Tag Archives: CII exams

R06 July 2023

CII AF exam dates 2024

Here are the CII AF exam dates for 2024 which are include two sittings. 

Sitting One (February to March)

AF1: 20th February

AF5: 13th February

AF7: 5th March

AF4: 7th March

Sitting Two (September to October)

AF1: 10th September

AF5: 17th September

AF7: 24th September

AF4: 1st October

Written exams vs coursework?

Of course, the CII now offer AF6 and AF8 on a coursework basis. This means that you have to submit assignments and there isn’t a specified exam date. But you do need to complete all three assignments within a 12 month period so if you intend to sit one of these subjects and a written AF exam, schedule the writing of your assignments to avoid the times when you will need to study for the AF written exam.

Enrolment for the assignment-based exams – AF6 and AF8 – can be at any time.  Note that the 12 month clock starts ticking when you enrol, not when you submit your first assignment.

Which is the easiest CII AF exam?

In theory, this might be a sensible way to select an exam. In practice, it might not quite workout this way. We always suggest selecting an exam that is of most use to your work and to your business. If you work in a specialist area, then your day-job may help to give you a head start in a subject where others struggle.

Here are the latest CII pass rates for the AF exams at the time of writing (July 2023):

AF142% (-1% on the previous year)

AF457% (+7% on the previous year)

AF572% (+9% on the previous year)

AF697% (no change)

AF761% (+5% on the previous year)

AF875.3% (no change)

NB The pass rate for assignment-based exams such as AF6 and AF8 suggest that these exams are easier than they are. This is because the pass rates are only based on those that submit and successfully complete all of their assignments – and do not include people who ‘drop out’.

Click here for the figures for previous years and to see the trends.

Want to know more?

CII website – AF exams

Free AF exam preparation guide (for AF1, 2, 4, 5 or 7). Click here

For details of all written financial services exams (e.g. J07, J05), click here

Prepare well and be successful.

Sam Patterson


CII AF6 changes for 2023/24

The CII AF6 exam has undergone a bit of a revamp. The syllabus has changed and so has the study text. This means that an existing exam will feel very different to anyone who sits it from 1st September 2023. Here is an overview to the changes.

The previous AF6 exam was launched back in 2013. It was the first ‘coursework’ AF exam and was a bit of a trail blazer as it was also the first AF exam to have a study text. As time has gone by, the syllabus and the study text (which based upon this) had changed very little until both were updated from September 2023.

The CII’s AF6 exam is intended for those who are, or aspire to be, a senior manager within their business and also those who wish to gain a greater insight into running a regulated business. With initiatives like SM&CR and Consumer Duty, it is clear that the FCA is increasingly placing emphasis on the quality of management within authorised firms and AF6 reflects this.

Syllabus changes to the CII’s AF6 exam

There are two main changes:

    • The syllabus for the CII’s AF6 exam now starts with a section on the regulatory environment. This previously covered the elements of FCA rules that impact on the role or responsibilities of senior managers. It now looks in more depth at areas such as equality and diversity, data protection, and financial crime: fraud, anti-money laundering and economic crime. The syllabus for the CII’s AF6 exam can be found here.

    • As you would expect, there is also now widespread coverage of Consumer Duty and vulnerable clients. Both of these far-reaching initiatives place responsibility on senior managers on a surprisingly wide range of areas. The result is that senior managers will need to work in ways we haven’t seen before. For example, what does appropriate monitoring and governance look like? Client vulnerability must be considered in every aspect of engaging with clients and the types and severity of vulnerability needs to be understood. What are the senior manager responsibilities for achieving this?

The first of the four learning outcomes is now the ‘business and regulatory environment’. The remaining three learning outcomes are ‘risk management’, ‘senior manager competence/ general competence arrangements’ and ‘culture’. Whilst the themes are broadly similar to the previous three AF6 learning outcomes, the content looks very different in many ways.

How will the CII AF6 exam change?

Time will tell but the way AF6 is examined is likely to change quite markedly. Including regulations explicitly within the exam is likely to result in this being tested more widely. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Consumer Duty, SM&CR and Vulnerability feature prominently in assignments going forward.

