The CFP Board has finally ditched pencil and paper in favor of keyboards and computer screens for its certification exam.

The board says it has made its exams more convenient and efficient for applicants by switching to computer-based testing. Though digital, it is not done online -- applicants still have to sit before a terminal in a proctored exam center.

One of the biggest improvements as a result of the format change is that candidates will receive preliminary, unofficial results before they leave the testing center, with official results posted online 10 days after.


CFP Board officials noted there were 2,147 applicants for the exam, the highest in two years, and it had a 66% pass rate. The exam is still being conducted in a multiple-choice format.

Being able to get instant results is the best innovation of a computerized exam, says Eve Kaplan, head of Kaplan Financial Advisors in Berkeley Heights, N.J., who took the exam a decade ago.

“I passed on my first attempt, but I had to wait up to a month before I got the results,” she says. “It was kind of a drag. So it’s great to know right away, except for those glum faces when exiting. But it’s good to know a lot sooner if you need to start preparing again.”


The CFP Board’s change will make the exam more relatable to younger advisors, says Lee Giobbie, a Philadelphia-based financial advisor with Janney Montgomery Scott who earned the CFP title five years ago, in addition to CFA, RIS and CLTC designations.

“It’s great they are moving forward and joining the latest century, so to speak,” Giobbie says. “As long as they are continuing to test people to the same caliber as what they would do with pen and paper.”

Board officials say the process to develop a rigorous and legally-sound exam for a computer format was thorough and could not be rushed.

“Moving to the computer-based testing format has been a priority,” says Isabelle Gonthier, Director of Examinations at the CFP Board. “We’ve been working on this transition for the last five years, and had to ensure we had all the structure and content required to make this important move.”

According to Gonthier there were added complications in digitizing the exam. “The number of questions required to deliver computer-based testing, based on the five-day testing window and security requirements, is significantly higher than paper-based format. The development of items is a comprehensive and costly process to ensure that the exam is valid, reliable and legally defensible.”


Giobbie adds that he expects the CFP Board’s decision to switch to computerized tests will force other high-end designation providers to follow suit. “It’s well needed,” he says.

Kaplan says that a computerized CFP exam is another example of how the industry is constantly being changed by technology, challenging advisors to keep learning long after the CFP exam.

“I’ve just finished my eleventh year in my own practice, and it was completely different when I started,” Kaplan says. “There are so many additional things to learn every year. You have to run faster and faster just to stay in one place.”

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