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.
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.
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
- Income Tax
- 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”
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!”
Our 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
CFP 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.