Become a CFP® Professional


About the CFP® Exam

Overview of the CFP® Exam

The CFP® Certification Examination is designed to assess your ability to integrate and apply a broad base of financial planning knowledge in the context of real life financial planning situations. By passing this exam, you demonstrate to the public you have attained a competency level necessary to practice independently as a financial planner.

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Quick Links: Exam Format | Development Tax Coverage Questions and Case Scenarios | Balance of Emphasis | Cognitive Level | Exam Content | Provided Exam Tax Tables | Scoring and Exam Results
All facets of the CFP® exam are guided by CFP® professionals, including the determination of content coverage, writing, reviewing and approving of exam questions, scoring and passing criteria. 

The content of the exam is determined through a process known as a Job Analysis, conducted by CFP® professionals and led by testing experts to assure the exam remains current, reliable, valid and legally defensible. 

CFP Board engages a large pool of volunteer CFP® professionals, including Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who serve as item writers and reviewers, and members of the Council on Examinations (COE). The COE, comprised of SMEs with considerable experience with the CFP® exam, provides final review and approval of all exam questions. 

The criterion for passing the CFP® exam is established through a process known as Standard Setting, during which CFP® professionals determine the minimal competency level required to pass the exam. CFP Board does not pre-determine the pass rate for the exam or have an established percentage of questions that must be answered correctly to pass. 

In 2013, the overall pass rate was 63.3 percent, and the pass rate for first-time exam takers was approximately 68 percent.

Candidates are eligible to sit for the CFP® exam after completing the Education requirementCandidates may register for the exam before completing their educational program. If CFP Board does not receive verification of completing the Education requirement by the Education Verification Deadline, a $100 withdrawal fee applies.

CFP® Exam Candidate Handbook

The CFP® Exam is comprehensive in scope and designed to assess your ability to integrate and apply a broad base of financial planning knowledge in the context of real life financial planning situations. For everything you need to know about the process of registering, preparing and sitting for the CFP® exam, download the CFP® Exam Candidate Handbook (PDF, 428KB).

Exam Format

Beginning in November 2014, the CFP® exam will be administered in a computer-based testing (CBT) format during three 5-day testing windows each year, with one testing window available each March, July and November. Candidates can select their testing location from Prometric’s network of testing sites, which includes more than 265 sites in the U.S.

The exam is comprised of 170 multiple-choice questions, including stand-alone questions and sets of questions associated with short scenarios or more lengthy case histories.

View a Sample Online Quiz, available at no cost to candidates

The exam consists of two 3-hour sessions separated by a scheduled 40-minute break. Candidates schedule a 7-hour appointment online through CFP Board’s testing partner, Prometric. The appointment includes time for check-in, securing personal belongings in provided lockers, verification of ID, fingerprint capture and security procedures.

Candidates progress through the exam at their own pace within the provided time allocations. Preliminary exam results are provided to candidates upon completion of the exam at the testing site, with results verified by CFP Board within three weeks following the end of the exam testing window.  


To develop exams that reflect the current practice of financial planning, CFP Board conducts regular job analyses to identify the important tasks performed by planners and assess the knowledge and skills needed to perform these tasks.

Exam questions are written by volunteer CFP® professionals. The exam questions are subjected to a rigorous, multiple stage review process, including a final review by the Council on Examinations. If you are interested in volunteering your time and knowledge for exam development activities, please fill out the volunteer application form.

Samples of retired exam questions are available for review. The sample multiple-choice questions provide you with an understanding of question format, but should not be used as a practice exam or indicator of exam preparedness.

CFP Board Practice Exams are also available for purchase

Questions and Case Scenarios

The CFP® Certification Examination is a computer-based exam consisting of 170 multiple choice questions. Question types include both stand-alone and scenario-based questions. Scenarios can be brief, with a few accompanying questions, or more extensive, with 10-20 associated questions.

Balance of Emphasis

The CFP® Certification Examination will test your ability to apply and integrate knowledge from all of CFP Board’s specified Principal Topics. Questions may focus on discrete content areas or may require application, integration, synthesis, or evaluation across several content areas. The exam is composed of questions distributed across the eight domains, based upon the targeted percentage allocations for each domain.