The ‘balance’ of the exam is also likely to shift. Previously, assignment 1 would be based on Chapters 2, 3 and 4 (chapter 1 was intended to just provide background knowledge), assignment 2 was based on chapter 5, and assignment 3 on chapter 6. Only the examiners’ will know for sure, but it’s probably a fair bet that AF6 will become less predictable – if only because there are now 6 chapters to test compared to the previous 5.

The marking scheme for the CII’s AF6 exam has also changed slightly. I’m not 100% sure if this changed for 2023/24 but marks are now awarded as follows:

    • Knowledge and understanding of the topic is 30% of the marks (previously 40%);

    • Application and analysis of the topic is 50% of the marks (previously 40%);

    • The structure in terms of logic and coherence is 15% of the marks (previously 10%); and

    • The use of relevant work and industry examples and/or examples gained from further reading is 5% (previously 10%).

See the ‘AF6 Examplar‘ for 2023/24 for further details.

AF6 exam support

AF6 exam support is largely restricted to the CII Study text, syllabus and Examplar. The onus with this exam is on your own work and so wider support is limited. Our CII AF6 Blog will hopefully provide some additional support for you in completing your assignments.

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…

Sam Patterson



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

R06 July 2023

CII AF exam dates 2023

Here are the CII AF exam dates for 2023 which are include two sittings. 

Sitting Two (September to October)

AF1: 12th September

AF5: 19th September

AF7: 26th September

AF4: 3rd October

Written exams vs coursework?

Of course, the CII now offer AF6 and AF8 on a coursework basis. This means that you have to submit assignments and there isn’t a specified exam date. But you do need to complete all three assignments within a 12 month period so if you intend to sit one of these subjects and a written AF exam, schedule the writing of your assignments to avoid the times when you will need to study for the AF written exam.

Enrolment for the assignment-based exams – AF6 and AF8 – can be at any time.  Note that the 12 month clock starts ticking when you enrol, not when you submit your first assignment.

Which is the easiest CII AF exam?

In theory, this might be a sensible way to select an exam. In practice, it might not quite workout this way. We always suggest selecting an exam that is of most use to your work and to your business. If you work in a specialist area, then your day-job may help to give you a head start in a subject where others struggle.

Here are the latest CII pass rates for the AF exams at the time of writing (July 2023):

AF142% (-1% on the previous year)

AF457% (+7% on the previous year)

AF572% (+9% on the previous year)

AF697% (no change)

AF761% (+5% on the previous year)

AF875.3% (no change)

NB The pass rate for assignment-based exams such as AF6 and AF8 suggest that these exams are easier than they are. This is because the pass rates are only based on those that submit and successfully complete all of their assignments – and do not include people who ‘drop out’.

Click here for the figures for previous years and to see the trends.

Want to know more?

CII website – AF exams

Free AF exam preparation guide (for AF1, 2, 4, 5 or 7). Click here

For details of all written financial services exams (e.g. J07, J05), click here

Prepare well and be successful.

Ian Patterson

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

cii af exam results 2022

CII AF exam results 2022

We now have the CII exam results 2022. Which are the easiest AF exams?

The latest CII AF exam results show which are hardest, and which are the easiest. These will be of interest to anyone who is looking to sit these CII exams so go into your AF exams with your eyes open.

Are all the CII AF exams the same style or format?

You could be forgiven for thinking that this should be a straightforward question. It isn’t. Some of the variation in pass rates is not solely due to the subject matter, but how it is examined. Perhaps surprisingly, there are significant differences between the exams.

AF1 and 4 are ‘traditional’ AF exams. They have 160 marks and these are split between three case studies: one worth 80 marks and the two other case studies are usually worth 40 marks each. Written answers are required and you will need around 55% to pass, i.e. 88 marks.

AF5 is based on a completed fact find that is issued 2 weeks before the exam. On the exam day, you will be faced with 8 questions (usually with sub-sections) that are based on this case study. The pass rate for this exam is relatively high because you should be able to identify some of the technical areas that will be tested and prepare for them before the exam.

