How Good is Ken Zahn’s Live Review?

Ken Zahn Live Review materials

The Ken Zahn Live Review study materials are massive, but they will help you pass the CFP® Certification Examination

 

Ken Zahn is a leading provider of live review courses for the CFP® Certification Examination. Learn about my experience as I went through the Ken Zahn Live Review.

Originally published in August 2008, this article was updated in March 2014.

In June of 2008, I traveled to Los Angeles to attend Ken Zahn’s Live Review course to prepare for the July 2008 CFP® Certification Exam. As luck would have it, Ken Zahn himself was the instructor for my four-day review course.

Ken Zahn’s territory covers most of the United States with courses in 15 major cities, but each exam cycle Ken Zahn offers instruction in two east coast locations and one west coast city.

Ken Zahn isn’t the only live review provider for the CFP® Certification Examination, as the compay competes with similar offerings from Kaplan, Dalton, Keir, and the College for Financial Planning.

As of early 2014, Ken Zahn’s review course fee is $975 (increasing by just $50 since 2008 when I took the course), which is comparable to what most live review programs charge. You can find Internet-based courses for lower cost, but they’re less expensive because they’re not in-person classes.

So how good was the review course?

In a word: excellent.

Pre-study Materials

About two or three months before the scheduled class, Ken Zahn mails a box containing over 800 pages (400 double-sided!) of pre-study material. The pre-study material is organized into the six main topics of the financial planning process:

  • General Principles
  • Insurance
  • Investments
  • Income Tax
  • Retirement
  • Estate Planning

Each topic is divided into 10 sections with a short review test at the end of each section. Topics are followed by a mock exam that contains multiple choice questions and one or two sample case scenarios.

In all there are over 1,800 practice questions covering the 78 principal topics established by CFP Board effective in 2012. Difficult concepts or those featuring many alternatives (e.g. retirement plans, anyone?) were simplified with Ken Zahn’s “roadmaps” or graphs and charts aggregating the data into one easy to navigate reference.

Connect with Local “Zahnbies”

Form your own "Zahnbies" study group to increase your odds of exam success

Form your own “Zahnbies” study group to increase your odds of exam success

 

This is the first important thing you should do to increase your odds of passing the CFP® Certification Examination!

Prior to registering, I connected with five other colleagues in a local Ken Zahn study group we affectionately called the “Zahnbies.”

We called ourselves Zahnbies because we basically ate, breathed, and slept the Ken Zahn pre-study materials for seven weeks. On our own, we typically averaged between 15 and 20 hours of study time each week (and many of us had the weight gain to show for it!) 

Then we met each Wednesday evening for two to three hours to address our questions and discuss any difficult topics in detail.

So yes, when Ken Zahn says you should study about 120 to 140 hours prior to the Live Review class, that’s what you should expect.

This is the second important thing you should do: Follow the schedule provided by Ken Zahn. Deviate from the schedule at your own risk!

Comprehensive Live Review

As one of my colleagues so eloquently said, attending Zahn’s Live Review is like making four non-stop flights to Europe. You’re basically sitting in a room with 65 other people reviewing scintillating study material for 11 hours each day.

All the while, Ken Zahn strikes down the occasional “what-if” question from the students by responding, “If you start asking ‘what-if’ during the exam, you will fail!”

StudyOur pre-study material was replaced with a consolidated (read: distilled) Live Review book of about 300 single-sided pages. As the class progressed, I realized that the Live Review covers just enough of the material to help you pass, not to help score 100% on the exam.

This is reality: once I accepted the fact that I was not going to ace the exam and all I needed was a passing score, studying became more palatable.

This is the third important thing you must remember: Ken Zahn’s idiom is, “If you start to fight the exam and try to be perfect, you will fail!”

Despite the agony of sitting in a windowless hotel conference room for four straight days, Ken Zahn manages to keep the review course moving at a decent pace and retains attention by interjecting practical stories relating to the material.

One thing’s for sure, I won’t forget about taking losses on Section 1244 stock due to one of Zahn’s failed company experiences back in the 1970s. And by the fourth day, we were all experiencing Pavlovian responses at 2:00pm in anticipation of the sweet treats delivery for the afternoon break.

Finally, Zahn left us with his last words of wisdom.

This is the fourth important thing you must remember: “Know the truths, as the truth will set you free,” says Zahn.

As clichéd as it sounds, it’s completely true. If you understand what is true for each question (especially the roman-numeral style questions, such as “I, III, and IV only”) and forget about the other fluff CFP Board puts in as distractors, you will pass.

Post Live Review Study

I had about three weeks of time between the Live Review course and the day of the exam.

Again, Ken Zahn supplied an excellent schedule covering the things I should do day-by-day to stay on schedule. All studying used the abridged Live Review materials and rarely referenced pre-study materials.

