5 Lessons from Failing the CFP® Exam

This isn’t a post I wanted to write.

I was planning on the opposite — a how-to guide on nailing the exam on my first try as a career changer.

I visualized the “preliminary pass” notification on my computer screen.

I imagined texting friends and family the good news.

However, passing the CFP® exam didn’t happen.

There’s no doubt about it — failing makes you feel unworthy, inadequate, and undeserving.

But you shouldn’t quit.

Whether it's your first or last attempt, avoiding my mistakes may catapult you into the passing range.

1. Don’t attempt it alone.

The weeks leading up to the exam are rough.

Your partner or family will try to be supportive.

But they won’t understand when you cry after a practice test.

They may not get why you are always mumbling formulas.

Or swearing at the financial calculator.

Accountability groups do.

Whether you join a Facebook Group (shout-out to Jacob for ours!), or are active in forums — you need support from other test takers.

My journey would have been 10 times harder without my mine. And I should have relied on them more from the beginning.

Lamenting over a difficult problem on your own isn’t the most efficient use of time. Plenty of folks are more than happy to help, so don’t be afraid to ask.

2. Don’t neglect your stronger areas.

After our live review in February, everyone felt overwhelmed.

With only five weeks until the exam, we had to focus on weak spots. This meant less time for investing and insurance — my two strongest areas.

When you fail the CFP® exam, they email you a preliminary score report.

High is good, medium is passing, and low is failing.  

  I was shocked when I opened my report:

  • Education planning – medium
  • Estate planning – medium
  • General principles – medium
  • Investment planning – low
  • Professional conduct & regulation – medium
  • Tax planning – low
  • Retirement savings & income planning – medium
  • Risk management & insurance planning – medium


I did some digging in the CFP Board’s Candidate forum. Failing is unlikely if you score medium in each section, but you won’t pass with a low score in any single area.

Lesson learned? Don’t take your strengths for granted.

You need to be rock solid in all areas to pass.

3. Treat self-care as part of your study plan.

There is no way around it — studying for the CFP® exam will take a minimum of 200 – 400 hours.

It may be tempting to skip a gym session or fuel your late nights with junk food, but it will only make things harder.

Your body needs sleep, nutritious food, water, and exercise to perform. Give yourself the best chance of passing by treating your body right.

I skipped exercising several days and paid for it with extra stress.

4. Other people’s practice test scores don’t matter.  

Protect your energy in the weeks leading up to the exam.

Facebook Groups and forums will be full of folks trying to predict their odds of passing by comparing practice scores.

It’s normal to wonder if you are on track.

But don’t allow it to derail your personal study plan.

Reading about others scoring in the 70s and 80s when I was scoring in the 50s and 60s sent me into a serious funk.

I’m talking tears + at least two emotional breakdowns (ask my sister!)

It’s impossible to know how much time I wasted worrying about other people’s practice test scores. And undoubtedly, that energy could have been spent elsewhere.

5. There is no shame in failing on your first attempt.

There’s a certain isolation that comes from failing — especially when it seems like everyone else is celebrating their success.

The truth is, nearly 1,000 others are feeling just as defeated right now.

1,000 others who also have to face colleagues, family, and friends to share the bad news.

1,000 social media accounts that may fall eerily silent on the afternoon of the exam.

Allow me to break that silence to say you are not alone.

What feels like a professional catastrophe is merely a small setback.

This isn’t the time for beating yourself up, questioning your career path, or quitting.   

Only a fraction of financial advisors have earned the CFP® marks.

You and I will be among them.

But first, we need to crush the next CFP® exam.     

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Discussions — 8 Responses

  • Laura March 29, 2018 on 1:31 am

    You’ll nail it next time! And it is true that getting a low score in your “strong” area isn’t uncommon. Retirement was my strongest area and my lowest score because it got less review time.

  • Steph March 30, 2018 on 10:09 am

    This explains why your blog has been quiet! It sounds like you’ve had a crazy stressful last few months.
    Don’t get discouraged! Those exams are impossible. You’ll rock the next one!

  • Tiffany Lipscomb April 5, 2018 on 12:56 pm

    I love this Kate. This took so much courage and resilience. I’m so grateful to have you as a friend and colleague.

  • Stock Street April 16, 2018 on 4:59 am

    I know how hard that test this! I didn’t take it, but I was studying for it and taking classes back when I was advising. I took four classes and had two left before I could sit for the exam, and I was dreading taking it. Good for you for sitting for it and definitely give it another try!

  • Ryan May 9, 2018 on 12:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I teach a CFP Preparation class and I am sharing this article with all of them as they start working on the July exam.

    You’ll get it next time!

  • CFP Crusher July 18, 2018 on 2:47 pm

    I was Fortunate enough to have received a preliminary pass on the July exam. I hope you passed this go around! I would add to your list of tips to make sure to do your practice tests early in the morning and to do them timed. You’ve got just over 2 minutes per question. Do your mock case exams on different days but also early in the morning and timed. Give yourself 60 minutes. Since you take the test at 7:30 or 8am 8n the morning you better be ready for the marathon. Also, don’t get mired in a question, they are all equally weighted so don’t miss the easy ones because you ran out of time focusing on the harder, longer questions. Do this, and you shall pass.

  • Archie July 18, 2018 on 3:43 pm

    Thank you for posting this! Obviously I found it because I’m searching the web looking for anything to explain why I failed. This is nice consolation.

  • MrMoneyBanks October 29, 2018 on 11:19 am

    Oh gosh I’m sweating like a pig just thinking about my last set of professional exams. They were darn hard! You’ve just gotta pick yourself up and give it another go. I found that if I just focussed on question-practice I did a lot better than trying to mow my way through the text books


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