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Time Management for Constructed-Response Questions - Post #11 - The CFP Examination - December 2017

Posted by John Gobeil on

In this Post, we will look at time management for constructed-response questions.

The Guide to Examinations for CFP Certification says:

“The CFP Examination is a competency-based examination of up to six hours in duration. The examination will consist of approximately four-and-a-half hours of constructed-response questions and one-and-a-half hours of multiple-choice questions. These constructed-response questions will range from short-answer-type questions to longer, extended-response-type questions.”

The sample items published by the FPSC have indicated the number of marks for each question. Assuming that the mark allocations reflect the difficulty and length of time required for the questions, it is fair to assume that the time required for a question will be in proportion to the number of marks for the question.

While there is no specific guidance from the FPSC, you would expect to find that the number of marks for each of the three-hour papers totals 100. You should quickly check this as you start each exam paper by totaling the number of marks. If they do not give the number of marks for the multiple-choice questions, you can probably assume that they are worth one mark each.

This Post will assume that there are 100 marks per paper, in which case you will have 1.8 minutes per mark, calculated as ((3 hours × 60 minutes per hour) ÷ 100 marks per paper). 

If the papers have a different number of marks, you can calculate the number of minutes per mark by using (180 minutes ÷ the number of marks).

Time management

Over the years, we have spoken to many candidates who have failed the CFP examinations, and who have told us that they ran out of time and did not answer all of the questions. Failure to manage one’s time is probably a more frequent cause of failure than not knowing enough technical information.

An Examination Item is a client situation and the accompanying questions.

Some of the Examination Items may have only one question and as few as 3 marks, which you would expect to complete in 5.4 minutes. Some of the Examination Items may have three or more questions, which could take much longer.

One candidate reported, “I spent the 3 hours in the morning on the 7 cases presented. Each case had from 1 to 3 questions.”

“Your study material was good; however your constructive questions were very specific. The constructive questions in the exam were general: a lot of questions I couldn't actually figure out exactly they were asking for?”

You are going to have great difficulty trying to manage your time if you do it by 5.4 minute intervals. You will spend more time noting the times and checking your watch than it is worth.

We have found that it is practical to manage your time by 18 minute intervals, which just happens to be the amount of time that you have for 10 marks.

At the start of the CFP Examination, you want write on your exam paper the times at which you should have completed each block of 10 marks. However, you also want the times when you should have completed an Examination Item.

Suppose that we started on the constructed-response questions at 9:00 a.m.

Count up the marks for the Examination Items until you have about 10 marks. Multiply the actual number of marks by 1.8 minutes per mark to determine how long you can spend on that block of Examination Items and, at the end of the last question, write the time at which you should have completed the block of Examination Items.

Suppose that the first Examination Item had 5 marks, the second had 4 marks and the third had 6 marks; the first and second Examination Items would have 9 marks, the closest to 10 marks.

So, you would want to be finished these two Examination Items at just past 9:16 am, calculated as (start time for block of Examination Items of 9:00 am + (number of marks of 9 × 1.8 minutes per mark)).

You would then repeat this process for the remaining Examination Items.

Multiple-choice or constructed-response questions first?

There is some debate as to whether to answer the multiple-choice or constructed-response questions first. You could do the multiple-choice questions first to get a quick sense of accomplishment. Then, take a deep breath, adjust your pace and start on the constructed-response questions.

While we do not know which paper the multiple-choice questions will be on, we would want to do the questions that are most demanding of our attention first: while we are fresh, not as we approach exhaustion in the late morning or afternoon.

Effectiveness of our study aids

We always appreciate feedback on the effectiveness of our study aids. Together, we can continue to have the best study aids available.

John Gobeil, BSc, CFP®
David Gobeil, CPA CA, CFP®


Certified Financial Planner® and CFP® are certification marks owned outside the U.S. by the Financial Planning Standards Board Ltd. The Financial Planners Standards Council is the marks licensing authority for the CFP marks in Canada, through agreement with FPSB.


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