Gender Bias on the CFP® Exam?

Posted by Jason Watt on

With FP Canada’s™ exams coming up at the end of November, we are just about to start our first set of exam prep classes. As anybody who has attended an exam prep class with me will attest, I put a lot of thought (maybe too much) into what causes students to pass or fail exams.

Over the past several years, I have repeatedly asked FP Canada™ (formerly FPSC™) about gender bias on the CFP® Exam and FPSC™ Level 1 Exam. A recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast, “Revisionist History” visited this topic as it concerns the SAT (the primary tool for determining eligibility for US college admissions). On the episode in question, Malcolm interviewed the folks at the SAT offices who work to remove gender bias from the exam.

While FP Canada has not ever made any results of any examination of gender bias available, I have access to a reasonable amount of data about this. As several of you know, we ask for exam results at the conclusion of each iteration of any exam with FP Canada™. I pulled this data, covering 4 iterations of the exam over a 3-year span. I did not know what I would discover. My belief here, based mostly on anecdotal evidence, is that the Level 1 Exam, being multiple choice, is more prone to gender bias, and the CFP® Exam, being constructed response, is less so. I will discuss this in a future newsletter article.

Based on the available data, I was able to determine the following:

  • I used information dealing with 176 attempts at the CFP® Exam.
  • I dealt with students who either took core curriculum, capstone, or some exam prep with us.
  • This covers 109 male exam writers and 67 female exam writers.
  • I made no distinction between exam writers writing for the 1st time or making a subsequent attempt. (Subsequent attempt exam writers normally have a pass rate of about 2/3rds that of first-time writers. This is a common pattern and not unique to FP Canada’s™ exams.)
  • I only used data where I was reasonably confident of the student’s gender.
  • For male students, 68.81% passed, or slightly better than the average.
  • For female students, 55.22% passed. This is worse than the average.
  • I don’t have access to exam scores, only pass/fail results, so it’s not practical to calculate standard deviation.

I don’t think, based on these numbers, that it’s certain that there is a gender bias on this exam. It’s possible that there is a bias in how I deliver my material. Perhaps female students are at a disadvantage based on something in the BCC curriculum. This is something we will explore as we continue to develop our material.

The sample size is not exceptionally large. I recognize that with only 176 data points, we could be missing something. It would only take 9 more women to be successful out of our pool to have an identical result to male exam writers.

At the same time, I would love to see FP Canada™ produce some public data like what I have done here. At the very least, we must recognize that women comprise only 38.07% of those writing this exam. If the exam’s structure contributes to women comprising less than half of exam writers, that seems like something that should be addressed.

CFP® is a certification trademarks owned outside the U.S. by Financial Planning Standards Board Ltd. (FPSB). FP Canada is the marks licensing authority for the CFP Marks in Canada, through agreement with FPSB.



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