CII AF1 exam: how to pass it

CII AF1 exam: how to pass it

So you want to pass the CII’s AF1 exam first time? The good news is that this is a very doable AF exam as long as you prepare in the right way. And the stats bear this out – of the four ‘technical’ AF exams (AF1, 2, 4, 7), AF1 is statistically the easiest with a pass rate of 55.58% (in 2018).

To see the full pass rates and how these have changed over the years, go to this page.

What can we learn from past AF1 exam papers?

We all know that working through past exam papers is one of the best ways to prepare for the CII’s AF1 exam.

Tip: Don’t just skim through them, start off with a blank sheet of paper and complete at least two of them under exam conditions.

Tip: Start this process towards the beginning of your study, not at the end. Learn about the technical aspects and also about how the examiners’ expect you to set your answers and apply your knowledge. Sure, you’ll make lots of mistakes but view this as a way of learning, not to assess whether you are ready for the exam or not.

What technical areas are covered?

The really useful bit is that the AF1 exam does tend to cover similar areas from one exam to another. If we look at the last AF1 exam paper (which
at the time of writing was the October 2018 paper ), you’ll see that:

  1. The three main personal taxes were all covered. In this paper, the marks were split between them approximately: Income tax (around 26%), CGT (around 7%) and IHT (around 10%).
  2. Around 26% of the marks were awarded for undertaking a calculation on these three taxes (or explaining the steps required to do the calculation).

Tip: To be successful with AF1, you’ll need to be comfortable with undertaking calculations, so practice doing these before the exam for the 3 key personal taxes. In particular, make sure you are comfortable with undertaking an income tax calculation which includes things like the treatment of VCT and pension contributions.

Tip: Whenever you undertake a calculation in an AF1 exam, marks are awarded for demonstrating the correct process. So make sure that your calculation is laid out clearly. One way of doing this is to ‘label’ each step of the process. Believe it or not, you can get most of the marks for doing this even if you get the answer wrong.

AF1 exam: question types

I’ll mention the types of question that are used in AF1. In the October 2018 paper, the following instructions (or verbs) were used:

  1. List or state. There were four questions/part questions that used these totalling 7.5% of the marks.
  2. Detail/describe/explain. These amounted to a whopping 51% of the marks.
  3. Calculate. 26% of the marks.
  4. Benefits (6 marks) and factors (9 marks).

Tip: In the AF1 exam, the instruction is the examiner telling you what to do. List or state does not need any amplification; a couple of words or short sentence will be fine.

Tip: Over half of this paper needed you to describe or explain. With this type of question, the examiner wants you to show what you know, and link this back to the information you have been given. A one or two word answer will not be enough to score well.

AF1: the technical knowledge you will need

Past performance isn’t a guide to future performance. We know this just like we know that a technical exam like AF1 will test across the broad syllabus. Although some of the broad areas that will be tested can be predicted in advance, they will also test some more peripheral areas of the syllabus.

So in addition to the 3 personal taxes, these areas have also historically been frequently tested in AF1:

  • Trust taxation: income tax, CGT and IHT
  • Bankruptcy
  • Taxation of investments – both direct and indirect
  • Use of trusts / role of trustees
  • Wills / intestacy
  • Powers of attorney / LPA
  • NI contributions
  • Employed/self-employed status
  • Residency status

Getting to the point where you can pass

You know that you are going to have to put in some hard yards with AF1. The CII suggest 150 hours of study is required and unfortunately, many people will need approaching this amount of study. Which begs the question, what will this look like? These are all areas that I’ve looked at in other blogs so click onto them if these are of interest:

For study tips, click here

If you think that your revision technique can be improved, click here for our dedicated exam technique and revision hub.

Study whilst on the go. Our unique audio material gives you 6 hours of AF1 content that helps you to fit your learning in around the rest of your life. Click here for details.

Best wishes. Prepare well and past first time.

The Diploma Doctor

Marie Patterson
Ian Patterson