8 Steps to Beat All 8 CPCU Exams

2019: New video to accompany this article

Now that we got you excited and you’re ready to start CPCU today, here’s some guidance on how to actually get it done and survive the tests. This article is lovingly dedicated to “those poor souls studying for the CPCU designation”.

Please keep in mind that doing CPCU is very much like trying to eat an elephant, there’s only one way to do it, one bite at a time. (There are WAY too many awesome images to illustrate this metaphor so I included a couple more at the end of the article).


I asked my friend and all-around Wonder Woman, Carly Burnham, to share the strategies she used in completing the designation. I met Carly in 2011 when she was at a turning point in her career. She felt stuck in her position as a call center sales agent and wasn’t sure of the next step. She wasn’t even sure whether insurance was an industry she could make a career in. She had an interest in underwriting but had no idea how to get there. We met through the Gen Y Associate Resource Group at Nationwide Insurance.


I could clearly see she was bright and hard working and was looking for a challenge, so I asked her if she had heard about the CPCU. Over coffee, I told her all about why CPCU is awesome and convinced her to go for it. To make things even more interesting, I challenged her to do it in a year, while working full time and finishing a part-time MBA program. To my surprise, she took me up on it. Even more impressively, she met the goal and finished all eight tests in just short of 12 months. When I talked to Carly about this article, she shared the following thought with me, “The CPCU is usually done as a self-study program, and if you haven’t tackled online courses or some other self study program, it can be challenging to know where to start. I was lucky to have your mentorship, and looking back, I’d say these 8 strategies were really what helped me meet the audacious goal that we set.”


1. Set Your Own Timetable:

Decide up front when you are going to finish your CPCU. If you don’t choose an end date, you could stretch the entire process out for YEARS. On average, people take at least two years to finish, but many insurance professionals have been working on their CPCU for longer than that. Decide when you want to be done, and commit to it. If you are trying to finish to advance your career, commit to finishing the exams in a reasonable time frame, and then focus on finishing before you begin to apply for new roles. If you want to finish in time to attend the Annual Meeting in a certain city,set your end date as the last month that you can qualify for that meeting. Having an end date and an understanding of your motivation will help you push through challenges along the way.


2. Find an Accountability Partner:

Your accountability partner may be a current CPCU or someone who is also pursuing the designation. He or she should be someone with whom you can share the reason for your pursuit of the CPCU. If he or she understands your motivation, it will be easier to push you to stay the course, and finish by your goal date.

3. Create a Spreadsheet on Google Drive to Share with Your Accountability Partner:

On this spreadsheet, you will want to map out the dates that you will take each exam in order to achieve your goal date. Once you have mapped out exam dates, you can work backwards using the chapter summaries at theinstitutes.org to identify when you will read each chapter of the text for the exam and when you will take your practice exams.


4. Devote Certain Hours of Your Day to Studying:

When studying, consistency is key. If you focus best at the beginning of the day, set aside an hour or two in the morning, and commit to showing up the same place each day to read the chapters that you laid out in your spreadsheet for this day. Choose the time that works best for you, but aim to make it a routine, so that you don’t have have to decide every day that you are going to stay at the office an extra hour or go to the coffee shop before work starts. If it’s part of your daily rituals, you won’t have to use willpower to get your studying done.


5. Read the Entire Book:

First, read The Institutes’ guide to preparing for their exams. As they mentioned, there is no single way to prepare. But, I found that reading the entire book first helped me establish a base level of knowledge. Next, I would take a practice exam, as a sort of pre-test. The practice exam would let me know which chapters I was weak on. With this information, I could pinpoint the best way to spend my time. If I needed to, I could re-read chapters and test on those individual chapters until I felt comfortable moving on to the next chapter.

6. Use the Mobile App:

The Institutes have created a mobile app called Smart QuizMe for Apple and Android phones. Using this in any spare time you have will also help you feel confident with the information and the style of questions on the practice exams. You can set it to run through certain chapters or the whole book depending on what you want to focus on. Since it’s on your phone, you can use it even if you only have 5 or 10 free minutes. The questions on the app tend to be clustered, so question 100, 101, 102 and 103 might be the same question with only one word changed. This really teaches you how changing a small part of a question can result in a different answer. The app is particularly helpful for the most detail oriented tests especially 520. One word of warning, don’t depend entirely on the app without doing the online Practice Exams, you could easily fool yourself into thinking you’re ready when there are significant parts you haven’t yet mastered.


