CPA/PFS Exam

Exam Overview

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) established the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS™) credential for CPAs who specialize in various areas of financial planning. In order to receive the credential, CPAs must pass the exam requirement that covers all of the planning process and professional responsibilities and disciplines that make up personal financial planning, including tax, estate, retirement, investments, and insurance planning as well as a few niche areas like employee benefits, education, and elder planning.

This exam can be taken online (via your laptop and proctored through your webcam) or at local testing centers.

Alternatively, CPAs who have passed the CFP or ChFC exams do not need to take the PFS exam and are deemed to have met the exam requirement.

New PFP Certificate Program Option

Instead of the traditional PFS pathway and exam, you may choose the PFP certificate program to meet the PFS exam and education requirements. Learn more about this option >>

Steps to the Exam

Steps to PFS Exam

Exam Format

  • Exam Location – The PFS exam can be taken online (via your laptop and proctored through your webcam) or at local testing centers. 
  • Exam Type — The PFS Exam is a non-disclosed exam. This means the questions and answers are not published nor are candidates permitted to remove any exam materials from the testing site.
  • Grading — Each exam is carefully graded by our team of psychometricians to ensure that the questions are statistically valid.
  • Timing — The PFS Exam is a computer-based exam that lasts five hours, including a 30-minute break (if needed).
  • Types of Questions — There are a total of 160 questions per exam module:
    • About half are discrete stand-alone multiple-choice questions.
    • Half are case studies with accompanying multiple-choice questions.
    • A multiple-choice question consists of a stem that includes factual or scenario data and provides four or five options.
    • The case studies will vary in length and include short scenarios followed by 2–5 multiple-choice questions and two larger comprehensive cases with 12–18 related multiple-choice questions. The fact pattern of each case study will contain sufficient information to enable the candidate to answer the question. This part of the exam is designed to test your analytical reasoning skills and ability to apply financial planning theory and methodology in a comprehensive manner.
  • Reference material — You will have access to a reference sheet of the appropriate tax rates and limits during the exam.
  • Calculators — A financial calculator is required for the exam and must be one of the following approved models:  Hewlett Packard 12C 10B, 10B II+, 17B II+; Texas Instruments TI BAII Plus, TIBAII Plus Professional; Victor V12, Victor 10.

Exam Dates and Locations

The comprehensive PFS exam can be taken any time throughout the year. To provide you with as much flexibility as possible, you can take the exam: 

  • Anytime (24/7), as a web-based proctored exam in the convenience of your home or office on your own computer.
  • As available, at nation-wide testing centers. 

Fees

Discount Pricing

  • PFP Section Members — up to $100 off
  • Volume Pricing — A discount of $100 per exam is available when registering two or more candidates from the same firm for any PFS Exam window. For further details and to submit request to obtain this discount, please email the PFP Division.

Registration Process

If interested in taking the exam, purchase the exam in the AICPA Store online and pay the required exam fee (available to both AICPA and non-AICPA members). Upon registering, you will receive a confirmation of your purchase via email and, within 5-7 business days, the Notification to Schedule email with scheduling instructions.

Exam Body of Knowledge Outline

The PFP body of knowledge (BOK) outline also functions as the Content Specification Outline for the comprehensive PFS and individual PFP certificate exams. It has been developed through regular feedback from practitioners to provide a framework of the knowledge that personal financial service practitioners should possess. It is divided into twelve major topical areas that form the comprehensive body of knowledge that will be included in AICPA PFP-related education and tested on the PFS and certificate exams.

The last update was in October 2019.

It is important to note that you will be better-prepared for the exams if you use the AICPA education and exam review resources that are based on this PFP BOK and not just rely upon individual experience.
 
For more information, review the PFP Body of Knowledge.

Download a PDF document of the PFP Body of Knowledge.

Exam Preparation Approach

The key to passing the exam is a combination of education outlined in the PFP body of knowledge and application of this knowledge in relevant work experience in personal financial planning. Accordingly, the amount and type of exam preparation will depend on your prior knowledge and work experience in these areas. To assist in exam preparation, the AICPA offers the following: 

For experienced CPAs: Use the Essentials of PFP publication that covers all areas in a high-level overview from a fundamental level as an abridged review of all areas, refreshing your knowledge and identifying areas that need more in-depth education. Follow up as needed with more specific in-depth learning from the AICPA education associated with the certificate programs (can buy specific modules needed) and then take either the comprehensive PFS exam or take the individual PFP certificate exams (whichever you feel more comfortable with).