AF7 is again different, perhaps because it is only worth 20 credits whereas all the other AF exams are worth 30 credits towards Chartered status. It is also a 2 hour exam rather than a 3 hour exam and the exam has 100 marks with a nominal pass rate of 60%. Section A has 3-4 short answer questions which test your knowledge across the syllabus. Section B consists of two case studies and EACH will usually account for 30-35% of the total marks for the exam.

Finally, we have AF6 and AF8. The format of these exams is very different because they are all assignment-based which means that you never have to enjoy the pressure of a timed written exam.  Instead, three assignments need to be successfully completed within a 12 month period. This creates it’s own pressures but ultimately, it should allow you to complete them when it suits you best.

What are the CII AF exam results 2022?

The latest pass rates are actually those up to the year ending in 2021. These are the latest available at the time of writing (July 2022):

AF1 – 43%  (minus 1% on the previous period)

AF4 – 50%  (minus 5% on the previous period)

AF5 – 63% (minus 9% on the previous period)

AF6 – 97% (minus 1.7% on the previous period)

AF7 – 56% (plus 13% on the previous period)

AF8 – 75.3% (plus 3.8% on the previous period)

What conclusions can we draw from this?

Overall, these figures reflect the ‘easiest’ and the ‘hardest’ exams but we believe that you still have to be careful how you interpret these figures. If you look at the data over a period of time, AF5 has always been the easiest of the written exams – probably because of the pre-issue of the fact find information allows candidates to pre-prepare. Conversely, AF7 (slightly worryingly given the importance of DB transfers), has always been one of the hardest AF exams – until this year where there was a welcome improvement. The ‘mantle’ of hardest AF exam now falls to AF1 although to be fair,  AF1 has consistently been one of the harder AF exams.

AF6 and AF8 deserve a special note. The pass rates for these subjects are sky-high – especially AF6. Many people will assume that these are much easier than the written exams but this would be a mistake. Being assignment-based exams does NOT automatically mean that this format is easier and you need to understand why this is. The CII base their pass rates for these subjects on those that complete their assignments. So anyone who drops out or doesn’t complete all their assignments ISN’T counted as a fail. In other words, just about everyone who completes AF6 passes but people will have dropped out along the way. Third-party support with your specific assignments is banned under the CII rules so you will need to work alone when completing your assignments – and this can be daunting.

We’ll look in more detail on each individual AF exam subject below.

AF1 – Personal tax and trusts.

In terms of CII AF exam results, this is the hardest AF exam. This is probably due to the fact that taxation, whilst very important to most financial planning, is not something that all people get directly involved in. It’s a very wide ranging subject so other than saying that the typical AF1 exam will have questions on income tax, CGT and IHT, that doesn’t narrow your study options down too much. It is also the one AF exam that will almost certainly ask you to complete calculations.

For many people, this will be the first AF exam they complete and it sets the foundation to some of the other subjects. For example, there is some overlap with AF4 on the taxation of investments. AF5 is quite likely to have some element of tax planning in it such as VCT or EIS schemes.

Click here to find out more about AF1 and how to pass it.

AF4 – Investment planning.

This is usually one of the harder AF exams and there was a relatively small drop on the previous year’s results. This exam does like testing things like dividend yield, P/E ratios, money weighted return and sharpe ratios. It’s fair to say that these (and similar direct investment ratios) are not something the average paraplanner or adviser will deal with in their day job (or perhaps is even allowed to). Prepare well and don’t just rely on your day job, and you can do well.

Click here to see what get’s examined in AF4.

AF5 – Financial planning process.

Statistically, this is the easiest ‘written’ exam. We’ve already alluded to why this is so why do some people still fail? This is partly because they didn’t prepare sufficiently around the potential technical areas before the exam. For example, if the case study says the client’s have an elderly infirm parent, this might mean that LPAs will be tested. But how? It could be the duties of being an attorney, the process of setting them up, or the benefits to the client of doing so. Make sure you cover all the bases and don’t try to be too clever and cherry pick.

Equally important is poor exam technique. You must understand what the examiner is asking you to do when reading the question. The only way to develop this is to practice this art using the past papers that are available on the CII website.

AF6 and AF8 – Senior management and supervision and Retirement income planning.

