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INDEPENDENT VIEW

When I left university, I felt I had suffered examination overkill.

I had taken school exams on a regular basis each year, all the necessary O and A levels and course exams for every year I was at university. This, combined with music exams, a driving test and a bronze medal for skiing, meant I felt I had done my bit. I vowed that I would never take another exam again.

However, it is impossible to avoid taking examinations these days. Even if an individual has the AFPC, there will always be exams around the corner for specialist knowledge or new types of contracts that come on the market.

If you want to advise clients on more complicated forms of business, you may need to study further. The more complex the client&#39s circumstances, the more intellectually challenging the work is, which leads to greater job satisfaction.

As those who have studied for the AFPC know, it is difficult to combine a rigorous programme of study with an overworked schedule. Torn between the immediacy of advising clients now and gaining the knowledge to assist them and others further in the future, it is often the immediacy that wins. “I am sorry I am not available because I am studying,” is not likely to find great favour with a client who needs an answer quickly and particularly if it is about a matter that concerns an important phase in their life.

What is important about an exam is not your ability to pass or not pass a particular paper but the lasting effect it has on the way you advise clients. Have you remembered the course knowledge and has it been useful in client situations or is the qualification simply a measure of an ability to pass a few papers? The best study is that which lasts and is relevant to current and future clients.

For
anyone with a long history of advising, typically in excess of 15 years, there will probably be gaps in knowledge. This is inevitable as the types of exam and structured study on offer now were not available before. IFAs learned when the need arose to advise clients on something new or undertook study on their own initiative. Often it was patchy.

One of the most useful parts of studying the AFPC modules is filling in these gaps. Not every piece of knowledge in the course books is going to be used for clients and even larger portions will not be used regularly. But the study books form useful reference books for those occasions when clients raise questions about which you are not sure.

There is a great virtue in taking the exams when you are young and the brain is more adapted to study. Also, in my experience, exams become harder and topics more complicated as time goes by. The FPC exams that people take now look more difficult than those I took a few years ago.

At a recent meeting, one of my colleagues said exams were a fact of life for us. This is true. Once you accept that, exams and exam study can be raised to higher levels.

If you have to spend your life studying, as with anything, you might as well enjoy it.

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