How the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) board exam is scored

How the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) board exam is scoredNovember 21, 2011 This past weekend I took the 2 day long CFP board exam at the University of Pittsburgh. All of my coaches and the instructors at Duquesne University were not kidding when they said it would be difficult. Of course, all of us will be curious to see our test results, but there is an 8 week waiting period. However, the CFP board did email all of us an update on how the test will be scored. Here is an excerpt from the email they sent me:

The CFP(R) Certification Examination is a pass or fail exam. The primary goal of a certification exam is to separate those who have met the certification standard (passing) from those who have not (failing). CFP certification exams are generally constructed to provide the best precision at the passing point. They are not designed to rank order among exam takers. Rank-ordering scores in a fashion that would suggest the degree to which an exam taker failed (or passed) would be an inappropriate use of exam results.

The method used to score your exam (called a modified Angoff method) is in accordance with voluntary certification examination standards. Establishing the pass score is based upon a “criterion-referenced” rather than “norm-referenced” methodology. The norm-referenced methodology, which is common in the academic arena, uses a bell curve to establish the “average” score needed to pass the exam. Whether you pass or fail a norm-referenced exam depends on your relative standing in comparison to the other exam takers.

In contrast, the criterion-referenced methodology, which is used to score the CFP(R) Certification Examination, does not rely on a bell curve. Your performance will not be ranked in comparison to others taking the exam. Instead, your performance is scored against an established level of competency. Also, although every effort is made to calibrate exam difficulty in advance, there will always be slight differences in the overall ease or difficulty of one exam administration as compared with another. So, before the minimum passing score is set for this exam administration, it will be statistically equated with past exams. This means that you will not be advantaged if this exam is easier than past exams, nor will you be disadvantaged if it is more difficult.

Exam results will be reported as Pass or Fail. Scores, percentages or grades are not provided. All examinees, however, are provided with a Diagnostic Summary Report. This report will include a graph displaying your performance across the seven major content in comparison to the average performance of those examinees who passed (the Pass Group). Additionally, the Diagnostic Summary Report will identify any major content areas in which your performance was deficient. If you fail the CFP exam, and you are going to retake it, you are encouraged to focus your studies on the topics included in the major content areas marked as deficient. Deficient content areas provide opportunities for future score improvements. MB

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