By this point, if you had to frequently review the in-depth pre-study, your outlook of passing wasn’t looking good.

Zahn also added a large volume of content and study material to his website, www.kenzahn.com.  If I remember correctly, there were six mock exams consisting of 60 multiple choice questions.

There were also about a dozen comprehensive case scenarios that I found the most helpful. The most difficult cases included S Corporations and all the bells-and-whistles that go with them, and reviewing Ken Zahn’s answers taught me how to approach similar questions come exam time.

In addition to the study schedule, Zahn provided several excellent test-taking strategies for the day of the exam:

  • Eat a good breakfast
  • Arrive early
  • Wear earplugs

One of the most relevant for me was the strategy for approaching the cases. His advice on when to tackle the case scenarios and when to skip them was the most valuable for me.

Day of the Exam

TestCFP Board carefully protects the content of its CFP® Certification Exams. Nevertheless, I found that many questions had the look and feel of Ken Zahn’s study questions (perhaps that’s because it’s true the other way around: Zahn’s materials are similar to the format of the exam).

I swear more than once I had the feeling Ken was standing over my shoulder saying, “This question is just like the pre-study. Just remember the truths and you’ll pass.”

I exited the two-day exam feeling fairly confident about my performance, a feeling that seemed to be in the minority of those I spoke with after the exam.

I suppose my experience illustrates how well prepared I felt due to the intense review performed over the previous three months. I think this speaks volumes about Ken Zahn’s materials, live review, and exam strategies.

Without the live review, I believe I would have allowed the exam to beat me and I would have been deflated.

Pass or Fail

Six weeks later, we all waited anxiously for the white envelope to be delivered from CFP Board. For me, the delivery was a moment for celebration as I passed the CFP® Certification Exam.

Nevertheless, I try not to allow my exam results to influence how I feel about Ken Zahn’s curriculum. For the money, I feel like I received excellent preparation materials and instruction.

If you’re considering Ken Zahn along with the other live review providers, I believe the best choice you can make is to sign up with Ken.

I don’t get paid to mention or promote Ken Zahn at all; I’m just a guy that went through the process, followed the instructions, and felt like I crushed the exam.

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20 Responses to “How Good is Ken Zahn’s Live Review?”

  1. Ted August 9, 2008 9:01 am
    #

    I used two providers to prepare for the CFP(R):

    1. Ken Zahn
    2. Kaplan

    Here are the differences as I see them, Kaplan has more study material so that you can study in different ways. For example, they have audio CDs, flash cards on each topic area, CD-Roms of questions, including board released questions, and virtual live review that you could watch from the convenience of your computer.

    Ken Zahn on the other hand will do far more to teach you how to pass the exam. Giving Kaplan their due, they give you enough study material to drown yourself in, however, especially in the live review, they have far too little focus on the content relative to the actual exam. Kaplan live instructors are also far too willing to answer “what-if” questions which are nothing but a waste of time. The exam is the exam and asking “what-if” is like a recipe to fail.

    The exam is challenging no matter what provider you use. You have to give it the time and “respect” it deserves. Kaplan has some helpful tools, like the audio CDs. However it is my opinion that Zahn’s focused approach will serve you far better than his competition. Zahn’s test-taking techniques alone are worth the price of admission.

  2. Bill Winterberg August 9, 2008 10:09 am
    #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Kaplan vs. Ken Zahn. Zahn does have flash cards available through Brett Danko for about $100.

    A few people in our study group also purchased the Kaplan flash cards and review material, so I had the opportunity to review them. In my opinion, Kaplan’s cards were way too specific. How critical is it to know that there’s only $2000 of jewelry coverage in a standard HO policy? There were tons of cards with this minutia.

    Personally, I prefer the condensed material provided by Zahn. You’re right: Kaplan gives you plenty of material to drown yourself. If you even try to commit all the Kaplan material to memory as you can, you’ll probably end up failing the test because you can’t distill it all over the 2-day exam.

  3. Mike Anderson August 19, 2008 7:32 am
    #

    Big Bill,

    100% agree with you. I took the Dalton (which turned to Bisys, which I think is now the kaplan review) review and failed the exam the 1st time. It was way to much material as you say–mostly geared towards memorization and did not fit my study style.

    Next time I took the Zahn study material, applied myself over a five month or so time period and passed. It was a much better fit to me.

    I took the live review in Tampa with Ken which was great. You have to get used to Ken’s personality a bit at first. I kept expecting him to jump up on the table and the front and flex like Hulk Hogan. Once you get past that his course is very helpful.

    Great post Bill.

