Transition to Computer-based Testing Platform for CFP® Certification Examination

CFPBack in early January, CFP Board announced that it is transitioning to a computer-based testing platform for its CFP® Certification Examination, offering candidates more accessibility to complete initial certification requirements. The move to computer-based testing (CBT) will be effective with the November 2014 exam. The final paper-based exam will be administered this July (July 18-19, 2014).

These changes will obviously affect our PFP students who are planning to sit for the CFP® Certification Examination in November and beyond. For those students, as well as for the veteran CFP® professionals, a brief look at the history of the exam and how it has evolved over time might be interesting.

College for Financial Planning originally created the first the 6-subject serial CFP examinations in the early 1970s. In 1987 the College opened this serial exam to candidates from schools other than the College, with 24 institutions signing up in that first year. That same year the College conducted a job analysis study, polling more than 2,000 industry practitioners on the topics and tasks used in the financial planning field. The first continuing education requirements and the establishment of the original model curriculum followed in short order, and by 1989 the Board of Examiners began planning for the creation of a single, comprehensive examination, convening six subject-matter panels to review the list of examination topics to be covered.

In 1991 the CFP Board introduced a comprehensive 2-day, 10-hour CFP® Certification Examination, phasing out the original six part serial-format over the next three years. The new exam sought to test an individuals’ ability to integrate and apply the knowledge gained from the financial planning curriculum, defined by the 1987 job analysis study.” The November 1992 IBCFP Bulletin put it clearly: “the purpose of the examination has changed from educational testing to a measure of competence to practice financial planning.” The Board’s Executive Director hailed the new unified exam as a “milestone…the process will now be similar to the bar…and the CPA exam.” The modern CFP exam was born.

CFP Board has conducted job analysis studies every five years since 1994 to confirm that the CFP® Exam continues to identify the important tasks performed by financial planners and to assess the knowledge and skills needed to perform these tasks. A new exam blueprint, based on the results of CFP Board’s 2009 Job Analysis Study, was first deployed in the March, 2012 examination. Here each exam question was linked to one of the content areas identified in a newly formed list of Job Task Domains.

This brings us all the way to 2014. CFP Board’s recently announced changes to the structure of the CFP® Certification Examination will certainly bring about many questions from both those planning to take the exam as well as industry veterans. The Board points out that among the benefits of computer-based testing is that exam-takers will immediately have access to preliminary – though unofficial – results of their exams. Official results will be available within 1-2 weeks versus the current 5 weeks. Additional benefits of computer-based testing include:

  • Convenient and Comprehensive One-Day Exam 
  • Expanded Number of Testing Dates 
  • Increased Number of Testing Sites
  • Best Possible Exam Experience 
  • Online Scheduling

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is whether the exam will be equally rigorous. According to CFP Board, “the CBT exam maintains the same content detailed in the current exam blueprint, representing the requisite knowledge and abilities to deliver financial planning services to clients. The science of testing was used to assure that the performance level required to pass the 6-hour computer-based exam is the same as the performance level required to pass the current 10-hour paper-and-pencil exam.”

Moving forward, it will be interesting to track the results from the new computer-based exam as well as the number of candidates sitting for the CFP® exam, which has decreased in recent years. Students should also expect the requirements of long hours of study time necessary to properly prepare for the exam to continue. The current study recommendation is 200-300 hours, and at this point there is no evidence to suggest this will change.

No doubt, there will be continuous debate on the new exam format versus the “old days” and this is always a great way for veteran practitioners to dialogue with our students and new professionals – though the history of the exam is really a history of constant evolution and refinement. We should also take thought to complement all of those who have passed this difficult examination, regardless of iteration or date taken, and be thankful that we have many more new professionals and students who are on their way to taking the exam and becoming certified.

Read answers to FAQs abount the computer-based exam

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