How to get CPCU in a Hurry

Update: The final date to qualify for Hawaii 2016 has passed but this article still contains great advice on how to do CPCU fast. The original title of the article “You can Still Make CPCU Hawaii” has been changed to avoid confusion since the Hawaii Annual Meeting has now passed.

Today marks the official first day of the CPCU Class of 2016! Those who complete their designation between now and June 15, 2016 will get to celebrate their accomplishments at the 2016 CPCU Society Annual Meeting in Hawaii! This Annual Meeting will likely be the biggest insurance conference and celebration of the decade. Many have been working on earning the designation for years. In fact, many have been holding off from taking their final test until after today to make sure they would be going to Hawaii instead of Indianapolis.

So what about those of you who have been toying with the idea of getting your CPCU but are scared that you didn’t start in time to make it to Hawaii and will have to settle for Orlando or another destination instead? We are here to let you know that in fact you can still make it to Hawaii, but you have to start today. You have exactly 366 days to pull it off! The average time to finish CPCU is four years, but many people have gotten through it in significantly less time. Tony had three waivers and knocked out the other five tests in five months while Carly did exactly what we want to help you do and passed all eight tests in twelve months.

We already wrote an article on how to survive CPCU, and we’re not going to repeat it here, so make sure you read it too. In this article, we’ll focus on how to get through it in an accelerated manner.

Start by thanking your lucky stars that 2016 happens to be a leap year. Then, head over to the Institute’s website, log into your account, click on “Learning Resources,” and “My Progress Tracker.” Choose CPCU, and see if you happen to have a waiver. If you have other designations like AINS or AIC, you just might be exempt from taking one or more of the tests. Also, keep in mind that if you have an MBA, you are waived from taking CPCU 540, but you have to fill out some paperwork and pay a fee to apply for the waiver. Check out the equivalency chart to make sure you don’t have any other waivers not mentioned in this paragraph.

The very next thing you should do is order the books for the first test. We mean right now; you simply don’t have time to waste. We recommend you get the “Recommended Package,” it’s all you need to pass the test, and it’s one of the cheaper packages. Pay for the fastest shipping they offer this time (chances are your employer will reimburse it), and plan to order the books for the second test 12 days before you take the first test, so that they will arrive before you take the first test, and you can keep going with the studying, without paying for expedited shipping. If you happen to work for a company that has the books, like Carly’s current employer does, you’ll want to get the books through them because they probably would not reimburse the cost.

Another option that some choose to pursue is completing all the classes online, including the electives, through The Institutes. It’s recommended that you read the Chapter Assignments one by one, then study the Flash Cards, Matching, and Crosswords.  Next, take the Chapter Assignment Quiz.  At the end of each Assignment, there is a SMART Practice Exam.  Be sure to complete that before moving on to the next Chapter.  Do this for each class Chapter Assignment, and you’ll get into a successful rhythm.  Once all Assignments are completed, there is a SMART Final Exam that can be taken over and over again exposing you to a bounty of questions to test your knowledge.  When pursuing the online option, you won’t have any books, so make sure you understand the concepts and vocabulary because it’s easy to start memorizing the Practice Exam and Final Exam test questions.  However, none of the questions are on the actual proctored Exam you’ll take.  This route is not for the faint of heart and will require extreme drive and motivation to be successful. However, it can be done, and you can finish in less than a year this way too with a properly planned class schedule.

You’re going to need A LOT of support from your family and support at work to get through this, and it will be stressful. Over the next year you are going to live and breath CPCU. Explain to your significant other that this is a HUGE step in your career, something similar to doing a Masters degree in insurance, via self-study, and in about 25% of the time the average person takes to do it. To pull this off, you’re going to need their full support. The kids needs to understand that you might miss a few dance recitals and soccer games. The reward is that once you get through the sweat, blood, and tears, you get to enjoy an awesome company-paid trip to Hawaii, and you will continue reaping the rewards through the rest of your career.

