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How should advisers adapt to the rise of coursework?

The new CII AF8 unit will be assessed via coursework, not the traditional exam-based approach, which has come as a surprise to many

Brand Financial Training managing director Catriona StandingfordThe new CII AF8 Retirement Income Planning unit will be assessed via coursework, not the traditional exam-based approach. This has come as a surprise to many, as only J09 and AF6 are currently offered via coursework.

With more units expected to take this route in the future, it is time to look at what coursework-based assessment really means and how it will affect you or your staff.

We have delved into the CII’s rules around coursework and how it deals with the sharing of knowledge, ideas and assignments among candidates.How much sharing is too much? How much help can a candidate receive without submitting what would be better deemed “group work”? What constitutes plagiarism?

How does the CII define plagiarism?

The CII understandably takes plagiarism very seriously. On its website it tells us the Joint Council for Qualifications defines plagiarism as: “Unacknowledged copying from published sources (including the internet) or incomplete referencing.” However, it goes further to include:

  • Copying or amending sections of work from another person such as a friend or colleague
  • Having another person such as a friend or colleague dictate something to you
  • Copying and pasting from the internet without citing the source
  • Copying or using material from a study text or other reference material without citing the source
  • Paraphrasing without including reference to the source of the paraphrase
  • Working with another person, or using another person’s work to write your assignment.

This is not to say you cannot study with fellow candidates but you cannot write or otherwise collaborate on an assignment with any other person. You are also not allowed to give access to your assignments to anybody else. This rules out having a colleague look over your answers to provide guidance, which is something many candidates would like to do. The work you submit to the CII must be your own, and where other work has been quoted or paraphrased, full referencing must be used. Bear in mind the CII uses plagiarism software. It is not just relying on an assessor noticing something.

It will come down very hard on candidates who have breached its rules. Consequences include exclusion from CII examinations and assessments for a set period of time, being ineligible for membership during the exclusion period and a requirement to take its online ethics course before sitting further assessments. All cases including names and employers can be found on the CII website. This in itself must surely be a deterrent.

How do CII coursework units work?

Candidates have a 12-month enrolment period within which all assignments have to be submitted or re-submitted.

Where there is more than one assignment, they usually have to submit each one within a certain time period.

The downside to this is that if you do not complete all three assignments within your 12-month enrolment period, you have to re-enrol and complete three new assignments.

Coursework-based units also tend to have higher costs than exams, with study texts and assignments costing anywhere upwards of around £430. There are also resubmission fees should you fail an assignment.

What about the new AF8 exam?

The new Advanced Diploma AF8 unit will have three coursework assignments, with each requiring around 2,000 to 3,000 words. The nominal pass mark for each assignment is 50 per cent, which sits favourably when compared with pass marks for other exam-based units that usually start from 55 per cent.

With an award of 30 Advanced Diploma credits upon successful completion, this unit requires a great deal of time and effort. The CII recommends 150 study hours  for AF8; the standard suggestion for 30 credit Advanced Diploma exams.

Is coursework the future?

It looks like the CII is going to be pushing more units down the coursework route in the future. Certainly a mix of options would allow those who are not good at sitting exams to display their knowledge and understanding of a subject in a manner that best suits them.

But for some this may be bad news. Indeed, there are those who prefer the exam route so they can sit it on one day and have it over and done with.

Coursework-based assessment becoming the norm for all units is doubtful but a well-rounded mix of exams and coursework could be on the agenda for the future.

Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training



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  1. I did AF6 last year by coursework and feel I learnt more and actually enjoyed it more than an exam based system. It is more about learning and expressing that knowledge than just a pass or fail. Looking forward now to AF8

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