Tag Archives: CII AF1


AF1: Free preparation guide

If you are thinking of sitting the CII’s AF1 exam, then go into it with your eyes open. Based on the latest CII published results, this is one of the easier AF exams but the pass rate is still just 49% (the latest published results). If you expect to pass purely because you cover taxation in your daily work, clearly this isn’t enough for many people.

If you want to know about what’s been tested in the past, exam technique and what study options are available, click here for our FREE AF1 preparation guide.

You will also find preparation guides for AF2, 4, 5 and 7 on the same link.

The CII AF1 is a popular exam. For most people, this will be the first CII AF exam that they do – mainly because aspects of taxation tend to also underpin aspects within the other technical AF subjects.

AF1: what does the exam look like?

The AF1 exam is 3 hours long. It consists of 3 case studies. The first is worth 80 marks and the subsequent two are both worth 40 marks each. Overall, the paper usually has around 20 questions (or part questions) so there is plenty of scope for the examiners to test across a broad range of the syllabus. The paper as a whole is worth 160 marks.

With a pass mark of around 55%, this means that you will normally need around 88 marks to pass the exam.  This pass mark applies to the overall exam paper so you could bomb on one case study and still pass if you get enough marks elsewhere. If you got full marks on case study 1 (you can but dream!) and made a very limited attempt at the other two case studies, chances are you’d still pass.

What’s been tested in the past?

AF1 has been around ages – not only in it’s present format, but with it’s predecessor G10. So it has a track record. An analysis of past exam papers shows that it is almost inevitable that you will be examined in the following areas:

  • Income tax calculations
  • CGT calculations
  • IHT calculations

Areas frequently tested historically:

  • Trust taxation
  • Taxation of investments – both direct and indirect
  • Wills / intestacy
  • Powers of attorney

 Other tested areas:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Tax and self assessment
  • National insurance contributions

You can get some further analyses by looking at our AF1 Preparation Guide.

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 tax and trusts already, there are likely to be areas of the syllabus that you are NOT familiar with. And if nothing else, you will still need to practice that all important exam technique.

What study material are there?

There is no study text for AF1 because it applies the knowledge from the Diploma subjects R03 (Personal Taxation), J02 (Trusts) and R05 (not that we’d suggest worrying about R05).

So what do you do? Here’s what we’d suggest:

  1. Past exam papers. The CII website includes the last two published exam papers. Click here for these.
  2. R03 and J02 study texts. Read the elements of these that you are not familiar with. These are provided as part of your CII exam enrolment.
  3. Case study workbook. This is also provided as part of your CII exam enrolment.
  4. Audio talking books. These are already provided for you if you selected the CII enrolment plus package. If not and you want to learn on the go, click here for details.

Further AF1 resources

Click here for a link to our exam technique and study hub.

Click here for our blog: AF1 and how to pass it.

Click here for our blog: AF1: the 5 myths.

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 exam dates 2021

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 and 4 are statistically the easiest with a pass rate of 49% (the latest published results).

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, but not always. If we look at an example AF1 exam paper (October 2020 paper), unusually only two of the three main personal taxes were covered. In this paper, the marks were split between them approximately:

  1. Income tax (around 20%). This is lower than usual 25-28%
  2. CGT (around 20%). Broadly typical in this exam.
  3. IHT (0%). This is very unusual for AF1- it is usually around 20-25% of the marks. It would be surprising if this isn’t tested heavily in the next paper.

Note that this balance will vary between exams – as the last exam shows. Typically, these three areas are worth around 2/3rds of the total 160 marks available.

Around 14% of the marks were awarded in this exam for undertaking a calculation (or explaining the steps required to do the calculation). This again was low compared to the more typical 20-25% of the total marks. You can normally expect at least one calculation question for each tax

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 a VCT, benefits in kind, 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 2020 paper, the following instructions (or verbs) were used:

  1. List or state. There were three questions that used these totalling 9% of the marks.
  2. Detail/describe/explain/outline. There were a whopping 15 questions (or part questions) that used these verbs which amounted to 66% of the marks.
  3. Calculate. 20% of the marks.
  4. Benefits (0 marks) and factors (0 marks). These were not used in this paper but they are used from time to time.