7. Pass the Practice Exams a few times:

Leave at least at least 4 and preferably a full 7 days before the real test to take the online practice exams. Passing the exams will give you the confidence you need to take the exam without feeling rushed or unsure of your answers. The practice exams are very similar and sometimes harder than the actual exams. You will also have the opportunity to research any questions you missed and make sure you understand the concept before test day. Nothing beats going into the real test feeling confident and nothing gets you more confident that the online practice exams. The practice exams are the key to the kingdom!


8. Get the Proper Support:

Make sure your family, close friends, and other support systems fully understand that the CPCU is a BIG DEAL and that you will require lots of support while you get through it. Make sure they know this isn’t just another license or minor designation but a serious commitment that only 4% of people in our industry have gotten through. To help my family understand, I explained that I was pursuing something akin to a master’s degree in insurance, and I was doing it in a year, while working 40 hours a week — most people outside the industry will need the designation explained in a similar way to fully understand the commitment you’ve made. Also, join the CPCU Candidates Facebook Group, they’ll provide you with tons of encouragement and answer your questions. Most importantly you won’t feel like you’re the only person in the world putting themselves through the difficult challenge of CPCU.


One Bonus Tip:

Know ahead of time that 540 – Finance and Accounting for Insurance Professionals is a special beast of a test (see artist’s rendering below). To ensure proper preparation for this one allow yourself 50% more time than usual, so if you have given yourself 2 months for 500, 520 and 530 give yourself 3 months for 540. Buy a financial calculator (preferably the Texas Instruments BA-II Plus) and learn how to use it. The book won’t teach you how to use it, so you have to get help from someone who knows how to use it – if you have a hard time finding someone, there are decent tutorials on YouTube or at Atomic Learning.Use it for all the practice tests and then don’t forget to bring it on exam day!

I am passionate about spreading the word about the CPCU, and I was glad to have met Carly at that turning point in her career. Her commitment has paid off, and she has recently became a Commercial Lines Underwriter at Erie Insurance, she’s loving the new job and she’s fully committed to the industry. She credits her designation with helping her get the interview but says it goes even farther than that: “The knowledge that I gained in earning my CPCU gave me the confidence to pursue a true career in the industry, and I now use the knowledge every day, in my role as an underwriter. This designation gives you a broad understanding of the industry, but it also gives you practical, technical information that is essential to being a successful insurance professional.”

If you’ve had similar experiences, share them in the comments. If you have questions about the pursuit of your CPCU, message me or Carly. There’s really no excuses left, let’s get going and get your CPCU, you will never regret it.

Good job making it to the end of our longest post yet, as a reward, another 2 images for the awesome metaphor of eating an elephant one bite at a time 😀



  • Antonio Canas

    Tony started in insurance in 2009 and immediately became a designation addict and shortly thereafter a proud insurance nerd. He has worked in claims, underwriting, finance and sales management, at 4 carriers, 6 cities and 5 states. Tony is passionate about insurance, technology and especially helping the insurance industry figure out how to retain and engage the younger generation of insurance professionals. Tony is a co-founder of InsNerds.com and a passionate speaker.

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About Antonio Canas

Tony started in insurance in 2009 and immediately became a designation addict and shortly thereafter a proud insurance nerd. He has worked in claims, underwriting, finance and sales management, at 4 carriers, 6 cities and 5 states. Tony is passionate about insurance, technology and especially helping the insurance industry figure out how to retain and engage the younger generation of insurance professionals. Tony is a co-founder of InsNerds.com and a passionate speaker.

24 thoughts on “8 Steps to Beat All 8 CPCU Exams”

  1. I am considering pursuing the CPCU designation. I really appreciate your posts on the topic. I noticed that theinstitutes.org has several different levels of study packages and I was wondering which level you would recommend. I anticipate that I will have to bankroll this project without outside help, so this is of particular interest to me. Thanks!

    • Hi Ann. Congrats on pursuing CPCU. We normally recommend the “Comprehensive Package” for each test, which has all you need: The textbook and the study guide which gets you access to the practice tests. If you’re bankrolling it without employer it’s worth asking around on the CPCU Candidates group on Facebook for used copies of the books. Sometimes you can even find the books on Half.com or Ebay. Good luck!

