Effective Study Tips I Used To Pass the CFP® Exam

by RJ

in Self Improvement

74907741_c2d59deb64Last Tuesday, was a very special day for me.  When I got into the office, I saw I had a large envelope waiting for me. Right away I knew what it was – my results from the CFP® or certified financial planner exam.

A lot of thoughts rushed through my head once I saw that envelope. Including the classes to sit for the exam, I had studied for about 18 months.

Had the long process of studying for the exam finally come to an end? If I had failed, would I take the exam again in March?

Luckily, once I picked up the envelope I could read through the plastic where my name and address had been. In big bold leaders, I saw the words “Congratulations!

I quickly ran upstairs to my desk, tore open the envelope and reality finally set in. After 18 months, I had passed the exam. It was over!

I gave a classic Michael Jordan fist pump, might have even yelled a little, and then called to tell my wife and parents the great news.

Passing the CFP Exam®

Passing the CFP® exam, is the biggest accomplishment of my academic career. I never put much work into high school or college. I was fine with showing up and getting a B or C.

I didn’t consider myself to have good or bad study habits because I never studied. In order to pass this exam, I had to learn not only about financial planning but about becoming an effective leaner.

The rest of this post is a detailed guide of my how I studied. Even for anyone not taking any exams, there are still great techniques I found that can help you accelerate your learning.

Materials Checklist

I had a checklist of what I needed before I began. To make sure I would never have to search for something once I began studying, I organized the following items:

  1. Full water
  2. Highlighters
  3. Pens
  4. Pencils
  5. Scratch paper
  6. Calculator

Pre-Study Routine

Before I even picked up my book, this is what I did to get my mind ready to study:

  1. Breathing routine – 3 minutes – I went through a few basic breathing exercises to relax my mind. I did the following breathing exercises in order: breathe of fire, 4, 7, 8, breath, and slowly inhaled and exhaled for about a minute.
  2. Visualization – 1 -2 minutes – I visualized passing the exam. In my mind, I would open an envelope, take out a sheet a paper, and see the words congratulations on top. I would then try as hard as I can to imagine the feeling of passing the exam.  I would visualize the benefits of passing the exam, including an increase in income, more control of my time, and time to pursue other projects.
  3. Recalling a Moment of Success -  1 minute – In my mind, I would think back to a specific moment of success in my life. As soon as I had a memory, I  tried to recreate how I felt during that moment and what events led up to it as best as I could. Then, I would repeat the word – determination. This was my trigger word. Since everything I have ever done in my life has been because of determination.
  4. Turn on Classical Music – I would go to last.fm and turn on classical music station.

Efficient and Effective Learning Techniques

I could now open my books. I was in a great state of mind to take in new material.

To get as much information into my mind as possible without burning out, I developed a simple procedure of how I studied. I went through this routine twice in the morning and four times at night.

  1. Set Timer – Set a timer for 25 minutes
  2. Set Goal – Write one sentence on what I wish to learn in the next 25 minutes.
  3. Study - Studied for 25 minutes.
  4. Break – After 25 minutes, I would take a five-minute break. Which included things such as going to bathroom,  stepping outside if it was a nice day, splash my face with some cold water, doing very light exercises or stretches.

More Effective Study Tips

My goal was to never be just reading and rereading material. I always tried to involve as many senses as I could in the learning process. Here are a few tricks I used:

  1. Used Highlighters – I went through a few packs of highlighters while studying. If I didn’t have a highlighter, I made sure I underlined important material with a pen.
  2. Read Out Loud - I read flashcards and any material I was having trouble with out loud. Now I was reading, speaking, and hearing material instead of just reading.
  3. Practice Tests – I took as many practice tests as I could. My goal was to get a 100% on every practice tests, even if it meant retaking the test multiple times.
  4. Fake Lecture - I would stand up in my room and pretend I was lecturing to a group of students sitting on the couch. While this was embarrassing the few times I got walked in on, I felt that since I was teaching the material I had to really grasp the subject.
  5. No Caffeine – Since I wasn’t allowed to bring any caffeine into the exam, I knew I had to find away to study without it.
  6. Quizzes – After each page, I would develop a short quiz on the material. Usually just fill in the blanks, definitions, and such. After reading and highlighting through the material, I would take the quiz. If I had succeeded, I would place a check mark on the page to let myself know I understood the material. If I got any of the questions wrong, I didn’t place a check mark on the page. This way I was never wasting time, going over material I already knew.


I only had three hours a day to study. I needed to maximize the time I had. The techniques turned me into an efficient and effective learner. I owe a lot of these techniques to a blog I recently discovered, called Study Hacks. A highly recommended resource for anyone who wants to improve their learning.

At the age of 25, I had to learn how to learn. A bit embarrassing to say, knowing that I just got out of about 16 years of traditional education. However, without these techniques I would not have passed this exam.

In the comments, please mention any effective exam study tips you have used in the past.

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KenNo Gravatar January 27, 2010 at 9:42 pm

What always workedfor me was quiet places where I could focus..campus library was always my favorite location. Congratulations on passing the exam! Did you have to have X hours of college courses before taking it? OR did you graduate from a CFP program?

RJNo Gravatar January 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

@ Ken

I went through American College CFP Program. Took 6 courses. All Self study.

KenNo Gravatar January 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Thanks for the info…have a good weekend.
.-= Ken´s last blog ..experiment =-.

PhillyFinAdvNo Gravatar February 26, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Hey there,
I’m thinking about taking the same program to begin preparing to become a CFP as well. Can you tell me whether you used the monthly pay option they’re advertising which gives you up to 5 months to study for each course? If you did, and you completed the entire program within 18 mos as you describe, did you still have to pay for the last 6 months of time? I’m trying to get in touch with the American College help desk to ask but today is one of the last days of a special and the phone lines are all tied up.

ScottNo Gravatar March 23, 2010 at 1:17 am

Just took the exam over the weekend and I feel pretty decent. I’m a little worried because they say if you feel even remotely good, you probably failed. I studied for about 5 months doing review and probably spent a good 400 hours total of study time. How did you feel after walking out of the exam?

RJNo Gravatar March 23, 2010 at 9:06 am


Congrats on finishing the exam. If you’re anything like me, your mind can take a nice break now.

When I was walking out of the exam, I remember thinking that the exam was really hard but I wasn’t surprised at the difficulty. It was exactly what I expected.

The hardest part now is waiting. Good luck!

BlakeNo Gravatar April 9, 2010 at 11:49 am

Hey Scott. I took the March 210 as well. Good luck to ya…. Sometimes I think I feel good about it, and sometimes I think theres no way. I guess we’ll find out soon.

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