Probably more than anyone, Jack Alotto, MA, CFRE, knows what it takes to successfully prepare for the CFRE exam. He has met hundreds of CFRE candidates around the world via his online study group. Below, he shares insights on what to do if you’re not successful on your first exam attempt.
For how long have you been running a CFRE study group and what percentage of participants do you estimate are nervous about passing the exam?
I’ve been working with CFRE candidates for more than five years in study groups, with individuals preparing to take the exam, small groups, and larger groups though CFRE Review Classes with AFP Chapters.
A large percentage of CFRE candidates, maybe 80 percent, talk to me about test anxiety, including that they haven’t taken a test in years and fear failing.
What main factors contribute to their fear?
Much of it is based on the anticipation they will not pass the exam and their performance on the exam will reflect on them as professional fundraisers with their supervisors, peers, and board.
The CFRE exam is just that—an exam. Being unsuccessful on it doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong profession or don’t know how to perform your current job.
The CFRE is a credential that tells the world you believe in excellence in fundraising and you’ve achieved a level of mastery in fundraising. It says you believe in improving your own skills in fundraising and have worked hard to achieve the CFRE credential, which in our profession is the gold standard.
When someone tells you they were unsuccessful on their first exam attempt, what advice do you give them for their second try?
When a CFRE candidate completes and submits the exam, they get their overall score and a score in each of the six Knowledge Domains. If they didn’t pass, I ask them to create a study plan based on those domains they didn’t pass and to not forget to keep reviewing the domains they did pass.
A smart study plan would include what you need to study based on your score, what time commitment you need to complete your studying before you sit for the exam again, and what additional resources you will use to study that can help you pass next time.
I recommend the following resources like the AFP CFRE Refresher Coursebook, Achieving Excellence in Fundraising 4th Edition, and of course The CFRE Exam Compass 2020 Study Guide – three excellent resources.
Remember to create a timeline in your study plan to complete your studies and make it a routine part of your day. Stick to your study plan!
Discipline, focus, persistence, and solid studying habits are the recipe for successfully passing the CFRE exam.
I can’t emphasize enough these two strategies: the Power of Yet and positive affirmations.
I believe in the Power of Yet. Many books, for children and adults, have been written about the Power of Yet. Recognize you haven’t passed the CFRE exam YET, but you will in the future. That’s future focused. Stay future focused.
In addition to the Power of Yet, I believe in the value of positive affirmations. Repeat everyday: “I will achieve the CFRE,” “I will remain calm during the CFRE exam,” “I am taking the CFRE because I am a professional fundraiser,” and, “I will pass the CFRE exam.”
Remember the Power of Yet and positive affirmations will not work without the dedication and discipline that comes with the creation of a study plan you stick with.
What do you believe are the three main reasons candidates are unsuccessful on their first exam attempt?
- They think their experience as fundraisers is all they need to pass the test.
- They let their stress, anxiety, and fear of failing overwhelm them.
- They do not understand test taking strategies, which CFRE will give you in their CFRE Exam Compass 2020 Study Guide. See “Test taking strategies for taking the CFRE exam” on page 90!
What recommendations do you have to keep test anxiety in check?
Use the stress produced by test anxiety and fear to MOTIVATE you to action.
Take the self-assessment on page 11 of the CFRE Exam Compass 2020 Study Guide. Create a study plan based on what you’ve discovered from the self-assessment about your own fundraising knowledge deficits.
The more preparation you do, the less anxious you will be. Learn to relax by deep breathing, meditation, exercise, eating right, positive affirmations, and remaining calm. And of course, by joining a study group and working with others who are preparing to take the exam will lessen your anxiety and fear.
For candidates who don’t pass the first time but are successful the second time, what do you think they’re doing differently?
They understand why they didn’t pass the first time. They ask themselves the critical questions around WHY they didn’t pass and what fundraising knowledge deficits they may have. Once they find out why. they work hard to overcome their knowledge deficits and are disciplined, future focused, and believe in their ability to succeed.
If you had to convey your best study advice in a nutshell, what would it be?
Create a study plan with timelines and stick to it. Join a study group and work with others. Share your fears with others. You are not alone. Practice positive affirmations and remember the Power of Yet.
Keep repeating, “I will achieve the CFRE,” and you will.