Review of the Ken Zahn CFP® Exam Live Review Program

For those of you who might be considering taking the CFP® classes or prepping for the CFP ® exam—this is for you! When I was deciding how to prep and what programs to take, I found it pretty hard to gather any kind of information. There were lots of tiny, really scary blurbs online regarding people’s experiences which didn’t help at all. So hopefully this is more helpful for some of you! If you have any specific questions on the review class (from a student’s perspective), feel free to reach out to me directly. I am in no way associated with the Zahn program–I just wanted to share what I’ve learned.

What is the CFP® exam and designation? 

See the website for an overview:

Why did I choose the Zahn program?

Word of mouth is the best recommendation I can think of. A former coworker of mine who had taken the CFP® exam recently said he did the Zahn program and recommended it. He had also previously recommended the materials to use for the Series 7 and Series 66 exams (PassPerfect for both), and hey! Those worked for me! So I trusted the guy. Whoever you listen to, make sure they have taken the test recently. Most people are more than happy to talk to you about their experience.

What was my background/how much did I study before the exam?

I completed all of the  CFP® required education courses in person at Georgetown University on weekends over the course of a year-ish. It was the Kaplan material. I highly recommend doing the classes in person. We had a great cohort and enjoyed studying together. I put in significant attention to the classes and materials and scored in the high 90s on all of the final exams. On average, I would compare them to college level classes. Not crazy hard, but you have to put in some time. However, then we moved across the country, and there was about a year long gap between when I finished the last class and started to study for the exam. I was still working in PWM but out of studying-practice, for sure. In terms of prep time and intensity, I spent on average around 5-8 hours per week and 3-4 hours each Saturday on the pre-study material (working full time, this was all I could swing and still keep my life in order). I had around 4 months to study, and in the last month, I delete all fun apps off my phone, declined all social engagements, and hunkered down, studying for the last couple weeks before the prep class for two hours each night and most of the day on Saturdays. I got through every section, quiz, and chapter exam multiple times, reviewed all my wrong answers, and did them again.

What was the review course like?

If you haven’t yet, read the website:


Live Review Sessions:

My instructor was Bart Brewer, and man am I happy that I got this guy. He was amazing. On the first day, he described his teaching style as a mix of a drill sergeant and a bar tender, and I couldn’t agree more. His strategy is to teach in a way that forces you to remember, by illustrating facts and charts with hilarious real life (?) stories and funny noises. I know, it sounds off the wall, and it was. And guess what? It worked. I remembered the corny stuff. All of it. This guy knows his stuff, he has been teaching these review classes for dozens of years and he knows how to do it well. Trust your instructor. Whoever you get, they know what they are doing, and most importantly, they know the exam. The review class was four days straight, roughly 8am-5pm everyday, with few breaks but plenty of drinks and food. It was go-go-go nonstop, and absolutely pertinent that no one wandered off mentally. Lots of charts to copy down, lots of notes to take, lots of practice questions. You might, like me, go in thinking “yeah, I got this!” and come out thinking “oh crap”. But that’s ok! They only work the hard problems, not the fluffy easy stuff. So expect to be challenged.

How much did I study after the review class?

I took the exam two weeks after the review finished, and pretty much did nothing outside of work, eat, sleep, and study those two weeks. Per my instructor’s suggestions, I worked exclusively on the post-review material and took all of the practice exams. At the very end, I reviewed all of the answers I’d gotten wrong on those mock exams by section. So, I’d review all of the insurance questions I missed, study up on that as needed, then continued to the estate section, etc. I did nothing the day before the exam, slept well, ate healthy food, and made sure I had batteries in my calculator and an unexpired ID in my wallet.

Was it worth it?

Yes. It is one of the more costly programs (around $1,000…I think I spend $1,800 total on the exam, prep, materials, fees, etc) but to me, it was worth it. I wanted to know I gave it the best possible shot and didn’t cheat my chance at being as prepared as possible because I wanted to save a couple bucks. Many firms have a reimbursement policy if you pass, but you may have to float the cost of education/prep before then. Check in on this with your office.

Would I recommend the Zahn review program?

In short, yes. It worked for me, so I would recommend it. That being said, you REALLY need to do your homework before the live review session, otherwise you will be way in over your head and won’t be able to keep up. My recommendation is to plan out your schedule as if the first day of the live review class is the day you are going to take the exam. Meaning, be as prepared as you possibly can be. Then you will feel empowered, not like you want to crawl into a hole and hide.

