5 Reasons Why People Fail the CFP® Exam

By: Kaplan Financial Education
March 30, 2021
Disappointed man who just found out he failed the CFP exam

The CFP® exam is challenging...the overall pass rate in 2019 was just 62 percent. If you failed the exam, there are several things you can do to increase your chances of passing the next time. One helpful CFP® exam retake strategy that is often overlooked is taking time to reflect on why you were not successful.

Understanding the reasons you failed the CFP® exam will help you avoid the same pitfalls and manage your time more efficiently during your next attempt. Here are five reasons we commonly see for why people fail the CFP® exam.

1. Failed to study enough hours

Without a doubt, the most common reason we encounter is simply not studying enough. Getting CFP® exam-ready requires a large time commitment. CFP Board recommends you spend at least 250 hours studying for the exam. While that sounds overwhelming, the time goes pretty quickly between pre-study, the Candidate Handbook, required education courses, question bank time, review, practice exams, and your own preparations.

It’s important to think of preparing for the CFP® exam like training for a marathon. It’s not a situation where you can sprint (or cram). There’s just too much to learn, and you’ll need to be able to apply it to case studies. To be properly prepared for the exam, you need to have the space in your life to dedicate the necessary hours to study. You can find more information about how to make time here

2. Inefficient study plan

Not only is dedicating enough hours crucial to your success on the CFP® exam, but you also should create a strategic study plan. Spending too much or too little time on any one activity can be detrimental to your preparations.

We recommend you create your study plan based off the exam weighting. CFP Board updates the weighting based on regular job task analyses, so it’s good to verify what the weighting is for the exam you are taking. While it is tempting to start off by studying the most heavily weighted topics in depth, we recommend you learn the basics of each category first. Then work deeper into the categories based on weight and your familiarity, so you can absorb more detail and application.

Preparing for the CFP® exam? Download this free eBook to learn how to create a CFP® exam study plan that works for you.

3.  Focused on memorization and not learning

Many individuals who take the CFP® exam have already gone through a few rounds of exams for insurance and securities licensing. Sometimes this sets false expectations of what the CFP® exam is really going to be like. While insurance and securities licensing exams both heavily focus on memorization, the CFP® exam is all about applying knowledge to real situations you could encounter on the job.

The CFP® exam includes two important case studies worth 20% of the exam’s total questions. They require you to analyze a hypothetical client situation and determine the best next steps. Memorization alone won’t cut it in this section. You need mastery of the material and the ability to apply your knowledge to the given client information and scenarios to do well.

4. Too much cramming right before the exam

Studying too hard the day before the exam can really hinder exam-day performance. A grueling day before the exam and a poor night’s sleep will leave you mentally tired walking into the exam hall. Tired candidates are more likely to make mistakes.

Try to be at your mental peak for the exam. We recommend you use the day before the exam to reread some of the more wordy areas of the curriculum, like Ethics. Do not take full practice exams the day before, which can mentally drain you. Few people get a particularly great night’s sleep before an exam, so make sure you get into a good sleep pattern the week leading up to the exam. That rest, along with some exercise and relaxation, will help you get through exam day in good form.

5. Not enough practice

Even with good technical knowledge, you can still fail the CFP® exam if you struggle to apply the knowledge to the exam questions. The more you practice, the more familiar you will become with how to apply your knowledge. In addition, using questions at the same difficulty level as the actual exam will help you identify whether you have truly mastered a particular domain.

You should attempt and review the solutions of the following questions before taking the real CFP® exam:

  • Prep provider end-of-chapter questions
  • Prep provider question bank quizzes
  • Prep provider practice exams
  • CFP Board practice exams

The more you practice questions before the exam, the more opportunity you have to identify mistakes you made and why you made them. This will prevent you from making similar mistakes in the real exam.

If you are a retake candidate, we recommend you concentrate heavily on practice questions in your next attempt. We strongly suggest attending a review course as well, so you can better identify where key gaps in your knowledge remain. Once you identify your gaps, you can get some additional help from experienced instructors on how to break down the questions and apply proven exam techniques to your exam strategy.

Now that you know the most common reasons people fail the CFP® exam, ensure that you pass with Kaplan Financial Education. Choose a CFP® exam prep package that suits your study needs now.

Free eBook: Create a CFP® Exam Study Plan That Works

Preparing for the CFP® exam can be a daunting task. Making a CFP® exam study plan is the best way to ensure you use your study time efficiently and are ready to pass on test day. Download this free eBook to learn how to create a CFP® exam study plan that works for you.