AF8, Retirement Income Planning

AF8 exam

AF8, Retirement Income Planning

AF8 is one of the two current assignment-based advanced diploma exams offered by the CII. This style of exam offers a very different challenge to the traditional variations on a written exam that are used to test the other CII AF exams. I’ll look at some essential background and then give you our top 10 tips to help you prepare for this exam.

Who should consider AF8?

The glib answer is any CII member who wants 30 credits towards achieving Chartered status.

AF8 is ideal if the stress of a written exam is not your thing. You have 12 months to complete the three assignments that you submit online – so you never need to go anywhere near an exam hall.

Please don’t regard AF8 as an ‘easy option’, it isn’t. Unless you’ve already completed AF6, it is a very different experience.

What’s AF8 all about?

The title of AF8 is Retirement Income Planning. So the first point to make is that there is likely to be limited content about the pensions accumulation phase – primarily it’s about decumulation. For example, you shouldn’t need to know too much about pension input periods. On the other hand, lifetime allowance, transitional protections and the various flexible pension benefits are all fair play.

It’s also important to realise that AF8 ISN’T just about pension planning. If you look at the AF8 syllabus, there are four elements and only one directly relates to pensions. The other three areas are:

  1. Estate planning and later life issues
  2. Financial planning tools such as cash flow planning, asset allocation and risk profiling
  3. Client objectives, income and expenditure, assets and liabilities, and tax planning

As a result, some people see AF8 as a later life exam, not a pensions exam.

How easy is AF8?

This is where there is some welcome news. The current pass rate is a relatively high 76%. Compare this to AF2, the hardest AF exam, with a pass rate of 40%.

You will receive three assignments and all three AF8 assignments need a mark of 50% or more to pass.

A word of caution

The most common question we get asked is ‘what is the best AF exam to sit?’. Our answer is always this: don’t sit an exam just because it has a high pass rate. Sit exams that are most relevant to you and your business. There should be more to sitting exams than just the credits at the end.

There is also limited study support available from commercial providers. The CII provide materials (as we’ll see below) but other training providers aren’t able to provide you with direct support on the specific assignments you are given. The assignments you complete have to be your own work without assistance. In other words, any other support is likely to only be generic. This can feel a little uncomfortable for some people. Click here to watch the CII video on what is plagiarism.

Because of this, The Patterson Group does not provide individual support for AF8. The generic support provided in this blog is as far as we go. We want you to pass and we’re here to help as much as possible – with this and your other CII exams.

AF8: top 10 tips

Here are our top ten tips:

  1. Start early. With 12 months to complete three 2,500 word assignments, it sounds like a breeze. This isn’t the case because once you’ve submitted your assignment, the CII could take up to 40 days to mark and return it (40 days x 3 = 120 days = 1/3rd of a year) Sensibly, you wouldn’t submit your second assignment until you have received the result from the first assignment. This means that you need to start quickly and be structured in how you approach these assignments.
  2. Finish early. The 12 month timescale starts when you enter the exam and finishes once you’ve passed your final assignment. If you submit assignment 3 after 11 1/2 months and don’t pass, you have no time to re-submit and will fail. All three assignments need to be passed within 12 months so submit assignment 3 by month 10 to be on the safe side. In our experience, many people who sit AF8 will need to resubmit one or more of their assignments so build in time to do so.
  3. Know how the assignments are marked. These are set out in the CII Coursework Guidelines  on page 4 and this is essential reading. 30% of the marks are based on your knowledge of the subject, 60% on analysis and application of knowledge; 5% is on structure, and 5% is for demonstrating wider reading and using examples.
  4. Show your analysis. Over half the marks in AF8 are awarded for analysing and applying knowledge. This means that you must link your knowledge to scenario you are given. Showing the benefits and drawbacks of something is a good way of demonstrating analysis.
  5. Read the assignment closely. If the assignment asks you to assess or evaluate, this is the part of the advice process between the fact find meeting and going back with your recommendations. So what has the client got, what haven’t they got, and what is the shortfall? Don’t go into making recommendations as you haven’t been asked to and you won’t get marks if you do. It is easy to write a wonderful assignment – but not the one the examiners’ asked for.
  6. Link your answers back to the client(s). Remember that 60% of the marks are given for your analysis and applying your knowledge. You won’t pass unless you use the information provided in the fact find document. Read the assignment and then read the fact find and ask yourself ‘how can I use this information?’. It’s been provided for a reason so don’t just give generic answers. Provide solutions to their problems.
  7. Demonstrate your wider reading. Make sure that you show lots of citations and wider reading – nine or more relevant examples. Quoting material from the AF8 study text is unlikely to impress the examiners but do use weblinks – either those provided in the text or from your own research.
  8. Use the CII specimen assignments.  These are a must. If you’ve not experienced CII assignment-based exams before (or even if you have), these provide great examples of what to do, and what not to. These are the best way of understanding what your assignments should look like.
  9. Use your word count + 10%. Each assignment will state a maximum number of words but you are allowed to go 10% over without being penalised. Make sure you do. If your word count for an assignment is only 1,400 words when the max is 2,500, you are unlikely to pass.
  10. Don’t cheat. This sound pretty obvious but you need to be clear how the CII define plagiarism. Page 8 of the CII Coursework Guidelines says: ‘Writing of assignment responses must be done individually without collaboration of any kind.‘ Exchanging notes with other people sitting AF8 or copying material without referencing it may fall foul of this. Next time you get a CII magazine, notice how many people have been disciplined for plagiarism across the range of CII exams – they can and do catch people out.

We hope you find this useful. If you want to know more about our range of study support when you sit other CII AF and R0 exams, click here.

Until the next time…

The Diploma Doctor

Marie Patterson
Ian Patterson