You are going to need to find an average of an hour a day of study time, six days a week, for the entire year to pull it off, so this will require a lot of planning up front to pull it off. On any given week where you don’t quite get your six hours of studying done before the end of Saturday, you’ll have to make them up on Sunday. If you choose to take the classes online, it’s recommended you increase your daily study time to 2-3 hours.  To be successful, block out chunks of time and make them “rocks” in your calendar that cannot be moved or rescheduled.  Then, stick to it!.You cannot fall behind!

Talk to your boss tomorrow morning, and tell him or her that you’ve decided to knock out your CPCU in a year and finish in time for the Hawaii trip. If he or she has been in the industry for a while, they’ll be impressed and will probably ask you whether that’s even possible. Tell them other people have pulled it off, but it’ll be hard. Ask whether they would be willing to support you by giving you some study time during work hours. Even if all you can get is two hours a week, it’ll help! If they won’t budge, that’s ok, we’ll get you through it, you can do this!

CPCU requires you to take the four Core classes, three in either the Commercial Lines or Personal Line track, one elective and one online ethics test. Go ahead and get the ethics test done today or tomorrow, it’s super easy, and you’ll be able to get through it in about half an hour, just get it done so you don’t forget. Normally we recommend people think about what they want to achieve with CPCU, and then decide  which track to do. In this case, since the goal is to finish the program in 12 months, choose whichever track you’ve had the most experience with. If you’ve spent most of your career in personal lines, take that track. You’ll learn enough about both, and it’s really not worth the extra time it would take you to pass the tests you are less familiar with since time is the name of the game. Stick to what you know.

Each book is divided into chapters called “Assignments”. You can usually read through each assignment in about two hours or so. Here’s a table with the number of assignments for each test to help you plan:

CPCU 500: 8
CPCU 520: 10
CPCU 530: 10
CPCU 540: 12*


Commercial Lines:
CPCU 551: 13
CPCU 552: 12
CPCU 553: 11


Personal Lines:
CPCU 555: 11
CPCU 556: 10
CPCU 557: 11

*Unless your background is in finance, 540 is the toughest test, plan on taking 50% longer on each chapter in that test.

CPCU 560 is not included in the chart above because we recommend you don’t take it if you’re trying to finish as fast as possible, take the easiest electives you can find. We have also heard that ERM 57 is a very tough test, so skip that one. Look at the list of electives, and choose the one that looks easiest to you based on your background. Again, you don’t have the luxury of time to take the class that seems most interesting.

So you have eight tests, you need to prepare for and take in the next 366 days which gives you roughly 45 days per test. The tests vary in difficulty and length of book, so don’t get overconfident if you find the first couple of tests easy., It gets harder after 530 and especially with 540. On the other hand, 500 is a relatively easy test with a small book. Anyone who has been in the industry for more than a year or two will be fine with this test. We recommend you give yourself 5 weeks per test, and for 540 give yourself 8 weeks.

Take out your calendar, and plan out roughly when you’ll take each test keeping in mind you must pass the last test by June 15, 2016 at the very latest. It might be a good idea to leave some wiggle room in the calendar in case something happens along the way that delays a little bit, or in case you non-pass a test and need to retake it.

Once you receive each book, plan out when day you’ll be done with which chapters, and give yourself at least 3-4 days after being done with the book to take the practice test multiple times before you go in for the real test. Put those dates on the calendar, and do your absolute best to stick to them.

You can do this, we know you can! Please comment below if you found the article helpful or if you have any questions or suggestions. We’re always happy to help. Aloha!

This article was co-written by Tony Canas, RVP of the West Coast at InsNerds.comCarly Burnham, RVP of the East Coast at and guest author Justin Hardin.

Justin Hardin has been in the insurance industry for over a decade in California & Washington. Justin has been a top producing sales representative for GEICO, an award winning Agency Owner with Nationwide, and most recently as a celebrated Sales Coach with Liberty Mutual. Justin holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California State University San Marcos and is currently pursuing his MBA through Boise State University. In addition, Justin is one class away from completing his CPCU which he’s been working on since September 2014. Justin provides spirited leadership in an environment that encourages process improvement through problem solving, critical thinking, and innovation while relentlessly pursuing excellence. Justin continuously improves as an individual and leader by staying current with industry and lean best practices.

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