Note: The balance of these ‘instructions’ was broadly similar with previous recent exams.

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, e.g. EIS and VCTs
  • Use of trusts / role of trustees
  • Wills / intestacy
  • Powers of attorney / LPA
  • NI contributions
  • 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.

Ian Patterson

Author of the CF8, J07 and AF6 CII study texts, ex-examiner


AF1 exam: the 5 myths

The CII’s AF1 exam is one of the core exams that most people will need if they want to become Chartered.  I’ll make the rash assumption that you are interested in this exam and you would like to pass AF1 first time.

In this blog, I’ll look at the five common myths about this exam.

Myth 1 – the AF1 examiners would like me to fail

None of the examiners are employed by the CII which means they have other jobs within the profession. Some are trainers and some are subject matter experts. The point is that all of them would like to give you a pass if they can. There is no quota restricting the number of people that can pass so, in theory, everyone could pass. They are not incentivised to fail an exam candidate and, as nice people, they would prefer not to.

Myth 2 – it’s all about my knowledge of taxation

If only it was…… The reality is that most people who fail AF1 will do so by between 5 and 10 marks. This means that they failed knowing just as much as someone who passed. So what makes the difference? The answer is exam technique. The people who pass often have no better knowledge but they answer the questions better. Here’s how.

1. AF1 tests your ability to apply your knowledge to a client scenario. Only occasionally will it ask you for a list of facts. So to pass this exam, you need to use your knowledge and link it back to the information provided in the case study.

2. Answer the question asked. For example, you might get the following question:  ‘Explain the inheritance tax position of placing the assets into a discretionary trust’. This sounds a little ‘Janet and John’ but when answering this, a significant number of people would probably include answers about CGT and income tax in their answers. As the question asked about IHT, not CGT or income tax, these answers don’t answer the question and will not get any marks.

Myth 3 – the exam will give you spurious or misleading information to throw you off the scent

Rubbish.  The Examiners will spend anything up to 3 months writing and re-writing the AF1 exam that you sit. The information that they provide is there for a reason. So when reading it, ask yourself ‘so how can I use this?’ and make sure you do. Here are some other tips:

  1. First look at the questions and understand what you are being asked to do – and then read the case study.
  2. Spend a couple of minutes planning how you will answer the question before you start writing
  3. Use a structure. if you are being tested on the taxation of trusts, use income tax, CGT and IHT as headers and set out your answers under each.

The examiners would like you to pass. Make it easy for them to do so.

Myth 4 – the AF1 exam could test practically anything

Strictly speaking, this is incorrect. The exam is based on the AF1 syllabus and so it should only test the content of this. Having said that, the AF1 syllabus is pretty broad and so I can understand why it might feel like AF1 tests just about everything! If you look at past AF1 exam papers – and I strongly suggest that you do – you can be pretty sure that the following four areas will be tested:

  1. Income tax
  2. CGT
  3. IHT
  4. Taxation of trusts

You will need, as a very minimum, a decent knowledge of these areas. Other areas will also be tested which is why many people find using our audio talking books useful so that they can refresh their knowledge of these areas whist travelling or at the gym. Click here for further details.

For details of the other areas that are commonly covered in the AF1 exam, click here and register to receive our free preparation guide for this exam

Myth 5 – AF1 is all about calculations

You should expect a significant number of marks for doing calculations in an AF1 exam, this is true. Up to around a third of the exam could consist of calculations; but this means that 2/3rds won’t be calculations.  You need to be comfortable with calculations so look at past papers to see how they have been tested – once you get the basic principles and lay them out in a sensible accepted manner, then most candidates should score well on calculation questions. Even if you are unsure, most candidates will stumble across some of the available marks.

Hope this helps. Until the next time.

The Diploma Doctor