What I learned from Gary

Posted by Jerry Mee, CFP®

Oct 1, 2019

They say that education is a two-way process between teacher and student. I echo this sentiment loudly and believe that when the learning process is working best, it’s not just the student that’s learning. The teacher is learning too.

One student-teacher relationship that stands out to me is the one between myself and Gary Wedge. I first met Gary when he was starting our CFP® Education Program about 2 years ago. Gary just recently passed the July 2019 CFP® Board Examination and in the time between we often spoke several times a week. It was a long, but extremely rewarding path. When Gary called me to tell me he passed a few months back I was incredibly proud of his accomplishment. It was really a wonderful day.

OK, enough sentimentality, below are a few of the lessons that I’ve picked up over the years while working with students like Gary. It’s my hope that these lessons will help new students that are just embarking on the CFP® process along with current students that are already in the thick of it.

Real world vs. Test world

Gary and I used to have a lot of arguments. Don’t worry… they were very civil, constructive arguments. The basis of almost every single one of these arguments? CFP® Board’s love affair with incredibly subjective test questions.

Gary has run his own RIA for many years, and a result has a wealth of firsthand experience dealing with complex financial planning situations. However, sometimes experience like Gary’s can work to the student’s detriment. We’d review the answers to a question and Gary would exclaim “why would anyone do this? I’d be fired if I recommended these options to my clients!”

The lesson? The CFP® Board Exam is 100% predetermined multiple choice. There is no fill in the blank and there is no essay. The test taker does not get to input their own answers.

CFP® question writers write each individual question with the goal of testing a specific concept or topic. Questions are constructed around a situation in which this concept or topic could exist. Sometimes a relatively outlandish scenario gets created in order to make the concept or topic fit in a compact question. I see a lot of frustration from some students when they are faced with questions like this. Successful students find a way to move past this and learn to focus on simply selecting best answer from the options provided.

Gary and I don’t argue much anymore. Instead, we both laugh about how silly a question would be in real life, while agreeing “this is the answer the question writer wants us to select.”

“No one rushes home to post on the CFP® Forum after they fail”

Gary and I often discuss the psychological impact the CFP® Exam has on test takers. Being in the right mindset while sitting for the Exam is incredibly important. Our Exam Prep instructor, Brett Danko, agrees strongly. Brett encourages students to always talk about their Exam date as the date they are passing the Exam. Not the date they are merely taking the Exam. Believe you are passing. Put in the time and effort to prepare properly. And then will the pass into existence.

A positive mindset is even more important for students that are retaking the Exam. Students on their second, third, fourth or even fifth attempts need to channel Steph Curry’s swagger during a cold streak. Does he care that he missed his last 15 three-point shots? Not at all! The next 15 are going in and if you give him an inch of space, he’s gonna let it fly.

It is very easy to get discouraged after failing the Board Exam. And that discouragement can be dramatically amplified when students visit the CFP® Candidate Forum. After each Exam cycle the “I PASSED!!” posts come flooding in. This can be toxic for someone who just failed. It’s very difficult to feel anything other than alone while reading these posts.

Gary really put this into perspective for me one day when he remarked “no one rushes home to post on the CFP® Forum after they fail.” Human beings share their successes while hiding their failures. It’s our nature. You are not alone though. 40% of people that sit for each Exam are unsuccessful. A subset of this group is going to shake it off and come back stronger in the future. Be in that subset.

“The key personality trait linked to success is perseverance”

This brings me to one of the most important lessons that I learned from Gary; perseverance is everything. The CFP® Board Exam is hands down one of the most difficult exams you will ever take. Raw intelligence and industry experience can certainly help, but those traits alone are not enough to secure a pass on this Exam. In my experience working with students it is perseverance that most closely correlates with success.

Most students take around a year to complete the Education coursework requirement. Then another two to three months are spent in an Exam Prep course (shameless plug). That’s the baseline time commitment and most students will have at least a few tough days where they get discouraged over such a long haul. Students often call me after a few months and ask, “do you think I can really do this?” The answer is always “yes, of course” and it’s true if you come back each day and continue the fight you will absolutely get through this. The students with perseverance do just this. The students without perseverance give up.

It took Gary 3 attempts to pass the CFP® Exam. He is one of the sharpest and most experience students I have ever met, but he still failed twice before passing in July. The CFP® marks he now has after his name are there are a testament to his perseverance through adversity. He could have thrown in the towel after his first attempt. Or after his second. But no, he didn’t. He was too determined. And he got the job done.


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