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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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 requirement
. Candidates 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 $50 withdrawal fee applies.
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 CBT tutorial, available at no cost to candidates.
The exam consists of two 3-hour sessions separated by a scheduled 30-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
As a general policy, the CFP® Certification Examination tests current tax law. However, changes signed into law less than 6 months prior to an examination administration date are not tested. This means the March exam window includes questions based upon the previous year's tax law, and the July and November exam windows are based upon the current year tax law. A document with the tax tables and other indexed numbers provided to examinees with the exam booklets, with an indication of the exam administration(s) to which it applies, is available for download. This information is also available on screen, as an exhibit during the exam.
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.
The cognitive levels that are tested on the CFP® Certification Examination are:
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.
The following Job Task Domains are based on the results of CFP Board’s 2009 Job Analysis Study.
The Job Task Domains serve as the blueprint for the March 2012 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.
The Job Task Domains also represent subject topics that CFP Board accepts for continuing education credit, effective January 2012.
8 Major Domains
Download a copy of the Principal Topics list (PDF, 68KB)
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.
Download the Tax Tables for the March 2014 CFP® Exam (PDF, 81 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 (SMEs). 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 core for passing the exam.
With CBT exams, 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.
Recorded Webinar — The CFP® Exam: Interpreting Your Exam Results and Advice to Re-Takers