For less experienced CPAs: If you would like to start with an overview, we would recommend the Essentials of PFP publication that covers all areas in a high-level overview from a fundamental level. Then from there, use the in-depth online learning in those areas in which you clearly have not had prior experience. Follow this up with the comprehensive PFS exam, or do it gradually over time with the PFP certificate exams.

Additional reference material on the PFS Exam website

  • The AICPA’s Statement on Standards in Personal Financial Planning Services (SSPFPS No. 1) for review (it is tested on the exam)
  • PFS Exam Content Specification Outline

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Scheduling Process

This process begins when you receive your Notice To Schedule (NTS) email soon after registering/purchasing your comprehensive PFS credential or PFP certificate exam. It contains instructions on how to schedule, a link to the test center, and your unique voucher code to enable you to schedule your specific date and location. The voucher is good for 12 months from the month in which it was purchased and the exam can be scheduled at any point in that period.

After receiving your (NTS) email, you may schedule your exam. Please schedule early to improve your likelihood of obtaining your desired time and location. The NTS email will provide instructions on how to do so. Below is a snapshot of the process.

In-person testing:

1. Visit the PFS Exam Scheduling Website.
2. Follow the steps to establish a test-taker account. If you have already established a test -taker account for a previous exam, use the username and password that was previously provided. For assistance with your username or password, please contact the AICPA Member Service at 888.777.7077 or email us.
3. Upon receipt of email confirmation of your username and password, login to Webassessor to schedule.
4. Click on the Schedule Exam link in the task bar at the top of the page.
5. Select the comprehensive PFS exam for onsite proctored and click on Register Now button.
6. Select the desired HOST location (testing center).
7. Select the desired date and time the desired location is available and proceed to checkout.
8. Enter the voucher code that was provided in the NTS letter at checkout and click Submit and Done.
9. A scheduling confirmation email will be sent to the email address provided. It is important to print and/or keep a copy of this confirmation page on file as it includes the Test Authorization Code required for exam admittance.

For more detailed information of the process, download the process >>

Online testing:

1. Visit the PFS Exam Scheduling Website.
2. Follow the steps to establish a test-taker account. If you have already established a test -taker account for a previous exam, use the username and password that was previously provided. For assistance with your username or password, please contact the AICPA Member Service at 888.777.7077 or email us.
3. Upon receipt of email confirmation of your username and password, login to Webassessor on the computer you will use to take the your exam and download the Sentinel security program, take your photo, and set your personal keystrokes for test taker validation.
4. To schedule your exam, click on the Schedule Exam link in the task bar at the top of the page.
5. Select the PFP certificate exam purchased (voucher is specific to this exam) for online proctored and click on Register Now button.
6. Select the desired date and time that an online proctor is available and proceed to checkout.
7. Enter the voucher code that was provided in the NTS letter at checkout and click Submit and Done.
8. A scheduling confirmation email will be sent to the email address provided. You are not required to print a copy of this confirmation page for online examination.

Testing Locations

  • The PFS exam is offered online with web-based proctoring via video and audio, or alternatively, at almost 300 testing centers located nation-wide in the United States and Canada. Find the closest one >>
  • The certificate pathway exams are taken on your personal computer with online web-based proctoring via video and audio and can be scheduled anytime 24/7. Learn more >> 

Test Regulations

The Kryterion testing locations have procedures that must be followed. Please make sure to read their procedures document in full so you can be fully prepared. Read below are a list of approved calculators you can bring with you or use for the online exam:

  • Hewlett Packard 12C 10B, 10B II+, 17B II+;
  • Texas Instruments TI BAII Plus, TIBAII Plus Professional;
  • Victor V12, Victor 10

Additional Information

To find a more detailed overview of the scheduling process including rescheduling, cancellations and refunds, download the PFS Credential Exam Registration and Scheduling Terms and Conditions document.