Tag Archives: AF exams

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

CII AF7 exam

CII AF7: Free preparation guide

If you are thinking of sitting the CII’s AF7 exam, then go into it with your eyes open. Based on the latest CII published results, this is the hardest AF exam to pass with a pass rate of just 43% (the latest published results). If you expect to pass purely because you do transfers at work, clearly this isn’t enough for many people.

If you want to know about important dates, what’s been tested in the past, exam technique and what study options are available, click here for our FREE AF7 preparation guide.

You will also find preparation guides for AF1, 2, 4 and 5 on the same link.

The CII AF7 is a popular exam. Safeguarded benefits is a big area for many financial advisers and if you are involved in the transfer of safeguarded benefits in some way, then this might be the subject for you. It also satisfies the FCA additional exam requirement to advise on safeguarded benefits.

What does the AF7 exam look like?

The AF7 exam is 2 hours long. It consists of 3 or 4 short answer questions and then two additional case studies. These both have three to four questions making 9-12 questions in total. Overall, the paper will have 100 marks with the short answer questions accounting for around 30 to 35 of the marks, and the case study questions accounting for 30-35 marks each.

With a pass mark of around 60%, this means that you will normally need 60 marks to pass the exam.  The 60% pass mark applies to the exam overall so you could bomb on one case study and still pass if you get enough marks elsewhere.

What’s been tested in the past?

AF7 is a relatively new exam, launched in October 2017. Like any relatively new exam, it takes a few sittings to see what the examiners are choosing to focus on. The best way to spot these areas is to look at the past exam guides. Here are some key areas:

  • TPR and the transfer process
  • FCA regulatory requirements, e.g. APTA, COBS
  • DB schemes and CETV
  • Death benefits

The last two exam guides are now provided on the CII website. Click here for the link to the CII website. You should ensure you spend time studying these.

How much revision will I need?

The CII suggest around 100 hours of study for this exam. Whether you need this amount – more or less – will depend on your existing knowledge of the area. Even if you have good knowledge of transfers already, there are likely to be areas of the syllabus that you are NOT familiar with. And you will still need to practice that all important exam technique, if nothing else.

With the current low pass rate for AF7, one thing is clear – relying on just your day job is unlikely to prove successful. Don’t under-estimate this exam.

Do I need to read the CII AF7 study text from cover to cover?

Unless this is a brand new area for you, the answer will probably be ‘no’. For many people, just reading a study text is not likely to be an effective method of revision. You’re unlikely to remember much, especially if you just read without taking notes.

Most people sitting this exam will have some knowledge. Some will have quite extensive existing knowledge. So just use the study text as a reference source – focus on using past exam papers and top-up your knowledge by reading about the bits you are not familiar with.

Click here for a link to our exam technique.

Click here for more details about how you can learn on the go.

If you want to access our FREE preparation guides for other CII AF exams, they are available on our site for AF1, 2, 4 and 5. Just click here.

Prepare well and be successful.

The Diploma Doctor

CII AF exam

Which CII AF Exam should I sit next?

One of the questions that we frequently get asked is ‘which CII AF exam should I sit next?’. Oh, if only there was a simple answer!

We believe that the purpose of exams is to make people more knowledgeable so sensibly, people would choose the AF exam that is most useful to both themselves, and their business. The road to chartered is a long journey and that also means that many people want to select the subjects that help them to shorten this journey.

This is a big subject area so, in this blog, I’ll consider some of the main CII AF exam options.  In two subsequent blogs, I’ll look at the options for the Certificate and Diploma subjects that are worth considering:

CII exams: getting to Chartered. To view it, click here

CII exams: getting to CII Chartered status (part 2). To view it, click here

CII Chartered requirements

To complete Chartered Status, the CII require a total of 290 exam credits. 120 of these must be from AF subjects which means that a minimum of four 30 credit Advanced Diploma subjects will have to be completed (if you don’t have existing credits from the previous AFPC or earlier exams). This must include AF5, as it is compulsory. The remaining credits can come from other Diploma or certificate level exams.

Click here for a link to the CII qualification guide.

Remember that there are two exam sittings per year of the written AF exams: in April and October. Coursework-based exams can be entered when you like during the year and you will then have 12 months to complete them.

CII AF exam options

You need at least four AF exams, but which ones are best for you?  There’s the usual caveat about prioritising the ones that are most relevant to your work – and this might make your choice obvious.  If not, here are the key questions to consider:

Do you prefer coursework, rather than exams?

If so, you have two choices: Senior management and supervision (AF6) and Retirement income planning (AF8).   AF6 is aimed at people who run a regulated firm (or might do so in the future). With AF8, it might be called ‘Retirement income planning’ but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s all about pensions. It’s more of a later life planning module that includes at-retirement pension options, tax and estate planning, and potentially care planning.