These are attractive because of the high pass-rates and because they aren’t timed written exams.  But they still have their pitfalls.  You do have to structure your time well. There is little point in registering and then not starting your first assignment for 3 months. The 12 month clock starts ticking when you register and all 3 assignments must be completed (including any re-sits) within the 12 month period.  Please don’t under-estimate how much work is required writing three 2,500 word assignments and be very clear about how the marks are awarded (see the CII coursework assessment guidelines and instructions).

With AF8, don’t just think that this is a pensions exam. It is more of a ‘later life’ exam and is likely to include elements of pensions, investments, IHT and care planning.

Click here for more information on AF8.

Other resources.

We have a library of posts relevant to each individual exam on our Exam technique and revision hub.

Want to know more about our audio books for AF1, 4 or 7, click here

If you want to know more about our 150-170 page study notes for AF1 or 4, click here

By registering as a member on our website, you can access a FREE preparation guide for either AF1, 4 or 5

Prepare well and pass first time.

Ian Patterson

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

AF exam

AF exams: make your study count

Most people who are unsuccessful in a CII AF exam will still be within around 5% of the pass mark

In many cases, those that are successful just answer the questions a little bit better, or know a little bit more. Few people like exam study and even fewer like re-sitting exams so we’ve produced an exam technique and study hub to help you to pass your AF exam first time.

You need to consider two elements:

  1. What you do before the exam, i.e. how much and how effective your exam study is
  2. What you do in the exam,  i.e. how good your exam technique is

In this blog, I’ll look at 5 tips on how you can make the most of your revision before you enter the exam hall. CII AF exams – AF1, AF4 and AF7 – require between 100 and 150 hours of study. Unfortunately, most people will need this amount of study. There are no easy short cuts when you are sitting degree-level exams like these AF subjects. But there’s still plenty of scope for working smarter, not harder.

  1. Make sure your study is effective. It’s not just about the hours you put into studying.  People learn in different ways so learn what works for you. Click here and invest 23 minutes of your life to watch a FREE video that can revolutionise how you revise.
  2. Make a plan. Think about how much study you can commit to, and how best to fit this study in around your work and other commitments. Start early and study in bite-sized chunks: 20 to 30 minutes is ideal.
  3. Use a variety of study methods. Learning doesn’t all have to be something which requires dedicated ‘study time’. We produce MP3 material for the AF1, AF4 and AF7 exams. With 3-7 hours of material (depending on the subject), you can be learning while you commute, drive or jog.  Study doesn’t have to impact on your home life, work life, or both. Click here for details. Try using Brainscape (which is free) to make ‘electronic index cards’. Register as a member (or log-in) by clicking here to access our AF4 revision cards on Brainscape.
  4. Look at past AF exam papers. Two of these are provided on the CII exam site for each respective subject (AF1, AF4 and AF7). Others are supplied as part of your CII exam enrolment on RevisionMate. Ideally, everyone would complete at least two of these under exam conditions before the exam. This doesn’t sound a lot, and it isn’t, but I bet most people who sit an AF exam DON’T do this.
  5. It’s not all about knowledge. Most people who fail a CII 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.

Further CII AF exam resources:

To find out more about how you can learn on the go, or our unique concise study revision notes – click here

Click here for exam specific tips: AF1 , AF4 and AF7

We’ve summarised the key areas that have been tested historically in AF1, AF4, AF5 and AF7 in our FREE exam Preparation Guides for each exam. To access these, register as a member (or log-in) by clicking here.

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

CII R03 exam

CII AF exams: a week to go

You’ve got around a week to go before your CII AF exam – what should you be doing to maximise the time you have available? Here are our top 5 tips to make the most of this important time.

Tip 1 – don’t panic

No one ever goes into a CII AF exam thinking they are over-prepared. It just doesn’t happen. Sure, some people will be better prepared than other people – but nearly everyone will be wishing at this stage that they’d done more work. Regard it as a necessary part (unfortunately) of taking any degree standard exam – which is what a Level 6 CII AF exam is. Acknowledging and understanding this does, hopefully, reduce the nervousness a little.

Tip 2 – Practice past CII AF exam papers

You will find the two most recent published CII AF exam papers on the CII website (click on the link on the right-hand column of each subject):

Click here for AF1

Click here for AF4

Click here for AF7

Although probably not quite exam standard, you will also have received a case study workbook if you have chosen the enrolment or enrolment plus option from the CII for the AF1 and AF4 exams. These provide a range of case studies to practice on.