Cognitive Level

The cognitive levels that are tested on the CFP® Certification Examination are:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension/Application
  • Analysis/Synthesis
  • Evaluation

The CFP® Certification Examination measures your critical thinking and problem-solving ability, with less emphasis on factual recall or recognition. The exam does not test textbook theories; rather, it assesses one’s ability to apply financial planning knowledge in an integrated approach to real-life financial planning situations.

Exam Content

Beginning with the March 2016 CFP® Certification Exam, a new exam blueprint will be in effect that incorporates the findings from the 2015 Job Task Analysis.

The following Major Principal Topics are based on the results of CFP Board’s 2015 Job Analysis Study.

The Major Principal Topics serve as the blueprint for the March 2016 and later administrations of the CFP® Certification Examination. Each exam question will be linked to one of the following domains, in the approximate percentages indicated following the general headings.

8 Principal Knowledge Topic Categories

  • A. Professional Conduct and Regulation (7%)
    1. A.1. CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility and Rules of Conduct
    2. A.2. CFP Board’s Financial Planning Practice Standards
    3. A.3. CFP Board’s Disciplinary Rules and Procedures
    4. A.4. Function, purpose, and regulation of financial institutions
    5. A.5. Financial services regulations and requirements
    6. A.6. Consumer protection laws
    7. A.7. Fiduciary
  • B. General Financial Planning Principles (17%)
    1. B.8. Financial planning process
    2. B.9. Financial statements
    3. B.10. Cash flow management
    4. B.11. Financing strategies
    5. B.12. Economic concepts
    6. B.13. Time value of money concepts and calculations
    7. B.14. Client and planner attitudes, values, biases and behavioral finance
    8. B.15. Principles of communication and counseling
    9. B.16. Debt management
  • C. Education Planning (6%)
    1. C.17. Education needs analysis
    2. C.18. Education savings vehicles
    3. C.19. Financial aid
    4. C.20. Gift/income tax strategies
    5. C.21. Education financing
  • D. Risk Management and Insurance Planning (12%)
    1. D.22. Principles of risk and insurance 
    2. D.23. Analysis and evaluation of risk exposures 
    3. D.24. Health insurance and health care cost management (individual) 
    4. D.25. Disability income insurance (individual) 
    5. D.26. Long‐term care insurance (individual) 
    6. D.27. Annuities
    7. D.28. Life Insurance (individual)
    8. D.29. Business uses of insurance
    9. D.30. Insurance needs analysis
    10. D.31. Insurance policy and company selection
    11. D.32. Property and casualty insurance
  • E. Investment Planning (17%)
    1. E.33. Characteristics, uses and taxation of investment vehicles 
    2. E.34. Types of investment risk
    3. E.35. Quantitative investment concepts 
    4. E.36. Measures of investment returns
    5. E.37. Asset allocation and portfolio diversification 
    6. E.38. Bond and stock valuation concepts 
    7. E.39. Portfolio development and analysis 
    8. E.40. Investment strategies 
    9. E.41. Alternative investments
  • F. Tax Planning (12%)
    1. F.42. Fundamental tax law
    2. F.43. Income tax fundamentals and calculations
    3. F.44. Characteristics and income taxation of business entities
    4. F.45. Income taxation of trusts and estates 
    5. F.46. Alternative minimum tax (AMT)
    6. F.47. Tax reduction/management techniques 
    7. F.48. Tax consequences of property transactions
    8. F.49. Passive activity and at-risk rules 
    9. F.50. Tax implications of special circumstances 
    10. F.51. Charitable/philanthropic contributions and deductions
  • G. Retirement Savings and Income Planning (17%)
    1. G.52. Retirement needs analysis
    2. G.53. Social Security and Medicare
    3. G.54. Medicaid
    4. G.55. Types of retirement plans 
    5. G.56. Qualified plan rules and options 
    6. G.57. Other tax-advantaged retirement plans 
    7. G.58. Regulatory considerations 
    8. G.59. Key factors affecting plan selection for businesses 
    9. G.60. Distribution rules and taxation
    10. G.61. Retirement income and distribution strategies
    11. G.62. Business succession planning
  • H. Estate Planning (12%)
    1. H.63. Characteristics and consequences of property titling 
    2. H.64. Strategies to transfer property
    3. H.65. Estate planning documents 
    4. H.66. Gift and estate tax compliance and tax calculation
    5. H.67. Sources for estate liquidity 
    6. H.68. Types, features, and taxation of trusts
    7. H.69. Marital deduction
    8. H.70. Intra-family and other business transfer techniques 
    9. H.71. Postmortem estate planning techniques 
    10. H.72. Estate planning for non-traditional relationships
  • Download a copy of the Principal Topics List (PDF, 68KB)

