Basics of Defined Benefit Plans (DB)*


DB Syllabus 

Course Overview

Exam Details

Required and Supplementary Reading

Supplementary Study Tools

Exam Waivers and Grandfathering Rules

Exam and Publication References and Errata

Continuing Education (CE) Credits

Course Overview

This course builds on the material learned from the RPF Modules, which deals with basic terms and definitions within operation of a private employer’s qualified retirement plan, and includes fundamentals such as: nondiscrimination, coverage, preferential tax-treatment, reporting and disclosure, and vesting. The DB exam concentrates on basic issues of defined benefit plans and is primarily meant for the administrator, rather than the plan actuary. Further coverage of intermediate administrative issues is found in ASPPA's  DB-A: Defined Benefit Administration certificate program, while advanced defined benefit plan topics are found in the Cash Balance module, CPC proctored exam and A-4 courses.

The subject matter for DB:

  • Concentrates on basic administrative issues of defined benefit plans (as noted above, further coverage of intermediate administrative issues is found in DB-A: Defined Benefit Administration certificate program, and advanced defined benefit plan topics are found in the Cash Balance module, CPC proctored exam and A-4 courses)
  • Identifies ERISA law along with IRS, DOL, and PBGC regulations, which provide a framework for the rules that govern qualified plan operations (often applicable to both defined benefit and defined contribution plans)
  • Covers the nature of the defined benefit promise and its fundamental difference from the defined contribution promise
  • Discusses the concept of the present value of an accrued benefit under a plan, which takes into consideration pay and service history, maximum benefit limitations and/or top-heavy and lump-sum minimum thresholds
  • Introduces various types of defined benefit plans and benefit formulas, plan termination insurance (PBGC), Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) and issues that must be dealt with when benefits become payable
  • Considers the importance of the defined benefit practitioner’s compliance with ASPPA’s Code of Professional Conduct, which aims to further the ethical behavior of ASPPA members.

It is presumed that a candidate sitting for the DB examination will have the knowledge of material covered in the Retirement Plan Fundamentals (RPF) Modules. Please refer to the syllabus for specific learning objectives and exam topic weightings.

In addition to testing the knowledge of the material included in the syllabus, the DB examination is intended to test the candidate’s knowledge of the underlying principles and the candidate’s ability to apply those principles when solving problems encountered in practice. 

Exam Details

The DB examination consists of 60 multiple choice questions, and candidates have 2½ hours to complete it. Candidates will receive a grade immediately upon completing the exam. Exams are given at Prometric Testing Centers.

Examination Registration

A candidate is not required to be a member of ASPPA to take an ASPPA examination. However, it is recommend that a candidate order and receive all study materials before registering for an examination. A candidate can register for an ASPPA examination in one of the following three ways:

Online: Register online over a secure network and receive immediate payment confirmation. Credit card payments accepted (MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover). If you do not have an account set up with ASPPA, you will be required to set up a secure account. This account will store your pertinent information, including examination results.


Fax: Complete the proctored exam registration form with credit card payment and fax to 703-516-9308. Allow 5-7 business days for processing. If faxing your registration please do not send a copy via mail.


Mail: Complete the proctored exam registration form and mail with payment to ASPPA, P.O. Box 34725, Alexandria, VA 22334-0725. All forms of payment are accepted: credit card, check or money order. Allow 7-10 business days for processing.

Please provide an email address with your registration. Failure to do so will delay the registration process.

Once registered, eligibility emails will be sent to candidates. The eligibility email has detailed instructions on scheduling appointments with Prometric. It is the candidate’s responsibility to schedule an exam. We strongly recommend that a candidate schedule an appointment upon receipt of the confirmation letter, as testing centers fill up quickly. To find a Prometric testing center visit

Registration fee:

Members: $335

Nonmembers: $360 

Estimated hours needed to study - Study time depends greatly on the experience level of the student. The average candidate reports it takes 60-80 hours study time per examination.

Grading Process - Notification for examinations will include a score of 9, 8 or 7 (passing grade) or 6, 5 or 3 (failing grade). A score of 3 indicates that no points were credited; rather, the candidate’s performance was below the minimum acceptable standards. The score report contains a topic listing which indicates “needs work” for any topic where the candidate scored less than 70% correct. Raw scores, spreads between scores, pass marks, pass percentages and copies of questions are not released. The ASPPA Office is permitted to provide grade information only in writing; grades will not be provided by telephone, email or fax. Candidates who wish to have their grades sent to anyone other than themselves must fill out a Grade Release Form.

Required and Supplementary Reading

All study materials can be ordered by using the online ASPPA Bookstore or by downloading the Publications Order Form and following the instructions to phone, fax or mail your order form and payment.

The required reading for the DB exam is:

The suggested reading for the DB exam is:

Supplementary Study Tools

Exam and Publication References & Errata

For updates to ASPPA’s publications and examinations please click here. Stop by regularly as new updates are posted. It is the candidates responsibility to check the errata before preparing for and sitting for an ASPPA examination.

Continuing Education (CE) Credits

Candidates who have successfully completed an ASPPA proctored examination can earn up to 20 ARA CE credits depending on the score received. Credits will be applied to the CE cycle in which the score is issued. For more information on ARA examination CE credit click here.


20 ERPA credits for successful completion of the DB self-study program may be awarded.

The final decision as to the number of ERPA credits rests solely with the Internal Revenue Service.