How much of a hurry are you in?

The benefit of doing coursework is that you will have a year to complete it. With some sensible planning, this shouldn’t prevent you from also sitting one or more written AF exams. This opens up a realistic chance of you getting 3 x 30 credit exams within a year.  We never recommend trying to sit two written AF exams at the same sitting – this usually ends in tears. But completing a coursework option as well as a written AF exam is possible with some hard work.

What is the easiest CII AF exam (in terms of pass rate)?

If this is how you want to select your AF exams, then the current CII AF exams can be ranked as follows (easiest first): AF5 (Financial planning process), AF6, AF1 (Personal tax and trust planning), AF4 (Investment planning), AF2 (Business financial planning) and AF7 (Pension transfers). This is based on the latest published results for 2017. Please note that the pass rates for AF1, 2 and 4 are very similar so it isn’t a great way of choosing between these exams.  As AF8 is relatively new, there isn’t a published pass mark yet.

Click here and scroll down to see the actual pass rates.

Is there an order you would recommend sitting the AF exams?

Yes. AF1 is the CII AF exam that underpins most of the other AF exams so we believe this is a good subject to start with. With suitable preparation, it’s also possible to prepare for the four key areas it covers and give you a decent chance of being successful.

Also, look to sit AF5 as soon as you can. It is examined twice a year and, because it’s based on a fact find that is issued 2 weeks before the exam, there isn’t too much preparation you are able to do before this two week period. It’s also a test of your financial planning skills so the depth of technical knowledge needed usually isn’t that great.

Where do I get more information about these CII AF exams?

The CII website (using the earlier link) is a good place to start. We produce free ‘preparation guides’ for AF1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 which set out your study options, how to study, and the common areas that are tested in each exam.  Click here to access them.

Until the next time,

The Diploma Doctor

pass-your-CII-AF-exam-first-time

CII AF exams: Top 10 tips to pass first time

For many people who are on the ‘road to chartered’ status, the hard work preparing for AF exams starts 4-6 weeks out from the written exam.  The CII suggests 150 hours of study for each AF exam, and, if you look at the stats, either people don’t do this amount of work or they do but it’s not effective.  With a pass rate of between only 40-57% for the written 3 hour AF exams, many people who sit these exams can be more effective with their study. This post aims to highlight how to pass your CII AF exam first time.

So what does working smarter and working harder look like? Here are our top ten tips:

  1. Start early. Few people go into the exam over-prepared. You’ll have done enough exams by now to know how you work best – a steady long term revision plan or a last minute cram!  But don’t forget, the CII recommend at least 150 hours of study for a written AF exam (AF7 is 100 hours).  Unless the exam you are sitting is ‘your subject’, most people will need something approaching this amount of time.
  2. Make a plan. Over a 6 week period, this 150 hours amounts to about 25 hours per week. This will need to be planned and structured in around your other commitments. However desperate you are to the pass the exam, get your life/work/study balance right and allow time for family and downtime.
  3. Build in treats/rewards. Some people like revision; most don’t so make sure you reward your commitment to the cause.
  4. Know yourself. Identify where your technical knowledge is both weak and strong. Focus your revision in the areas you are weakest. How do you know?  Complete a practice question at the start of your revision under exam conditions and then mark it.
  5. Know the exam. Each exam does tend to have recurring themes that get tested on a frequent basis, and other areas that only come up from time to time. See Tip 8 and either look at past CII exam papers or click here for our FREE guide that summarises these for you.
  6. You learn by doing.  Don’t just read stuff – this is passive and most people retain little of what they read.  Write notes, memory cards, use Brainscape ( a FREE electronic version of index cards), and practice answering questions.
  7. CII Case study book and RevisionMate.  If you buy a CII case study workbook, for most subjects you’ll also get access on-line to past exam papers, the Diploma level study text and multiple choice revision question.
  8. FREE AF past exam papers.  To download two CII past exam papers, go to the CII site and select the exam you intend to sit. The papers can be found on the home page for each AF exam.
  9. Mix up your revision. Learning doesn’t all have to be something which requires dedicated ‘study time’. We produce MP3 material for AF1, 4 and 7 exam. With 3-7 hours of material (depending on the subject), you can be learning while you commute, drive or jog.  Make better use of your time. Click here for details.
  10. It’s not all about knowledge. Most people who fail the AF exam will do so because their exam technique wasn’t great; not through lack of knowledge. AF exams, aren’t about remembering lists; they are about applying knowledge. The information provided in the case study is there for a reason – so use it! Ensure that you use those free past CII exam papers to practice your technique. For most people, this is what will make the difference.

Prepare well and be successful first time.

Until the next time…

The Diploma Doctor

1