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Sam Rees-Adams: The importance of assumed knowledge

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Assumed knowledge often appears on a syllabus and while the term seems self-explanatory, do you really know what it means in practice?

Unlike exam entry requirements, which are mandatory, assumed knowledge is not something you must prove you have before you sit the exam. However, since it is the starting point for a syllabus, it is not something you want to ignore.

Exam bodies do not include assumed knowledge explicitly in a syllabus. Why would they when the assumption is that you have already gained that knowledge elsewhere? Furthermore, they do not test it explicitly, assuming once more that you have already covered it and so do not need to be tested on it again.

However, they do include it implicitly – through a more complex question that you can answer effectively only if you have the underlying knowledge. For example, a tax calculation might not require you to answer specific questions on personal allowances but if you neither know them nor account for them in your calculation, your answer will be wrong.

The point of assumed know-ledge is that it enables exam bodies to take account of what you already know, spares you from being tested on it again and pushes you to do something more sophisticated with it.

Continued learning should involve different things, not just more of the same. The Financial Planning Standards Board UK’s Principles of Financial Planning exam states: “This unit assumes a thorough understanding of personal taxation.” 

This is logical; try doing financial planning properly if you do not understand tax. The exam is concerned with how you can apply that “thorough understanding”. The best way to approach assumed knowledge is to look at everything it covers and be honest with yourself: do you really know it or could you brush up on some areas before continuing your studies?

One certainty is that you will need it at some point to answer the exam questions so you should take it seriously. It is better to reconfirm your technical knowledge before you start working on its application.

When it comes to the CFPCM Certification, there are specific entry requirements: an FCA-recognised diploma post-1 January 2013 or an FCA-recognised transitional qualification and qualification gap-fill.

Many candidates make the mistake of thinking that all the knowledge gained from this study can be left at the door because they will be learning entirely new things. 

But the whole ethos of the CFPCM Certification is that the case study element brings together all the learned technical knowledge and requires you to apply it holistically to produce a top-notch financial plan. 

The Diploma in Financial Planning, the qualification element of the certification, is at Level 6 precisely because of the high degree of application required to meet the learning outcomes. 

Treat your entry requirements in the same way as assumed knowledge and you will make a positive start. Go over all the technical areas you were tested on in your Level 4 exams and make sure you feel confident with them. You are being asked to work at two levels higher so you want all your focus to be on meeting those requirements.

Gaps in technical knowledge, no matter how small, will show up so plug them before you start climbing that mountain.

Sam Rees-Adams is professional standards director at the Institute of Financial Planning

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