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cii exam revision

CII exam revision: the most important tip ever?

With a CII exam – be it an R0 or AF exam – you’ll need to retain a wide range of information.  Despite numerous tips and techniques that can help study to be more effective, most people find studying for any exam to be hard work. But if you just had to pick just one tip that will make the biggest difference, what would it be?

We’re happy for you to disagree. Using past exam papers runs it pretty close. But here’s what gets our vote.

Exercise

I’ll start with an exercise that should make this point. Here are 20 different numbers between 1 and 75. I’ll ask you to look at these for 30 seconds, turn away, and see how many numbers in sequence you can remember. Here they are:

5,   18,   3,    9,   44,   11,   16,    36,    31,    72,    24,    9,    32,    41,    4,    59,    1,    63,    25,    71

How did you do? People tend to remember around six numbers in the correct sequence – typically the first three and the last three. You might have remembered slightly more or slightly less than this. Usually it will be the numbers at the beginning and the end of the list that you’ll remember. So why is this so important?

Primacy and recency

What you’ve just experienced is known as primary and recency.  When you take in any information, you tend to remember the bits at the beginning and the end. The bit in the middle becomes a blur or gets forgotten. And this is something that we all do. So if you are studying for an R0 or AF exam, how can you use this?

Small chunks

At the Patterson Group, we believe that exam success is about working smarter, not harder. And that is why this principle is so important when you revise. Let me explain. Many people tend to block out a prolonged period of time to revise, often close to the exam date. Most people will have done at least some ‘cramming’ in the past. But just how effective is it?

The following  diagram looks at concentration levels and how these change with time.

The important thing to remember is that it’s not how much study you do, but how much information you retain as a result.  If we apply primacy and recency to this, it suggests that a two hour block of revision is unlikely to be effective for many people. Like the exercise you’ve just done, you are likely to remember the beginning and the end, and not much in the middle. That’s great for the 15 minute periods at the start and end. It also means that much of the 1 ½ hours in between is wasted for most people.

What does good look like?

Now, you might know people who are good at cramming. If so, they are either gifted, or they probably still break their revision into smaller chunks. In other words, it’s not a solid undiluted period of revision – but a two-hour period with a number of breaks built in. It’s these breaks that are important. We would recommend a 10 minute break every 20-30 minutes of study. And when we say break, it should be just that. Walk around,  talk to people, listen to music –  anything; but give your brain a break from your exam study.  Give yourself a proper break and give yourself regular breaks.

How does this impact on your concentration levels? If we look at this as a diagram, it should look like this:

You are still benefiting from primacy and recency. By studying for shorter periods, you’ve managed to cram more beginnings and ends into the your study time. As a result, your overall level of concentration is that much higher and you will remember more. More learning and the same amount of study time.  What’s not to like?

20 minutes of study isn’t worth it

This is a comment we hear regularly. And nothing could be further from the truth. 20-30 minutes is probably the optimum period of time. You get high levels of concentration and better retention. Part of this is due to concentration levels being maintained. Part is also due to the fact that you will probably only focus on two or three core concepts in this period of time. The brain likes small chunks of information nearly as much as having short study periods.

We are the leading producer of audio exam material for the CII exams and we are convinced that small chunks are best. Our audio material allows you to learn, in small chunks, fitting it in around the rest of your life. Simple and effective.

Click on R0 material or AF material to see why over 6,000 people have bought this study material over the last year.

Want to learn more?

Click here to access our dedicated R0 exam technique and study hub.

Click here to access our dedicated AF exam technique and study hub.

Both of these unique sites include a free video on our top 5 revision tips and links to specific R0 or AF exams about how you can work smarter, rather than harder.

Preparation is the key.

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 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

cii chartered status

CII exams: getting to CII Chartered status (part 2)

CII Chartered status

If you are sitting exams on the road to CII Chartered status, one of the questions that we frequently get asked is ‘which CII exams should I sit next?’. Likewise, we also sometimes get asked about ‘what exams should I take to get CII Fellowship?’ Some exams could be considered for both. This is a big area – and it’s one that I’ve started to look at in two previous articles:

  1. Which CII AF exam should I sit next? Click here
  2. CII exams: getting to Chartered. Click here

The road to CII chartered status is a long journey and that also means that many people want to select the subjects that help them to shorten this journey. So in this article, I’ll look at a few more ideas that will help you to decide.

Investment subjects

In our article ‘which CII AF exams should I sit next?’, we looked at AF4 and the associated underpinning level 4 exams: R02 and J10. We also said that it is worth also considering J11 (Wrap and platform services) and J12 (Securitised advice and dealing). Taken together, all of these are worth a whopping 110 credits. The important point is that there is also a significant amount of overlap between each of them which makes revision for them that little bit less onerous.

Let me continue on a similar theme as there are also other investment-related subjects that you could also consider.

FA4, FA5 and/or FA6

Collective investment scheme administration (FA4), Individual savings account administration (FA5) and Investment client servicing (FA6) are all level 3 exams that are worth 10 credits. This means that they are each one hour exams that comprise of 50 multiple-choice questions. But this doesn’t mean that they can’t also be used to get credits towards Chartered and Fellowship.

In simple terms, the content of FA4 and FA5 overlaps with much of the content of R02. FA5 is the pick of the bunch as ISAs (and their various reincarnations) are central to the financial planning process for many advisers. The content of FA6 can also be found in J12, but at a lower level. So if you need an extra 10 credits or so, these would be worth considering.

Details of the syllabus for each can be found here.

LP1 and/or LP2

Other options that are definitely worth looking at are Life and pensions customer operations (LP1) and Financial services products and solutions (LP2). These are worth 15 and 20 credits respectively and are again level 3 exams that test using multiple choice questions.

LP1 isn’t a technical paper. Instead it focuses on the fair treatment of customers, effective communication and  teamwork. In contrast, LP2 looks at the basics of life and health insurance products, mortgages, the key asset classes and tax wrappers (investment bonds, ISAs and pensions). As this is level 3, these are all areas that are covered at a relatively basic level.  This could be the easiest 20 credits you’ll ever get!

Details of the syllabus for each can be found here.

AF6 and J07

The final combination I’ll look at is AF6 (senior management and supervision) and J07 (supervision in a regulated environment). If your current or future role might involve managing people (which is what J07 is all about) or managing a regulated firm (that’s AF6), then this combination also has some overlap. Both might provide a welcome break from the ‘technical’ subjects. AF6 is worth 30 credits at Level 6 so it can count towards the four AF subjects that are required to get to Chartered.  J07 is worth another 20 credits. People sometimes think that J07 is all about training and competence; it’s not so don’t let that put you off!!

Conclusion

We believe that the purpose of exams is to make people more knowledgeable and effective. Sensibly, people who are on the road to CII Chartered status would choose the exams that are most useful to both themselves, and their business. That said, it pays to know what your exam options are and how to use this knowledge to your benefit.

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

The 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

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