How Hard is the CFP® Exam?

By: Kaplan Financial Education
March 26, 2021

In 2020, just over 7,000 individuals sat for the CFP® exam in the March, July/September, and November exam windows combined. If you are planning to sit for the CFP® certification exam in the near future, you’re probably wondering how big of a challenge you’re about to face. We’ve put together this resource as an all-inclusive answer source for your questions about the difficulty of the CFP® exam...and how to improve your odds of success.


CFP® Exam Pass Rate

The overall pass rate for the CFP® exam in 2020 was 63%. That pass rate has remained relatively consistent since CFP Board introduced a new exam blueprint prior to the March 2016 CFP® exam. The new blueprint was based on the 8 Principal Knowledge Topics that were defined in CFP Board’s 2015 Job Task Analysis Study.

CFP® Exam Topics

The topics tested on the CFP® exam are essentially CFP Board’s 8 Principal Knowledge Topic Categories. Every question you face will directly tie back to one of these eight topics. According to CFP Board, the topic categories, and their weight on the exam, can be broken down as follows:

Professional Conduct and Regulation7%
General Principles of Financial Planning17%
Education Planning6%
Risk Management and Insurance Planning12%
Investment Planning17%
Tax Planning12%
Retirement Savings and Income Planning17%
Estate Planning12%

As you can see, there’s no single topic that dominates the CFP® exam curriculum. The test is truly designed to assess your understanding across all of the Principle Knowledge Topic Categories. But with three of the topics, at 17% each, collectively making up over 50% of the exam, it is essential you have a firm grasp on those three topics to be successful. In addition, the exam contains two case studies that comprise 20% of the 170 multiple-choice questions.

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CFP® Exam Study Tips—How to Increase Your Odds of Success

The CFP® exam is not easy. It requires a significant investment of time to be successful. But most of the time, failure on the exam is the result of poor preparation. Investing in exam preparation is a way to avoid that. In addition, these tips will help you develop the knowledge and confidence necessary to pass the CFP ® exam.

  • Put in the study time: CFP Board says candidates should spend at least 250 hours preparing studying. Don’t take this suggestion lightly. You have a lot of material to cover. Starting early will help ensure you leave yourself enough time to master it.
  • Don’t rely on cramming: Candidates who do not manage to dedicate enough time to prepare for the exam might be tempted to resort to cramming. Time and time again, it’s been proven that the best last minute exam prep activities are light review and a good night’s sleep. Cramming is not in the recipe for CFP® exam success.
  • Develop and follow a study plan: To ensure you dedicate yourself to proper preparation for the exam, we recommend developing and following a study plan. This will help you spread the curriculum over the time you have available to study and game plan to ensure you are giving the right amount of focus to the right topics.
  • Learn how to apply your knowledge to real life scenarios: If you are relying on memorization of vocabulary to get through the CFP® exam with a passing score, you’re going to be in for an unpleasant surprise. It’s not enough to be able to recall definitions. The CFP® exam tests your ability to perform the tasks expected of someone who holds the credential. So you need to know how to apply what you know to scenarios you will actually encounter when serving clients.
  • Practice, practice, practice: There is no better way to build your confidence ahead of the CFP® exam than by doing practice questions. This type of practice helps you truly assess your comprehension of critical concepts, identify and address weaknesses, and get comfortable answering the kinds of questions you’ll face on exam day.


Ensure you are prepared for exam day with the College for Financial Planning®—a Kaplan Company's CFP® exam prep review. Get the expert instruction and education you need to pass the exam with confidence. 

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.