Other Recommendations:

  • Make a plan. Get the books as early as possible and, if you are working full time, give yourself at least four months to cover the pre-study material. Mark out day by day what you will be studying, and when. I printed off a handful of monthly calendars to make my study plan and tacked them up in my office.
  • BEWARE! Life happens. Of the entire allotment of carefully planned time I was intending to study I ended up doing absolutely NO studying for THREE WEEKS (not consecutively, but a week here, a week there….). If I didn’t have an extra buffer in my study schedule, I wouldn’t have gotten though the material before the life review. Give yourself two more weeks than you think you need.
  • What does “get through the pre-study” mean? It means read every page. Take notes. Highlight. Make flashcards. Memorize. Take the quizzes. Review your wrong answers. Study. Take the quizzes again. Sorry y’all. No shortcuts here. Study.
  • Pay attention. I tend to wander off during some classes, but let me tell you. DO NOT WANDER OFF MENTALLY during the review. Focus every single second. Force yourself to stay engaged. You have already spent SO much time and energy and effort to get here! Final push!! Soak it all up!
  • Wear comfortable clothing to the review class, but for goodness gracious, don’t come in your pajamas. You need to be able to take yourself seriously.
  • Participate in “the corn” — fully. “The corn” is all of the funny memory tricks and silly things your live instructor will tell you to do during the rest to help you remember the material on the exam. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing or looking stupid. Public humiliation can be the best teacher of all (get a question wrong in front of the entire group and I guarantee you will NEVER forget it again!) So dive right in. Participate fully. Go for it. You’ll see what I mean.
  • If you have to drive more than an hour, or mayyyyyyybe an hour and a half to get to the live review each day, stay in a hotel or at a friend’s house who lives nearby instead. You will be exhausted, trust me.
  • Fill in your family/roommates/significant other’s about how you are feeling and doing. I came home each day completely mentally drained. Tell your peeps, “this is going to be a rough two weeks for me, I’m doing everything I can to prepare, can you help me by keeping things calm and helping me feel good?” No one can read your mind, and you don’t want to be an excuse-less grump to everyone around you.
  • Don’t eat crap. It will make you feel worse. Also, MAKE SURE TO SLEEP. You need to be able to focus literally almost every second, 8 hours a day, for four days straight.
  • Don’t lose hope. If you lose hope, you will be miserable, if you are miserable, you won’t study, if you don’t study, you will fail. You got this!! Chin up, and keep going!
  • Guess what? People pass. People pass all the time! And these guys know what they are doing. Trust them. Everything is going to be fine!

Was the test hard?

Sorry, I’m going to do the very thing that I HATED the most of all when I asked this question. I will tell you this: If you study, really study, follow the program, it is hard, but it is doable. If you don’t study or blow off the prep, oh yeah. Oh mama will it be hard. So, study. If you are prepared, it won’t seem so bad. I was freaked out and confused when I read online that some people had studied for 800+ hours and failed the exam multiple times, while others crammed three weeks before and passed. What was the difference between these people, I wondered!? Ignore the crazy stories, guys. Stick to the plan. Do the work. You can pass, no problem.

Was the Zahn material harder than the test?

Here’s the thing. There are plenty of easier questions on the test, and then there are the hard questions. The Zahn program, in my experience, forces you to learn at the hard level. The hard questions were just as hard as the Zahn program, but the easy questions were super doable. They definitely over train you. I’ve heard that people scoring as low as 40% on the practice exams have passed. But wait just one second there, THAT IS NOT AN EXCUSE. That’s just meant to give you hope. 🙂 For an added measure of hope (and reality) I will share this freaky bit: The week before the exam I was scoring 58’s on the practice tests and was certain, CERTAIN, I was going to fail. And guess what?

Did I pass?

Hallelujah, yes I did.

I passed, just fine. In the end, I was well prepared for the exam. (Thank you, Bart!)

If there is one thing I would have told myself a month before the exam, it would be this: Chill. Just keep studying. You’ll be fine! And so, I say the same to you. Good luck!

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  • This is your drill instructor/bar tender here! Many congrats on passing the exam and thanks for the huge props in a way as unique as my eccentric teaching style.

    I’m not so sure other instructors will be as “off the wall” as me, but at Zahn, we all have the same script to play with. Many congrats again!

    Bart Brewer

  • Thank you so much for sharing! I’m three courses into the program at Belmont University and already thinking about my live review strategy. I’m sitting for the exam in March 2018, so I’m thinking about beginning my studying in December when I start the capstone class. I *really* want to pass on the first attempt!

  • Congrats on passing the CFP! I stumbled on this page in an attempt to find out more information on the different study programs. I was leaning toward Zahn based on word of mouth as well. I plan on taking the exam November 2017. I too am out of the practice of studying. I graduated college (UGA) almost 2 years ago and I’ve been working full time at an IA. Thank you for realistic insights on studying.

    • Thank you Alice! I really recommend the program, it was invaluable for me. Best of luck studying for the November exam!!