Tag Archives: CII

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 is statistically the easiest with a pass rate of 55.58% (in 2018, 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

af7 exam

Spotlight on the AF7 exam

If you are preparing for the CII’s AF7 exam, here’s what you need to know about the exam.

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. The CII’s April 2019 AF7 exam had 12 questions in total (which may vary between papers). 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 30-36 marks each.

You will normally need 60 marks to pass the exam.  The 60% pass mark applies to the overall exam so you could bomb on one case study and still pass if you get the marks elsewhere.

How easy is it?

The simple answer is ‘not very’. Based on the last published CII results (Summer 2018), the pass rate for AF7 is 44.23%. This makes it the second hardest AF exam subject. Forget about the fact it is only worth 20 credits – the majority of people currently fail this exam.

Why short answer questions and case studies?

In simple terms, the short answer questions will test your knowledge across the syllabus, and each case study will require you to apply your knowledge to the client scenario that is provided in the case study.  In simple terms, it’s regurgitation v application.

Click here to access the CII AF7 19/20 syllabus

Example 1

State the key documents that an adviser must keep on file having given advice to a client on a pension transfer from a DB scheme.

This is regurgitation because this is generic knowledge that applies to any client in this position. If you know your AF7 material, you should be able to answer this whilst you are reading this. You’ll either know it, or not.

Example 2

Outline the factors you would need to take into account before advising the client to transfer her deferred benefits in order to meet her financial objectives.

This is a bit harder isn’t it? That’s because you’d need to know about the client’s circumstances before you could answer it. The question or case study will provide this information – your job is to spot this and make sure you use the information you have been given.  If you don’t, you won’t score well.

What did the April 2017 AF7 exam test?

I’ll answer this question in two ways:

     1. The scope of the technical areas tested

The April 2019 exam is the fourth AF7 exam so the content in this is likely to be typical of what you might expect in future exams. Certainly, it has focused on the key areas involved in transfers. The marks are also pretty balanced across each of the topics so you will need to know your stuff across key elements of the syllabus.

    2. The instruction in the question.

Each question in AF7 will use a verb.  Examiners like to describe these as ‘instructions’ because they tell the candidate what they want you to do. If you look at the verb and the number of marks for each question, this should give you a pretty good idea how much depth to go into when answering it.

In the April 2019 AF7 exam, the examiners’ used three types of instructions:

In the April 2019 exam, including part questions, there were 8 ‘state’ questions; 4 ‘outline’ questions and 5 ‘describe, evaluate or explain’ questions. No other instructions were used. It was the same with the October 2018 AF7 paper. Future exams could introduce different instructions but a pattern does appear to be developing.

How do I use this to prepare of the AF7 exam?

  1. Familiarising yourself with the AF7 exam should be a key element of your preparation. Don’t just read past exam papers, complete them UNDER EXAM CONDITIONS.
  2. There are key topics that most (if not all AF7 exams) will cover. Make sure you know know your stuff on these.
  3. Section 1 of the exam will cover a range of technical areas across the syllabus so make sure you have broad knowledge. Try our MP3 audio – nearly 4 hours of material that will help you to learn around your work or family commitments. Click here for details.

Related blogs: AF7 study options. Click here

Prepare well and be successful.

The Diploma Doctor

CII exams

CII exams: getting to Chartered

One of the questions that we frequently get asked is ‘which CII exams should I sit next?’. If you are on the road to chartered status, there are a wide range of options. This is a big area so in this article, I’ll look at some of the key options for the Certificate and Diploma CII exams that are worth considering.  I’ve looked at related areas in two other blogs:

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

Which CII exam should I sit next? To view it, click here

CII Chartered requirements

To complete Chartered Status, the CII require a total of 290 exam credits. Assuming you’ve completed all of the R0 exams, that’s 100 credits out of the way. A further 120 credits must be AF subjects (including AF5 which is compulsory). This leaves a remaining 70 credits that can come from Diploma, Certificate or Advanced Diploma CII exams.

Click here for a link to the CII qualification guide.

Clusters of CII exams

What you’ll find is that most of the the Advanced Diploma or AF exam subjects are based on the lower level Diploma exams. In other words, the technical content is Diploma but the use or application of this knowledge is a level 6 skill. In simple terms, view Diploma as being ‘what is it?’ and Advanced Diploma as being ‘how do I use it?’.

If you know the rules, this means that it is possible to ‘max out’ your credits and minimise your work. Here’s how.

AF1 – Personal tax and trust planning

Based on the CII AF1 syllabus, there are three underpinning Diploma subjects for this exam: R03, part of R05 and J02 (Trusts).

On successful completion, the credits are:

AF1 (30 credits at Advanced Diploma)

J02 (20 credits at Diploma level)

Total credits: 50. If you haven’t already got R03 or R05, then that’s an additional 20 credits.

Remember that J02, R03 and R05 are deemed to be the necessary underpinning knowledge for AF1 so if you need this knowledge anyway, why not also sit these CII exams (if you haven’t already) and potentially get up to 70 credits?

Sensibly, you’d sit these exams relatively close together to minimise your study and to ensure that you lose as little of your knowledge from your study as possible.

AF4 – Investment Planning

Likewise with AF4, there are two underpinning Diploma subjects for this exam: R02 and J10 (Discretionary investment management)

On successful completion, the credits are:

AF4 (30 credits at Advanced Diploma)

J10  (20 credits at Diploma level)

Total credits: 50. If you haven’t already got R02, then that’s an additional 20 credits, making 70.

