Studying for the CFP® Exam: How I learned to learn anything

Recently, I've been thinking back on the hoops I had to jump through to become the advisor I am today. It's coming to mind because I'm currently tutoring another advisor while he prepares for the mother-of-all finance tests — the CFP® Exam.

Back at the beginning of 2017 with 10 weeks before my test, I couldn't image how I'd be able to cram everything I'd need to know into my head (we're talking about the concepts contained in 1000+ pages of textbooks). But by exam day, I had refined the art of studying to the point where I was not only excited to take the test — I felt like I could turn around and study for the Bar or the MCAT and nail those too.

In fact, I felt so prepared I moved my test date up a week earlier than originally planned, and I not only passed on my first try, but I came out of the experience with a wealth of knowledge I use every day to help my clients as an independent financial planner. I now look back on my experience studying for the CFP® Exam as one of the best things I did to get ready to launch my own firm.


What's my secret to getting so much AWESOME out of what most people consider a pain the a**? Two things:

1. I converted my study material into graphics. As a former infographic designer, I'm a visual learner, so turning the study material into information-rich images, instead of hundreds of pages of bland text, made it infinitely easier for me to digest.

2. I developed meaningful connections with the required topics using storytelling to anchor the enormous volume of memorization on stories of celebrities and relatable real people that I already knew.


Go from boring to BOOYAH! by bringing the right mindset

Even though I had recently completed the educational requirements to sit for the exam, the task of memorizing everything felt like drowning in an ocean of white noise. Yes, each individual fact might make sense when you pluck it out of the pile, but being able to recall it all on command while also combining and applying topics to multifaceted problems was overwhelming.

But I solved this problem by developing my own strategy that allowed me to make meaningful connections with the material through stories, images, and ridiculous rhymes.

It happened on a particularly painful study session when I was trying to make sense of the tax code, keeping straight the difference between 1244 and 1202 stock. When I had just about decided it was impossible, I remembered an episode of Happy Days in which Potsie was able to go from being the class dunce to acing a biology exam by writing a song describing how the circulation system worked. Then all of a sudden it hit me — "Heck, I could do that!"


Having fun while studying for the CFP® Exam? No way!

In a flash a little ditty popped into my mind , “Section Twelve Forty-four tosses awesome losses out the door...” which was a not-so-lyrical way to remember that Section 1244 stock is used to entice early investors at the start-up phase of a corporation because they allow deductions of ordinary losses of up to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for married couples, instead of the usual piddly $3,000 from regular stock losses (yes, yes, everybody knows that...).

Later, I found myself humming a little tune while mumbling, "...Section Twelve Forty-Four tosses awesome losses out the door..." and I realized the Potsie Method worked! All I needed to do to master the infinite sea of facts was to gamify the material as much as possible — instantly searing each tidbit clearly into my mind.


I used my previous career's skills in design and illustration to make charts, add snarky side notes, and superimpose voice bubbles on celebrity photos (because so much of personal finance can be explained through celebrities). And over the course of weeks, I not only began to compile a super fun, custom set of study notes — but pretty quickly all that white noise began to clear, as I tricked myself into making meaningful connections with the material.

When a concept came up in a practice test that I had "gamified," I saw my images, I heard my rhymes, I laughed at my own jokes — and I started to experience instant recall instead of a slow dredging of cloudy half-remembered facts... I was on to something!

I recognize that Kaplan, Dalton, Keir and the other heavy-weights of CFP® Exam prep have the ability to hurl hundreds of candidates across the exam finish line 3 times a year... But where's the fun? To get through 250-300 hours of studying and not go crazy, it has to be fun...


I found the fun with my home-grown Potsie Method, and now that I am through the exam, I want to make my materials available to other CFP® candidates. This isn't an either/or kind of product, but rather a sprinkling of secret sauce on top of whatever you're already doing.

I'm working on compiling my tools right now, so if you're interested in getting your hands on 50-Topics To Know For The CFP® Exam, sign-up by clicking the button below and I'll let you know when it's available.