Tag Archives: AF5


CII AF5 Exam September 2023

As a bit of background, the CII AF5 exam is a three hour exam. The exam itself is a fact-find basd exam, with eight main compulsory questions that will test your knowledge on various areas of financial planning. The nominal pass mark for the CII AF5 exam is 55%, and last year (in the 2022/23 year), the pss rate was 72%.

It’s less than a month to go until the next sitting of the CII’s AF5 exam. Given the case studies have not been released yet, you may be asking yourself if there is anything you should be doing?

The answer is absolutely yes, and we are here to help guide you through three things you should be doing now to give yourself the best chance of exam success.

1. Past and practice papers!

As you will probably already know yourself, past exam papers are one of the best ways for most people to prepare for an exam and the CII AF5 exam is no different. It is possible to download a free AF5 exam guide from the CII website and a host of ‘practice tests’. You can find these by clicking HERE.

These are updated past exam papers so regard them as good pre-fact find preparation. Now the fact-finds you will look at in past and practice exam papers will not be the same as the one you will be faced with in September, however it will allow you to become more familiar with the fact-find format of the AF5 exam.

It may surprise you to learn that in the vast majority of cases, the candidates that narrowly fail could easily have picked-up an extra 10-15% of the marks available, not by knowing more technical knowledge, but instead through applying better exam technique. Therefore familiarising yourself with past AF5 exams is vital.

2. Familiarise yourself with the types of question

So I’m sure that you will be familiar with the expression ‘past performance is not a guide to future performance’ and this applies to exams as much as it does with investment advice. There are likely to be questions in some areas of the case studies that will surprise you and it’s also likely there will be questions which are less of a surprise. Looking back at past exams will show you that there are questions that feature in just about every CII AF5 exam. Below are the six question types that you need to understand and master:

Risk-based questions

This type of question is primarily used in the CII AF5 exam and an example of a risk-based question is as follows:

‘Sanjay would like to know more about the risks associated with investments. Excluding market risk, identify the relevant investment risks and describe how they apply to the following:

(a) Cash held within the bank (8 marks)

(b) The proposed purchase of a holiday home in Spain (10 marks)’

From an exam technique point of view, it is important with the CII AF5 exam to spot the verbs used in the question. So take the above example, the verbs are identify and describe, which means when answering the 10 mark question relating to the holiday home, you would have received 5 marks for identifying the five types of risk outlined above and a further five marks for describing how these apply to Sanjay. Ideally, you would also include at least one extra risk factor with a suitable description to maximise your chances of getting full marks. History has shown that the number of marks for this type of question does vary but you could expect around 10 marks of this style in a typical exam.

Fact-find questions

As the name suggests, this style of question requires you to identify the additional information that you would require, prior to advising a client, beyond that provided in the CII AF5 fact-find. Like the risk-based question, this is a favourite type of question with examiners and therefore you should ensure you are comfortable answering these.

Depending on the exam, the focus of this question will be either the client’s objectives (e.g. Immediate financial objectives) or an element of the client’s financial planning needs (e.g. retirement planning). Remember, that asking for information that has already been provided in the fact-find shall not score well, as it shows the candidate is lacking the ability to correctly apply answers to the information provided.

An example of a fact-find question is as follows:

‘Identify the additional information you would need to discuss with Mike in order to advise on how to meet his:

(a) Immediate financial objectives (14 marks)

(b) Longer-term financial objectives (14 marks)’

Comment on questions

This is the third style of question that we will look at and this perhaps needs a little more explanation than the previous three question types. It is important to understand what the examiners are looking for with this style of question. In effect, it means ‘describe the position’. It doesn’t ask you to elicit additional information and it doesn’t ask you to make recommendations. Instead, it’s a question asking you to basically outline the information that is available to you. Hopefully the below example will help to demonstrate this:

‘Fiona is particularly concerned about the impact long-term illness or death will have on the family’s situation.

(a) Comment on the current situation and identify any weaknesses in Fiona’s protection arrangements if she suffered a long-term illness or disability. (8 marks)

(b) Comment on the current situation and identify any weaknesses in Fiona’s financial arrangements if she died tomorrow. (8 marks)’

Review questions

This style of question traditionally requires you to either:

  • Identify the key events that would trigger a review of a client’s circumstances.
  • Identify the actions you would need to take when reviewing a specific area of advice provided to clients e.g. review protection needs, ongoing suitability of investments, income in retirement.

Below is an example of a review question:

‘When conducting an annual review, list eight areas that you would specifically address with John. (8 marks)’

Explain, outline or describe questions

These may be used as a verb in one of the other questions, e.g. ‘explain the risks of…’. In this case, being aware that you are being asked to identify the risks of something is the important bit. On other occasions, it is the ‘explain’, ‘outline’ or ‘describe’ that is important. This type of question requires you to demonstrate the depth of your knowledge.

With this type of question, the examiners are asking you to provide detail. If you are not precise or you do not link the information to the scenario given, you will not score well. For example, if you are asked about taking income from an investment bond, you would probably get marks for saying something like:

  • 5% withdrawal may be taken (1 mark)
  • based on the amount invested (1 mark)
  • tax deferred (1 mark)
  • for a period of up to 20 years (1 mark)

Here is an example of a ‘explain’ question:

‘Explain to Doris the ‘small pots’ rules that allow her to take her preserved personal pension policies immediately and the tax implications of this course of action. (8 marks)’

Recommendation questions

Given the CII AF5 exam concentrates on financial planning, it really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that recommendation questions feature in nearly every CII AF5 exam. Below is an example of a recommendation question:

‘Detail and justify the recommendations you would make in respect of each of the following financial objectives. No calculations are required. Candidates will be rewarded for supporting their recommendations with relevant evidence and demonstrating how the recommendations work holistically to meet the client’s objectives.