We all should know by now that practising past exam papers under exam conditions is one of the best ways to prepare for a exam. If you haven’t already completed these exam papers under exam conditions, then this is the time to do it.

Let me be clear what I mean by exam conditions. The AF1 and AF4 exams both have 160 marks and these exams last for 180 minutes. So if you don’t have a 3 hour block of time to spare, complete 40 marks (a short case study) in 40 minutes. This gives you a feel about what time pressure you will face in the exam and what it feels like to stare at a blank piece of paper and have to come up with the answers the CII would like to see.

There are also other benefits:

  1. It will help you to learn. You learn best by making mistakes so make as many of these as you can before the exam!
  2. They help you to practice the all important exam technique. You will not get this by simply reading through the question and answers provided for you. Remember, that most people that pass the exam don’t know any more than those that fail – they just answer the questions better. For more information, click here.
  3. You can get some idea about what might be in the exam you sit. Let me explain. Examiners need to test across the syllabus so although some themes will be consistent between exams, the specific technical bits are likely to differ. For example, AF1 will test on income tax but if the last paper tested the tax position of P11D employee benefits, your exam might test on self-employed income tax.

AF1 – further exam tips and analysis of past AF1 key topics

AF4 – what get’s examined

AF7 – further exam tips and analysis of a past AF7 paper and tips on technique

Tip 3 – AF exams: revise in small chunks

OK, I get it. For many people, the last week before an exam is head-down full-on cramming. But it isn’t just about how much revision you do – it’s how effective it is.

Even if you are cramming, work on the basis of 20-30 minutes of study followed by a 10-15 minute break. Make your break something completely unrelated before returning to your studies. For the science behind this, click here.

Tip 4 – Don’t start trying to read a study text from cover to cover

Understand that you will go into this exam with gaps in your knowledge – everyone will! With a week to go before the exam, this is not the time to do loads of reading. By all means use the AF7 or the R0 study texts as a reference source to check-up on points – especially those that you don’t come across in your day to day activities. The end of chapter summaries, for example, are also useful. But your main focus should be on completing questions at this stage.

Tip 5 – Focus on your AF exam technique

If I had to give just one tip, this would be it. Many people that fail an AF exam do so because of poor exam technique. Here’s what to focus on:

  1. With a case study, read the questions FIRST before looking at the information provided. Your brain is then better able to connect the information provided with the question being asked.
  2. Look at the verb in the question. List or state require a one or two word answer. Explain, describe or outline will require a longer answer that links information to the client’s circumstances.
  3. Use the information provided – the examiners have given it to you for a reason. Every bit of information should be used in some way so think to yourself: ‘how am I supposed to use this information?’.

Prepare well, stay calm and I hope this helps with your preparation.


Ian Patterson

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

R06 July 2023

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 three ‘technical’ AF exams (AF1, 4, 7), AF1 is the hardest with a pass rate of just 43% (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 (April 2022), each of the three main personal taxes were covered (this is typical). In this paper, the marks were split between them approximately:

  1. Income tax (around 31%). This is higher than usual 25-28%.
  2. CGT (around 14%). This is slightly lower than the typical 20%.
  3. IHT (7.5%). Typically, this would be around 15-20% of the marks. 

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 26% of the marks were awarded in this exam for undertaking a calculation. This around the average of 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 in a calculation question if you do 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 April 2022 paper, the following instructions (or verbs) were used:

  1. List or state. There were two questions that used these totalling just 4% of the marks.
  2. Detail/describe/explain/outline. There were a whopping 20 questions (or part questions) that used these verbs which amounted to 69% of the marks.
  3. Calculate. 26% 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 two-thirds 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

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.

Learn 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

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

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 third hardest AF exam to pass with a pass rate of 56% (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, 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?

The best way to spot the trends is to look at the past papers. Some of the key recurring themes are:

  • 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 (preferably, completing them).

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, making mind maps or creating flash cards.

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, 4 and 5. Just click here.

Prepare well and be successful.

Ian Patterson

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

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