    8 Major Domains

  • 1. Establishing and Defining the Client-Planner Relationship
    1. Identify the client (e.g., individual, family, business, organization)
    2. Discuss the financial planning process
    3. Explain scope of services offered
    4. Assess and communicate ability to meet the client’s needs and expectations
    5. Identify and disclose conflicts of interest in client relationships
    6. Discuss responsibilities of parties involved
    7. Define and document the scope of the engagement
    8. Provide client disclosures
      1. Regulatory disclosure
      2. Compensation arrangements and associated potential conflicts of interest
  • 2. Gathering Information Necessary to Fulfill the Engagement
    1. Explore with the client their personal and financial needs, priorities and goals
    2. Assess the client’s level of knowledge, experience and risk tolerance
    3. Evaluate the client’s risk exposures (e.g., longevity, economic, liability, healthcare)
    4. Gather relevant data including:
      1. Summary of assets (e.g., cost basis information, beneficiary designations and titling)
      2. Summary of liabilities (e.g., balances, terms, interest rates)
      3. Summary of income and expenses
      4. Estate planning documents
      5. Education plan and resources
      6. Retirement plan information
      7. Employee benefits
      8. Government benefits (e.g., Social Security, Medicare)
      9. Special circumstances (e.g., legal documents and agreements, family situations)
      10. Tax documents
      11. Investment statements
      12. Insurance policies and documents (e.g., life, health, disability, liability)
      13. Closely held business documents (e.g., shareholder agreements)
      14. Inheritances, windfalls, and other large lump sums
  • 3. Analyzing and Evaluating the Client’s Current Financial Status
    1. Evaluate and document the strengths and vulnerabilities of the client’s current financial situation including:
      1. Statement of financial position/balance sheet
      2. Cash flow statement
      3. Capital needs analysis (e.g., insurance, retirement, major purchases)
      4. Asset protection (e.g., titling, trusts, etc.)
      5. Asset allocation
      6. Client liquidity (e.g., emergency fund)
      7. Government benefits (e.g., Social Security, Medicare)
      8. Employee benefits
      9. Investment strategies
      10. Current, deferred and future tax liabilities
      11. Estate tax liabilities
      12. Tax considerations
      13. Income types
      14. Retirement plans and strategies (e.g., qualified plans, IRAs)
      15. Accumulation planning
      16. Distribution planning
      17. Estate documents
      18. Ownership of assets
      19. Beneficiary designations
      20. Gifting strategies
      21. Executive compensation (e.g., deferred compensation, stock options, RSUs)
      22. Succession planning and exit strategy
      23. Risk management (e.g., retained risk and insurance coverage)
      24. Educational financial aid
      25. General sources of financing
      26. Special circumstances (e.g., divorce, disabilities, family dynamics, etc.)
      27. Inheritances, windfalls, and other large lump sums
      28. Charitable planning
      29. Aging and eldercare
      30. Mental capability and capacity issues
    2. Identify and use appropriate tools and techniques to conduct analyses including:
      1. Financial calculator
      2. Computer spreadsheet
      3. Financial planning software
  • 4. Developing the Recommendation(s)
    1. Evaluate alternatives to meet the client’s goals and objectives
      1. Sensitivity analysis (e.g., factors outside of client control)
    2. Consult with other professionals as appropriate
    3. Develop recommendations considering:
      1. Client attitudes, values and beliefs
      2. Behavioral finance issues (e.g., anchoring, overconfidence, recency)
      3. Their interdependence
    4. Document recommendations
  • 5. Communicating the Recommendation(s)
    1. Present financial plan and provide guidance
      1. Goals
      2. Assumptions
      3. Observations and findings
      4. Alternatives
      5. Recommendations
    2. Obtain feedback from the client and revise the recommendations as appropriate
    3. Provide documentation of plan recommendations and any additional disclosures
    4. Verify client acceptance of recommendations
  • 6. Implementing the Recommendation(s)
    1. Create a prioritized implementation plan with timeline
    2. Directly or indirectly implement the recommendations
    3. Coordinate and share information, as authorized, with others
    4. Define monitoring responsibilities with the client (e.g., explain what will be monitored, frequency of monitoring, communication method(s))
  • 7. Monitoring the Recommendation(s)
    1. Discuss and evaluate changes in the client’s personal circumstances (e.g., aging issues, change in employment)
    2. Review the performance and progress of the plan
    3. Review and evaluate changes in the legal, tax and economic environments
    4. Make recommendations to accommodate changed circumstances
    5. Review scope of work and redefine engagement as appropriate
    6. Provide ongoing client support (e.g., guidance, education)
  • 8. Practicing within Professional and Regulatory Standards
    1. Adhere to CFP Board's Standards of Professional Conduct
    2. Manage practice risk (e.g., documentation, monitor client noncompliance with recommendations)
    3. Maintain awareness of and comply with regulatory and legal guidelines