(a) To provide financial security for herself and her children in the event of illness.(10 marks)

(b) To provide financial security for her children in the event of her death. (8 marks)’

From an exam technique point of view, again notice the verbs that are used in the question. Take the example question for instance- detail and justify. Part (a) of the question will probably look for five recommendations that meet the client’s needs, with a further five marks justifying these.   

3. Read the examiner’s comments from previous exams!

You may or may not be aware, but in the past CII AF5 exam papers, there are examiner’s comments that are used to highlight where candidates scored well but also struggled.

You can via the February 2023 CII AF5 exam paper HERE and the September 2022 CII AF5 exam paper HERE. The examiners’ comments are found on page 10 of each of these documents so we’d strongly suggest that if you complete a past paper or two, as we suggest in point number 1, that you also read these examiners’ comments following this.

Final thoughts

It’s true to say that the hard work when preparing for a CII AF5 exam begins when you receive the case study. However, by doing the three above steps, you should put yourself in the best position to pass!

If you’d like some further tips on effective revision, click the below:

How to pass your CII AF exam first time

One of the best revision tips I ever learnt

Good luck with the exam!

Sam Patterson

time management

CII AF exams: study options with four weeks to go

So your CII AF exams are in around four weeks’ time. The CII suggest 150 hours of study is required for the written AF exams (100 hours for AF7) and some people will have already have done this amount of work. For many others, the hard work is just about to start.  You’ll probably have done enough exams by now to know what works best for you. Whether you are a ‘steady studier’ or a last minute ‘crammer’, you’ll know the last four weeks are crucial.  In this article, I’ll share some ideas about your AF exam study options and how to make the best of the remaining time you have available.

I’ve not done a CII AF exam before – how does it differ from a CII R0 exam?

  1. The CII AF exams are written exams, not multiple choice exams. The opportunity to ‘rule out’ a few options doesn’t work with the AF exams.
  2. AF1, 4, 5 and 7, although they are Advanced Diploma exams, are largely based on the knowledge from the Diploma exams. In theory, there should be nothing new they can throw at you.
  3. R0 Diploma exams are largely about recall of knowledge with some application.  CII AF exams are largely about applying your knowledge to the case study that is given in the exam. In AF exams, questions that ask you to ‘list’ or ‘state’ information are not very common (except in AF4). For example, you are unlikely to get a question asking you to list 7 features of FAD but you may be asked why FAD might be a suitable option for a client. In this case, the details provided in the case study will make it clear that some features will be more useful to  the particular client than others.
  4. Being Advanced Diploma exams, AF subjects will typically test more complex areas of the subject so preparation really is the key.

What does each AF exam tend to focus on?

Ah, it would be great if only we could tell you this!  The Syllabus for each AF subject are very broad. The good news is that the examiners will test some core areas in most papers and throw in a few more peripheral areas so they cover the full syllabus over a period of time. If you’ve done little study so far, with four weeks to go, it’s time to make sure you are OK with the core areas.

So what are these core areas? We’ve looked at the past exam papers and identified what these are. These can be found towards the end of each of our FREE preparation guides. Click here to download our guide for each of the specific  AF1, AF4, AF5 and AF7 exams.

With 4 weeks to go, what should my study plan look like?

This is what we recommend. The focus should be very much on doing practice papers at this stage, practising your technique and making as many mistakes as you can. Make these before you go into your exam! Use Diploma study texts and Google to check technical areas that you are not comfortable with.

AF exam study options

There are a range of these to suit how you prefer to study. I’ll cover the main ones:

1. The CII ‘enrolment’ exam package.

This is a bundle that includes the exam entry. Along with this, it also includes study texts (eBooks) and access to RevisionMate – the CII online learning support. This varies between subjects but also includes a case-study workbook. For example, the ‘enrolment only’ AF1 package from the CII include the eBooks for R03, R05, and J02, a case study workbook and your exam entry.

2. Use existing R0 Diploma study texts.

These are great for checking examples and technical aspects. If you are using a text which isn’t in the current tax year, you obviously need to ensure the tax rates etc are still current.  With four weeks to go, your time is probably better used on practice questions, rather than trying to read study texts from cover to cover.

3. Practice papers.

Back to the CII website. The site includes the full exam guides for the last two published AF exams (AF5 also has additional practice papers) which can all be downloaded for free. Being past exam papers, these are the closest you’ll get to finding out what standard the exam will require.

4. Audio MP3 material.

These are ideal for learning on the go and for making sure your knowledge of both the ‘core’ and the ‘peripheral’ syllabus areas is good. They are available for AF1, 4 and 7 and most include over 6 hours of material. It also includes comments from CII examiners on the all important exam technique you will need.  If you spend time travelling, running or in the gym, these are an ideal way of learning on the go and reminding yourself of the areas you need to know.  Click here for a sample and full details.

Prepare well and be successful first time.

Until the next time…

Ian Patterson

Ex-examiner and author of the current CII study texts: CF8, J07 and AF6