency across several key areas of financial planning.
These domains represent the core areas or competencies required to practice financial planning, which include:
- Professional Conduct and Regulation (8%)
- General Principles of Financial Planning (15%)
- Risk Management and Insurance Planning (11%)
- Investment Planning (17%)
- Tax Planning (14%)
- Retirement Savings and Income Planning (18%)
- Estate Planning (10%)
- Psychology of Financial Planning (7%)
The CFP exam also includes questions on five areas of finance: investment, tax, retirement, estate planning, and insurance. The insurance area includes subsections on education planning, ethics, and the financial planning process.
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CFP Exam Preparation Tips
Preparing for the CFP exam can be a daunting task, given its comprehensive nature and the depth of knowledge required.
Below are some tips to help you better prepare for the CFP exam:
- Create a study plan. Outline the topics you need to study and allocate sufficient time to each. Stick to your plan but be flexible and adjust as you progress
- Use official study materials. Make use of official study guides and practice exams from the CFP Board or other reputable sources. These resources often mimic the format of the actual exam and can be invaluable in preparing you for the types of questions you will face
- Take practice exams. Practice exams can give you a feel for the pacing of the real exam and help you identify areas where you may need more study
- Simulate exam conditions. Try to simulate the conditions under which you’ll take the exam. This can help you combat nerves during your exam and improve your performance
- Stay updated. The CFP exam content and guidelines can change. Make sure to stay updated with any changes by regularly checking the official CFP Board website
- Enroll in a review course. If you can, consider enrolling in a CFP exam review course. These courses offer structured learning environments and may provide additional study materials and practice exams
Thorough preparation is key to successfully passing the CFP exam. The exam is no small feat, but with diligent preparation, a strong understanding of the material, and effective time management, you’ll be well on your way to earning this credential.
Ready to get started? StateRequirement recommends having a look at Kaplan’s study materials and resources.
CFP Exam FAQ
Is the CFP exam hard?
The CFP exam is considered challenging due to its in-depth coverage of financial planning topics, including investments, tax planning, and retirement. The exam not only tests factual knowledge but also evaluates critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It’s a six-hour test with a range of question types, making rigorous preparation essential for success.
What is the CFP exam?
The CFP exam is a six-hour, 170 multiple-choice, computer-based test that measures your proficiency in financial planning. Administered by the CFP Board, it covers topics like investment, tax planning, and retirement. Passing the exam is a key step in earning the CFP certification, a respected credential in the financial services industry.
Is the CFP exam harder than the CPA?
The CFP and CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exams are both rigorous and require extensive preparation, but the “harder” exam may depend on your expertise with the specific topics covered. The CPA exam is longer, consisting of four separate sections each with its own test day, while the CFP is a single six-hour exam.
How long does it take to study for the CFP?
The time required to study for the CFP exam varies depending on your background and familiarity with financial planning topics. Generally, candidates spend anywhere from 200 to 400 hours preparing. Most people devote three to six months to studying, often combining self-study, review courses, and practice exams. Find out more in our CFP Certification article.
How many people fail the CFP exam?
According to the CFP Board, the overall pass rate of the CFP exam hovers around 67%, with first-time test takers faring slightly better. This means about 33% of the candidates fail the exam in each window. Many factors can affect your performance on the exam, such as your educational background, work experience, and study habits.
What is the difference between the CFP, CFA, and ChFC exams?
The CFP exam focuses on financial planning, including estate and retirement planning. The CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exam specializes in investment management and financial analysis. The ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant) exam covers similar topics as the CFP but delves deeper into specific planning issues. Each exam targets different aspects of finance.