  2. Hello Tony, and thanks for this post!! I just hit my one year anniversary in insurance, and I’m a claims adjuster. The CPCU is my long-term goal, but I was wondering what you think is a good progressive path for designations. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew, but I also don’t want to get so caught up in other designations that I burn out and end up not wanting to pursue the CPCU at all. I recently talked to someone who has 30 years in the industry who told me that jumping into the CPCU isn’t as crazy as I might think, and that she wishes she had pursued it right when she started, but I’m skeptical. What would you advise?

    • Hi KT. Thanks for the question. This is a VERY common one. A couple of things: 1. It’s not crazy to jump straight into CPCU. Carly did it in 12 months (all 8 tests). I did it in 5 months (only 8 tests, I had waivers). I know people who have done it even faster. I think 12-18 months is the best rhythm but it’s a very personal thing. Anyway, it’s not crazy to jump straight in. 2. The fastest way to get CPCU is to get CPCU, meaning getting a few other designations to waive tests only slows you down, but it can help you build confidence. 3. If you decide not to jump straight in, then for claims I recommend doing this: AIC first. Then CPCU. And finally SCLA.

  3. About how much time do you recommend spending a week studying for the CPCU? How doable is to get it done while raising three children?

    • I recommend an hour a day, putting it on the calendar, and making that hour sacrosant! People have done it with small children, but neither Carly nor I have kids, so we can’t really comment on it. We’ve asked many people who have successfully done it with children to write an article about HOW they did it, and multiple have said they will, but they’re too busy so none ever have… I think that with enough partner support it would be doable, but not easy. It would be unquestionably worth it though!

  4. I successfully completed all 8 classes in 13 months. I have less than a year experience in the industry following college.

    My Tips –
    In time i figured it out so I was able to take my final 4 tests in either a 4 or 6 week windows – I don’t recall.

    Never open the books. It’s far too much information to learn. It took me ~40 hours to read it cover to cover prior to my first exam, but I retained very little.

    Use shortened study guides and shorten then more by handwriting the important keywords and phrases.

    Each chapter will be a few pages of paper, front and back. Once you have completed the study guide, stop using it and only memorize the shorthand notes.

    Take the practice test a lot. Each chapter has one final question that will be asked last during studying that will be the most difficult. Don’t learn it. It mostly likely won’t be asked, and if it is then it would have been a waste of time to learn.

      • Which companies study material/guides did you use? I’m planning on re-entering the work force at a late stage in my life. I was considering the ARM designation first because it only has 3 tests. I need to acquire a designation quickly, as to find a job fairly fast,my finances require it.

        • I personally used the Institutes official textbook and online practice test only. Later I’ve learned that Big Daddy University’s materials are wildly popular. Let’s chat about your strategy for the job search. Grab some time at ChatWithTony.com

  5. Hello Antonio,

    Thank you for all the help in this article! I have been an underwriter for about a year and a half, and I wanted to start the process to get my designation. Are there any prerequisite that I need before I am eligible to start the CPCU process?

  6. I appreciate the information you’ve provided. Early in my career I passed three CPCU courses but only recently went back to consider finishing up. I am surprised to see now that one can no longer purchase just the textbook and study guide, but instead has to sign up for an online course. I contacted the institute, hoping to be able to buy just the textbook and study guide, but there is apparently no exception. The thought of paying $630 – $825 for a single course / proctored exam in unpalatable. Are you aware of any money saving workarounds?

  7. Hi from India!

    I entered this industry 4 years ago after attaining a masters in insurance (MBA). Right now I’m in to Corporate Planning and strategy making department of my company which deals with monthly reporting and building business plans for the company. I now wish to advance my career and explore other areas of what this industry has to offer. Please advise!

    • Hi Aditi. Congratulations on your MBA. CPCU will help you learn a lot about insurance, but I have no idea how much it can help your career in India. If your goal is to move to the US, I will warn you that it’s incredibly difficult. No insurance company I’m aware of is willing to sponsor for the required H-1B Specialty Worker Visa. Things might be better in Europe.

  8. Hi from Turkey, Antonio,

    Thank you for information.

    I will move to Boston in 2023 January. I have 10 years of experience in property underwriting including reinsurance practice. Before I move to US, I would like to start my CPCU designation,does it help to get underwriting job in Usa? (already have citizenship no need for sponsorhip for me)
    Also , can I refer my experience in Turkey for Matriculation step in CPCU designation?

    Thank you in advance.

  9. Hi there! I’m currently a college student who hopes to go the CPCU route in the near future. Out of college I’ll likely be doing public accounting in the insurance industry for a little while. Will that count as the 2 years experience needed to qualify?


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