Tag Archives: CII exams

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, AF2, 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 isn’t 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 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, AF2, 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, AF2, 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.

The Diploma Doctor

CII exam dates 2020

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. If we look at an example AF1 exam paper (October 2019 paper), you’ll see that:

  1. The three main personal taxes were all covered. In this paper, the marks were split between them approximately: Income tax (around 28%), CGT (around 13%) and IHT (around 25%). Note that this will vary between exams but these three areas are always likely to be worth around 2/3rds of the total marks available.
  2. Around 25% of the marks were awarded for undertaking a calculation on these three taxes (or explaining the steps required to do the calculation). This is also broadly consistent between exams and you will normally have at least one calculation 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 2019 paper, the following instructions (or verbs) were used:

  1. List or state. There was only one question that used these totalling 7.5% of the marks.
  2. Detail/describe/explain/outline. There were a whopping 14 questions (or part questions) that used these verbs which amounted to 64% of the marks.
  3. Calculate. 25% of the marks.
  4. Benefits (0 marks) and factors (0 marks). These were not used in this paper but don’t be surprised if they are in the exam you sit.

Note: In the April 2019 AF1 exam, the balance of these ‘instructions’ was again broadly similar.

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.

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 exams

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, 2, and 4, although they are Advanced Diploma exams, are 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. Rarely in an AF exam would you get a ‘list’ type question. 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 Syllabi for AF subjects 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, AF2, 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 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 and multiple-choice questions to test your knowledge. For example, AF1 includes the eBooks for R03, R05, and J02.

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 RevisionMate. This package also now includes lots of Practice Papers which are close to exam standard and are based on the current tax year.

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…

The Diploma Doctor

AF exam

Preparing for your CII AF exam

What do you need to know to pass a CII AF exam first time?

The CII AF exams deserve some respect. Let me give you two reasons why. Firstly, the pass rates for the key technical exams (AF1 through to AF4) vary between 40% and 49%. Secondly, you will be required to apply your knowledge to more complex planning scenarios. The AF exams often mirror familiar day-to-day planning scenarios but AF questions will often be towards the harder end of the spectrum. And, of course, you aren’t able to use Google. And you have to do all of this usually under the pressure of a 3 hour written exam.

Preparation is key

Anyone who has played sport to a decent level will know that preparation is key. You don’t just turn up at the football ground or golf club and hope that you will perform at your best. In fact, how you perform will probably be a direct result of  how much training or practice you have put in. Passing an AF exam is no different.

So how much time do I need to spend practicing? The CII recommend 150 hours for AF1, AF2, AF3, AF4 and AF5 exams. For AF7 – it’s 100 hours.

Having said this, we also live in the real world. Most of us recognise that you need to do more than attend a one day workshop and then sit the exam. When preparing for an AF exam, someone once asked me: “do I have to sacrifice my business or my family life?”. It might sometimes feel like this, but it doesn’t have to.

What do I need to do to be successful first time?

Success in any AF exam is about two things:

Knowledge + application = success

Firstly, you need to know enough about a subject. This is hopefully obvious. But if you are sitting AF4 – Investment Planning – chances are you will need to know about the time value of money, dividend yields and the different ways of measuring investment returns. If you are  a typical financial adviser or para-planner, you are just not going to come across this in your daily work. And I could give lot’s of example for the other subjects – the AF syllabus for each subject is broad and you will need to prepare for this.

If you speak to a CII examiner, they are all likely to say the same thing. People often have enough knowledge to pass but fail to use it properly. What they mean is people in the exam don’t link their answers to the information provided in the case study, or don’t go into enough depth with their answers. Part of anyone’s preparation MUST be about completing at least two past CII exam papers. It’s the only way you will be able to understand both the exam and what the examiners are looking for.

Working smarter, not harder

Most people will have to put in hours of study, but really it’s about being smart about it. No one has enough time. That’s what our preparation guides are all about. They don’t cover any technical content. Instead, they succinctly tell you in around 16 pages what you need to know to get through the exam first time. There are individual preparation guides for AF1, AF2, AF4, AF5 and AF7. They tell you what some of the study options are for each exam and set out a suggested revision timetable. They outline your revision options and they include an analysis of past exam papers for each subject to identify the recurring areas – and every exam has them – that get examined.

The preparation guides are available to you FREE. Just click here and register as a member.

I would say “good luck with your exam”. But as we all know the more you prepare, the luckier you get!

The Diploma Doctor

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