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Support at a testing time

One of the major challenges facing IFAs is taking the step from FPC to

AFPC. I am delighted to observe that many IFAs are now making progress on

AFPC before it becomes a regulatory requirement. I hope this will be at

least five years down the line as this will give IFAs the opportunity to

sit the exams at a time and place that suits them.

However, it is clear that there is a step up in quality and difficulty

between FPC and AFPC. First of all, let us have a quick word about the

papers themselves. FPC is somewhere between an O level and A level exam. In

essence, you are asked to show very little understanding of subject matter

but are tested on your memory.

AFPC is very different in structure. It is explicitly a degree-level exam,

which is not often fully understood by advisers, who think they can make

the transition with ease.

For those that are not familiar with the paper, let us have a quick run

through. Each AFPC paper (except H25 Holistic Financial Planning) consists

of three sections. Section A is made up of short-answer questions and is

worth 45 marks. Section B is always a long, substantial case study covering

one or two areas of the syllabus in much more detail.

This is always a very testing question and to obtain high marks here needs

high standards not only of knowledge but of analysis, communication and

problem-solving skills. This section is worth 75 marks.

Section C is always a choice of case studies. You are required to select

two from three questions and each is worth 40 marks.

So how should you go about bridging the gap between FPC and AFPC? The

first thing to say is that, for many IFAs, the shortfall in knowledge is

not as great as it would first appear. FPC was a step down in knowledge for

many and the only struggle was exam technique. For some of these people,

AFPC will be a step up but the gap will not be as big as it first appears.

How should you go about ensuring that you pass AFPC first time? I think

there are two parts to this answer. First is developing an understanding of

how you learn. Numerous articles have been written on learning technique

and examination technique. However, it is absolutely critical that you have

some understanding of what works for you. For most people, passing AFPC

will depend greatly on the preparation they have put in.

IFAs have a bad habit of reinventing the wheel every time they do

something. This applies to designing fact-finds, writing terms of business

and is true of sitting an AFPC exam. There is a great deal of support

available to you. The workbooks themselves will provide you with support.

While most advisers use the CII workbook, it would be fair to say they have

been more successful using other providers&#39 workbooks. A glance at the

classified pages at the back of this paper will give you a clue.

You should also make sure that you are comfortable with the format of the

exam. I know several advisers who have put their success in AFPC down to

sitting a number of mock exam papers. These are available at £5 each

but it is worth getting the last few years&#39 exam papers and being

thoroughly familiar with the question style. Understanding what the

examiner is looking for is worth a lot of marks. While exam technique is

sometimes seen as a form of cheating, it would seem sensible to gain the

credit for what you know and how good you are. What you put on the exam

paper is all the information the examiner will have to judge you on.

Those are the two obvious areas but there is other support out there too.

Many product providers offer workshops dedicated to AFPC, particularly in

the areas in which theyspecialise. Some IFAs have successfully set up

in-house training programmes where product providers come in every week or

two taking a group of five or six advisers through, for example, G60. It

takes a little bit of planning but my experience is that providers are only

too pleased to offer this training.

Another often ignored area is the role of the professional bodies. Sofa

has a well established programme of study groups. The strength of these is

the opportunity to spend a few hours a week with a facilitator who knows

the subject matter and knows the exam. It provides the discipline of

working through the syllabus in a structured format, having the opportunity

to sit dummy questions and to test your knowledge.

In addition, if you have not looked at the LIA&#39s training programme

recently, I think it is about time you did. The LIA has a campaign at the

moment to obtain Government and European grants to subsidise the training

available to IFAs. As this area is moving all the time, I strongly

recommend to anyone going forward to do AFPC to contact the LIA to see what

support is available. It is not unknown for the LIA and Sofa to combine and

co-ordinate in the regions to make the best use of resources.

However, we do not all learn in the same way. For some, study groups are

too time-consuming. One other area to look at, then, is computer-based

training. The CII can offer this at a cost and it is well worth pursuing.

However, there is a product provider which will remain nameless (but is

based in Norwich) which has produced a series of CD-Roms for most AFPC

subjects.

What is the upshot of all this? I think the message is very clear. The

transition from FPC to AFPC is very do-able. Thousands have done it,

possibly tens of thousands are on course to. It is going to become the

norm. The question is when? For most of us it is a matter of getting on and

doing it. It will require planning and it will require pulling in the

support available.

Good luck.

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