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Why college students shy away from CFP exam

As I cram for the test, I feel their pain

Sep 23, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

By Mary Beth Franklin

Last month, my colleague Mark Schoeff filed a story about a recent survey showing that more than half of college students who had completed financial planning coursework at three universities had decided not to sit for the national exam that would qualify them as certified planners.

Apparently, many felt the test is too hard. I feel their pain.

After completing seven college-level courses at the University of Virginia earlier this year, I was proud to be awarded a certificate in Certified Financial Planning.

I thought balancing work and school was a challenge, but as I am half way through the process of cramming for the CFP exam in November, I realized that this is the hard part.

I knew I needed a review course to prepare for the rigorous two-day, 10-hour exam. I had heard good things about several review programs including Keir, Zahn and Dalton. By process of elimination, I chose the Dalton Review because it offered an in-person review class in the Washington, DC area where I live. (So did the Zahn course but its schedule conflicted with an out-of-town wedding that I plan to attend).

After registering for the course on-line and forking over the $1,195 payment, I received a box in the mail that included five “pre-study booklets” as well as classroom materials. I was surprised by how much work I was expected to complete before I would be ready for the classroom review in mid-October.

“Your first goal should be to work through all of the pre-study materials before attending the Review,” the accompanying letter stated. “You will need to study about 100 to 125 hours for all five pre-study booklets.” Wow!

The letter included helpful hints about making flashcards for any material you don't recognize or don't remember from previous courses. It urged review participants to answer all of the exam questions that are integrated into the study notes and if you miss one, make a flashcard.

At the end of each lesson, work though the review questions, the instruction said. Make a flashcard for any review question you missed.

Do you see a pattern here?

I've been on about a dozen airplanes since the box of doom arrived in late August. I've used my travel time to work my way through the textbooks and to create flashcards. I think I'm up to about 200 cards and I still have two books to go!

I'm currently slogging through the Investment Planning pre-study book that is chock full of mathematical equations containing Greek symbols. This is my biggest challenge yet. The only Greek symbols I ever saw in college were on fraternity and sorority houses. My last math course was in 1972 when I graduated from high school.

But, wait, there's more.

“You also have access to 15 hours of pre-study lectures and all reviews that have previously been recorded,” the instructions continued. “After working through the pre-study materials, you will be ready to attend the review course.” Oh joy!

“After attending the review, you should plan on working through the Examiner Test Bank questions and study guide.” The test bank contains approximately 1,500 questions that are a combination of knowledge-based and application-type questions.

And the final words of wisdom: “Take the week of the exam off from work and spend it doing nothing but working through problems and questions.”

I know this litany of instructions and warnings come as no surprise to many InvestmentNews readers who have gone through this arduous process. And I admire all those who have passed the exam. About 6,000 people take the CFP exam annually. It has a 55% pass rate.

I'm starting to think those college kids that decided to give this exam a pass are smarter than I thought. Wish me luck. I'll need it.


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