Download the Exam Job Task Domains (PDF, 66KB)

Provided Exam Tax Tables

The tax tables provided in all exam booklets for the CFP® Certification Examination are made available for download and review prior to the exam testing window. This information is also available on screen, as an exhibit during the exam.

Download the Tax Tables for the March 2015 CFP® Exam (PDF, 351 KB)

Beginning in March 2014, the Spring administration of the CFP® Certification Examination will utilize rates, tables and applicable tax law of the prior year. The Summer administration of the exam utilizes the current year’s tax rates, tables and applicable tax law.

The March 2014 administration of the CFP® Certification Examination will utilize 2013 tax law. The July and November 2014 exam will utilize 2014 tax law.

Scoring and Exam Results

The CFP® Certification Examination is a criterion referenced, pass or fail exam.

The CFP® exam is scored based upon a minimum standard, or criterion, established by CFP® professionals in formal process known as Standards Setting. In the Standard Setting, a representative group of CFP® professionals serve as Subject Matter Experts. Testing experts, known as psychometricians, lead a formal Standard Setting process and conduct the statistical analyses necessary to assure the exam is reliable, valid and legally defensible.  

A Standards Setting is completed after each Job Analysis, to establish a cut score for passing the exam. 

With the computer-based exam, the entire item-bank of exam questions is calibrated to the same scale. This enables a cut score, comparable to the cut established in the Standard Setting, to be computed pre-administration, and the reporting of preliminary pass/fail results immediately upon completion of the exam. 

Candidates receive “preliminary” pass/fail exam results upon completion of the exam at the testing site.  Candidates who do not pass, additionally receive a diagnostic report of their exam performance across the Principle Topics, with indications of relative strengths and weaknesses.  

Candidates are notified approximately 3 weeks following the close of the testing window to confirm official results.

CFP Board does not disclose exam results over the phone, email or by fax.

Exam Statistics

Exam Dates


Most Recent Exam:
CFP® Certification Examination
November 17–21, 2015

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The 2013 Household Financial Planning Survey shows that those with a financial plan feel more confident and report more success managing money, savings & investments than those who have not.

Employment for personal financial advisors is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In a March 2012 survey of American consumers, 60% indicated they would benefit from the counsel of a financial planner or advisor.

If you hold one of several degrees, licenses or credentials, you can take the CFP® Exam after completing a single capstone course.

Classroom or online learning? Full-time or part-time studies? There are CFP Board-Registered Programs designed to meet your needs. 

Achieve the certification that is rapidly becoming the industry standard: CFP® certification.

Professionals who have already earned their CFP® certification have enjoyed an average income increase of 30%.

Demand for personal financial advisors is expected to grow 41% by 2016, according to Money Magazine and

More clients who work with a CFP® professional are satisfied or very satisfied, compared those who work with an advisor without certification.

If you're up for the challenge of helping people achieve their financial goals, financial planning is the career for you.