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Certification Tips

BU and Keir Education paired up on a panel on “How to Slay the CFP Exam”

I told my personal story of studying and passing the CFP exam in 2008 and Henrietta Nye went through the benefits and logistics of Keir’s live review options.

Questions asked:

Timing – How long to study and when to start:

I recommend to start studying 2.5-3 months prior to the exam date. I tried to study 1-2 hours per day during the week and more on the weekends. I had an amazing boss at the time who would just stop giving me work to do after 3:00 and said “well, if you don’t have anything else to do, I guess you should study!” So that’s what I did. Usually I would study for an hour or so during the work day and stay a little while after work when the office was quiet. On the weekends, I would go into the office on Saturday morning and study for 3-4 hours and then I’d hit the gym to blow off some stem. Then I would enjoy the rest of the day. I avoided having too many drinks on the weekends and staying out late so that I would be sure to be functional the next day. I would try to get in 2-3 more hours on Sunday, usually in the afternoon. The important thing is to find a space that works for you. I could not study at home – too many distractions. My dog wanted attention, the laundry was calling my name, and I would suddenly get the urge to fold laundry. The office worked well for me as a study space because it was quiet (after hours and on the weekends) and I was not tempted to do my actual “work” during that time. I could zone in and focus on the materials.

Getting loved ones on board:

It is likely that your loved ones will not understand that you truly will be studying for 3 months straight. Many of your friends and family members will not have to endure any sort of 7 hour certification exam and will not understand what goes into it. Needless to say, a rigorous 3-month long study schedule really cramped my style. My friends didn’t understand why this test was consuming me and why I kept turning them down for happy hour and why on Earth I always went home by 10 pm on Saturday night! My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) had a hard time with it as well. He was used to hanging out with me much more often and felt alone and ignored. In hindsight, I would have communicated more upfront about the exam and how strenuous my schedule would be. I assured all of them on many occasions that this was only temporary (I’d be cool again in a mere 3 months!) and it was very important to me and my career aspirations.

Do I need a review course?

YES! A review course is essential for getting back in front of all of the material and working with a professor who can give you some insider tips and tricks. There are two types of live review options – online and in person. The in person ones are usually over a weekend or a couple of weekends. The online version is a bit more spread out – this is the version I chose. When it came time for my online review course, I had been through all of the study materials once. The review course was online and it was 3-weeks long, 3 days a week for 2 hours each session. They were scheduled times, so you had to be online at certain times with a live teacher. You could as questions and interact just like a real classroom. The extra benefit was that these classes were recorded, so I could go back and watch them anytime if I needed a refresher or was having trouble in a particular area. I planned my studying from then on around the review topics. After we went through a review class, I would complete all of the sample exam questions on that topic. If I found that I was struggling, I would re-read all the material or re-watch the review session and try the questions again until I felt comfortable and was getting them right. The teacher was awesome at identifying common areas where people trip up on the exam and how to avoid them.

Is it better to work in the field for a while instead of taking it right out of school?

Up to you – I can see benefits both ways. If you take it right out of school, you are still in “student” mode and may have better study habits. If you have a few years of experience, you will have more “real world” perspective and real cases to apply the material to (with the bonus of a higher maturity level). The important this is that you have to be ready for the commitment. Three months of studying and ignoring the rest of your life is serious stuff. Don’t start down the path if you are not ready for it.

Tips for remembering topics or formulas you struggle with:

I personally remember things better if I have written them down by hand. Every topic that I struggled with, I would write out the chapters on paper to help solidify them in my brain. Figure out what this looks like for you. Maybe you remember things better if you hear them as opposed to read them, or need a graphic to associate with the material. Maybe you need to record yourself reading the chapters or listen to the re-plays of the online reviews while you get ready in the morning. Figure out what works for you. I also made sure I dedicated time to going through the questions on tough subject areas multiple times. I am also a big fan of the “brain dump”. I wrote down all of the tricky formulas and tidbits that I struggled with on a piece of paper, re-copied it several times, and stared at it before going into the exam. Right when I had access to a pen and paper, I wrote down everything I could remember just as it had been laid out on the sheet. This allowed me to stop trying so hard to remember these things and focus on the question in front of me. When I needed to reference my “brain dump”, it was right there at my side.

Mastering the practice exam questions:

In the days and weeks leading up to the exam, I really focused on the questions and practice case studies – they are really the key to the exam. Knowing how the questions will be asked and where they are trying to trip you up is very important. One attendee brought up that she thought that she was memorizing the questions instead of actually mastering the concept. If this is the case for you, make sure you know WHY you are answering the question correctly and understand the underlying concept instead of just recognizing the answer.

How to sit through that much studying:

I really had to take care of myself during this process. You work a full-time job, plus studying for 1-3 hours a day is hard on your body. I focused on exercising for at least 30 minutes each day, eating for fuel, and getting enough sleep. I really wanted to be at my best. During my marathon study sessions (usually 3-4 hours) I would get up every 30-45 minutes to stretch, jog in place, or do some jumping jacks. It might be helpful to get outside for 10-15 minutes to get some fresh air and clear your head. Anytime your mind starts to wander, it’s best to stand up and regroup for a bit.

Having the CFP has definitely been worth it. It gives you a higher sense of credibility and opens doors with potential employers, builds your personal knowledge base, and gives you something to stand on when talking to clients. It is a bear to go through, but once you’ve conquered it, you’ll be in a much better position to move forward in your career.

Jamie Bosse, CFP®