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If you are in the middle of taking the Advanced Financial Planning Certificate, then your first concern will be how to pass. The leap from FPC to AFPC is a daunting one and although you are doing the courses so you can advise your clients more effectively, getting through the exams can be made a lot easier by preparing for them in the way that is most efficient for you.

The difference between the two qualifications is often compared with the jump from GCSE to an honours degree, so efficient analysis of the study matter is crucial. Since its inception, 110,000 people have passed the FPC whereas only 5,000 have taken the three additional papers to make them AFPC-qualified.

Everyone will have their own way of preparing but it is clear that IFAs cannot cram the day before and hope to pass. The text book for the popular G60 pensions paper, of which cover-to-cover knowledge is required, will take up five inches of your bookshelf. Statistically, those who have longer-term study programmes find they have the time to absorb the huge volume of knowledge required.

So going for the continuous assessment option is always a good idea, as not only does it mean you can go into the exam with the comfort of up to 10 per cent of the marks already in the bag but it also ensures candidates make time for study before the eve of the exam. According to the CII, those who follow the continual assessment option have a 75 per cent pass rate, compared with an overall pass rate of 40 per cent for all those who sit each paper.

There are a number of other ways IFAs can make their study programme as efficient as possible. Many IFAs who have sat the exams recommend getting past papers from the CII, available at£5 per paper, for questions and answers.

Berry Birch and Noble senior consultant Jan Swift passed the G10 in October 2000, sat G20 (personal financial planning) this April – and is awaiting the results – and is sitting the G80 (long-term care planning for the elderly) this October.

Swift says: “The most important thing is to get copies of the past papers. It is a huge asset because you can see the areas that continually come up and you can learn the style and level of detail that the examiners are looking for.”

The CII has all the study books and case study workbooks needed to get through the courses – listed on its website at www. cii.co.UK – as well as interactive electronic training methods.

CII public relations manager Steve Radford says: “We have CD-rom-based training packages but we are moving to put more training online. Computer-based training is becoming more popular, with organisations incorporating it into their intranet systems. There are plenty of options for finding the right way of training now but there will always be people who want face-to-face training.”

Sofa runs study groups which last for 13 weeks, with three hours study a week and which take place all around the country. Although people doing the less popular courses, such as H25 holistic financial planning – passed by only 183 people to date – may have to travel further to find a study group. Both Sofa and the CII run pre-exam crammer days.

Although Sofa makes every effort to ensure its study groups are as friendly and relaxed as possible, some IFAs may feel the group situation makes them shy away from asking questions they may think too trivial to bother the group with.

Jan Swift did what Madonna would probably do if she had to pass the AFPC – hire a personal trainer. Swift paid£135 a day for two days&#39 intensive one-to-one tuition from a professional trainer, addressing whatever questions she wanted looking at, no matter how embarrassingly easy.

Swift says: “There were 12 people in my study group and they all seemed very advanced in their knowledge, so I felt a bit intimidated asking easy questions. I hired my own personal trainer who was able to answer all the questions I had and really prepared me to take the exams.”

She got her trainer through training organisation afpc.co.UK, whose director Julie Moulton says: “The main problem is exam technique. A lot of people have the exam knowledge but do not have the technique to answer the questions in the way the examiners want. Also, people feel silly asking silly questions. On a one-to-one basis they can ask as many silly questions as they want.”

The G10 taxation and trusts paper is the only obligatory paper that IFAs must have as one of their three papers to get the AFPC qualification. The G60 pensions paper is actually more popular than the G10, with people taking it to enable them to carry out pension transfer work but not going on for the full AFPC. But the new half-credit initiative launched by the CII this year is designed to offer another way for IFAs to move up from FPC. The two papers, K10 the retirement option and K20 the pension investment option, together add up to one AFPC credit.

Both these papers are two hours in length and consist of 14 short questions, rather than the longer questions on the other three-hour AFPC papers.

The first sitting of the K10 took place this April and the first batch of K20 will be examined in October. Scot-tish Equitable IFA training manager and CII vice-president Peter Williams says: “K10 will be popular because every IFA has clients to which the mat-erial applies. We had 665 candidates for a first sitting of a non-compulsory examination, which is phenomenal.

“A number of IFAs are talking about making K10 compulsory for their staff. The only way that we can become a profession is by acting like a profession. If we move towards greater training in this way without the regulator forcing us to do so then we can show that we are evolving into a true profession.”

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