  4. Micah Porter April 17, 2010 8:22 am
    #

    I took Zahn’s review course in November 2009 after studying for the CFP for about 6 months. I thought the course did a great job of preparing me for the exam from a content perspective*, and the questions on the exam were in general no more difficult that Zahn’s questions.

    * – I scanned Zahn’s review manual after the exam, and made searchable .pdfs from them as I find them to be very good reference material.

  5. Bill Winterberg April 17, 2010 10:39 am
    #

    Micah,

    Thank you for your feedback on Zahn’s live review. I’m happy to hear that you found the course as beneficial as I did.

    Also, your tip on scanning the study materials into searchable PDFs is an excellent one. In fact, I highlighted the practice in this paperless document post on FPPad.

    Thanks again,
    Bill

  6. PN January 22, 2012 11:15 pm
    #

    I received the Ken Zahn review material about a month ago, and it hasn’t been a good experience so far. There are typos and grammatical mistakes throughout the entire book. Sometimes I can figure out what they meant to say, but other times I can’t. For $1,100, I would have expected better quality.

    • Bill Winterberg January 23, 2012 7:23 am
      #

      Yes, that’s sometimes difficult to come to terms with. Ken and his team update those materials every year, and there’s so much to maintain that I’d anticipate a few grammatical errors and number mis-matches. Try to look beyond the nit picky mistakes, and you’ll likely benefit from the comprehensive study guides. They were essential for my own study purposes.

  7. Frank Shields March 9, 2014 11:30 pm
    #

    Hello Bill,

    I am currently enrolled in a 1-yr CFP review program (program ends in May), and I am researching review courses in preparation for the July CFP exam. Given the time between when I complete the CFP program (May) and taking the exam in July would you say that I have enough time and knowledge to complete the pre-study material for Ken Zahn’s Live Review?

    Thank You,
    Frank

    • Bill Winterberg March 10, 2014 8:49 am
      #

      Frank,

      If your review program ends in May, I don’t feel you have enough time to properly complete the Zahn pre-review coursework. It really does take 120 hours to complete.

      You may be tempted to skip some of the Zahn pre-review materials because you’re coming out of your own review program, but I think this might be a mistake. Zahn’s material is written largely to simulate exam questions rather than educate on “real world” planning scenarios.

      But if the curriculum of your current review program is designed strictly to help you pass the exam, then yes, you may be able to skip much of the Zahn pre-review material and show up to the four-day live review with a good understanding of the material. The pre-study material might duplicate much of what you are already reviewing in your one-year course.

      Let me know what you decide and if you end up sitting for the July exam. Good luck!

  8. Fawn Laeng May 5, 2014 9:07 pm
    #

    Does anyone know if the other instructors under Zahns program are just as good? He’s going to Atlanta while another instructor is in Tampa, should I drive up to see him in Atlanta or are the other instructors just as good?

  9. Jerry Bien May 15, 2014 2:22 pm
    #

    Is any of Ken’s supplemental study materials, ie. flash cards, test bank etc., necessary? It seems to me that between the pre-study materials and the stuffs you receive in the live review course there is more than enough materials to study.

    • Bill Winterberg May 15, 2014 4:04 pm
      #

      Jerry,

      Personally, I did not purchase the additional flash cards or test bank materials. I felt that the pre-study books were sufficient enough to help me prepare for the questions covered in the exam. But if any other readers have used the additional materials, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  10. Chris February 23, 2015 10:50 pm
    #

    Thank you for the review. I am currently enrolled in a CFP Program and plan on taking my test in November. A classmate mentioned this review course in class and it gained my interest. Glad to know that it helps, especially with the steep price.

  11. Evan September 20, 2016 12:52 pm
    #

    Bill, thank you for this extensive review. I’m currently enrolled in his review course and registered for the November exam.

    A few quick questions I’d greatly appreciate your feedback on:
    -What was most helpful in taking the exam? Was it the cases? Practice exams?
    -Did you take a practice exam offered by the CFP Board? If so, was it helpful?

    • Bill Winterberg September 26, 2016 3:21 pm
      #

      Evan, thank you for your comment. Here are my answers.

      Honestly, the most helpful part of the exam prep process was taking the time to cover all of the Zahn material and take all of the sample exams. I remember shutting the door to my office and pretending I was in the exam setting, forcing myself to think about ways to focus on the correct answer (to pass the test) and NOT about what might make sense in a real-world human-being influenced financial question. If you start thinking about all the “what if” scenarios, you will fail!

      I did not take a CFP Board practice exam. I used all the materials offered by Zahn, including the online mock exams.

  12. Jon Luskin October 14, 2016 12:35 pm
    #

    I did Ken Zahn’s live review, and it made me realize how much more I needed to study – despite going through all the pre-review content. I passed the exam on the first try. I would definitely recommend Zahn.

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