If you look at the syllabuses for R02 and J10 CII exams, you’ll find a significant degree of overlap. So if investments are your thing, why wouldn’t you ensure that you have credits for both of these?  For not too much extra study, you could get 40 credits between them.

Finally on the theme of investments, J12 looks at securities and dealing and J11 looks at wrap and platform services.  The content in these subjects could also be tested to some degree in AF4. So if you go the full monty, this is a potential total of 110 credits for investment related subjects.

And there other investment related options as well, but I’ll leave this for another time.

AF7 – Pension transfers

With AF7, the CII state that the two underpinning subjects are R02 and J05 (pension income options).

On successful completion, the credits are:

AF7 (20 credits at Advanced Diploma)

J05 (20 credits at Diploma level)

Total credits: 40. If you haven’t already got R02, then that’s an additional 20 credits, making 60.  If you want the qualification: ‘Certificate in Pension Transfer Advice’, you’ll also need R01 and R04. If you haven’t already got them because you started sitting CII exams more years ago than you care to remember, this is another 30 credits in addition.  Finally, AF8, or retirement income planning, is an Advanced Diploma subject that is tested using coursework and is worth another 30 credits. Pensions related subjects could potentially be worth a total of 120 credits.

If you want to know more about these AF exams and how to prepare for them, click here to access our FREE Exam preparation guides.

If you want to know how to fit your study in around your work and family commitments, click here.

Remember, work smarter, not harder. Until the next time

Diploma Doctor

CII AF exam

Which CII AF Exam should I sit next?

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

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

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

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

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

CII Chartered requirements

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

Click here for a link to the CII qualification guide.

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

CII AF exam options

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

Do you prefer coursework, rather than exams?

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

How much of a hurry are you in?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until the next time,

The Diploma Doctor

CII exams

April 2018 CII AF5 exam

The fact find for the April 2018 CII AF5 exam are now available. If you have’t yet seen it yet, click here.

What do I do now?

You have from now until the exam at 9.30 on the 18th April to prepare. The fact find is issued in advance for a reason – to allow you to prepare. You will not know the actual questions you’ll face in the exam until the actual day but it makes sense to prepare for any eventuality before then.  This involves:

  1. Thoroughly familiarising yourself with the client details.
  2. Researching some of the potential technical areas that might be examined (based on the client’s circumstances in this exam).
  3. Practising CII AF5 exam style questions (if you are not already familiar with them). Click here to download the October AF5 past exam paper for FREE.

What areas should I focus on in the April 2018 CII AF5 exam?

The questions in the CII AF5 exam are based on the client’s financial objectives; both long term and short. You’ll be provided with these in the exam hall so to help you prepare, here are our thoughts as to what these might be:

Possible short term objectives:

  • Purchase a holiday home
  • David to make gifts to his daughter
  • Review the suitability of their investments
  • Review their wills
  • Regular gifts for grandchildren’s university education

Possible long term objectives:

  • Maximise tax efficiency – income tax and CGT – of their investments
  • Preserve their estate/minimise IHT
  • Income options from their PPP/ SIPP

AF5 exam: technical areas to study

Based on the client’s circumstances, we believe that you may be required in the April 2018 CII AF5 exam to have a knowledge of the following topics:

• The risks of purchasing a holiday home
• Benefits of using a financial adviser
• How David’s investment trust works, inc the tax position
• Investment bonds and chargeable events
• VCTs and EIS schemes
• Deferring state pensions (pre-6/4/16)
• Pension Protection Fund
• IHT planning, especially the treatment of PETS, gifts out of income, and how gifts impact on the RNRB
• Trusts: Immediate post death interest (IPDI), interest in possession, and discretionary

• Cash flow modelling
• How David and June can improve the tax efficiency of their investments
• Spousal by-pass trusts

How does the April 2018 AF5 exam compare with previous exams?

The honest answer is that we don’t know until the day of the exam. Overall, there seem likely to be some familiar themes that we’ve seen before. There may be some value in looking at past AF5 papers with similar financial objectives to see how they were examined. None of the ‘technical areas’ appear to be terribly demanding, especially for those who prepare well before the exam. The one certainty is that there are a lot of areas the examiners could include based on the client’s circumstances. As always, preparation is the key.

Remember that AF5 is not just about technical knowledge. You still need to be familiar with the types of question the examiners will ask and the type of answers they expect to see. If you want to see  how many marks the examiners typically award for the main types of questions and see our detailed tips on exam technique, download our FREE preparation guide here.  This gives you helpful information like there will always be the following three types of question in AF5:

  • a risk question, e.g. the risks associated with the purchase of a holiday home, or David’s investment trust
  • an additional information question – despite the fact find, you do not have all the information you would need to provide advice
  • a review question

It is easy to forget that this is a financial planning paper, so it won’t just be about technical aspects. Expect ‘additional information’ questions (which candidates tend to answer badly) and advantages/drawback questions. In this exam, there might also be a question on cash flow and, as  always in an AF5 exam, there will be ‘review’question asking you about what you would cover during during an annual review meeting with these clients.

As always, preparation is the key. Good luck.

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

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

CII AF exams: Top 10 tips to pass first time

For many people who are on the ‘road to chartered’ status, the hard work preparing for AF exams starts 4-6 weeks out from the written exam.  The CII suggests 150 hours of study for each AF exam, and, if you look at the stats, either people don’t do this amount of work or they do but it’s not effective.  With a pass rate of between only 44-56% for the written 3 hour AF exams, many people who sit these exams can be more effective with their study. This post aims to highlight how to pass your CII AF exam first time.

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

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

Prepare well and be successful first time.

Until the next time…

The Diploma Doctor

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