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Top 10 tips for passing exams

I can’t believe we are already over halfway through February and, for many of you, this means just seven weeks or so before the first round of Chartered Insurance Institute exams.

There were over 20,000 diploma exam sittings in 2009 and this year is set to be even higher.

It is encouraging to see advisers getting on with the task in hand but it is also disappointing that the pass rates last year were not as high as I would have liked or expected. I know a great many good advisers who certainly know their subject matter, yet some still fail when faced with a formal exam.

There are two main reasons for this – one is simply lack of preparation but the other is a lack of understanding exam technique.

To address this, the Personal Finance Society has embarked on a communication programme to help members and I would like to share some of our hot tips with Money Marketing readers.

To start with, it really is worth investing in the learning materials, the study text is a must, Revisionmate (which comes free) and I would recommend purchasing past exam papers.

Tell the examiner what you know – they don’t know you know it

Attend as many training and revision days as you can. Sign up to the provider academies and consider joining a PFS study group. We are running 24 around the country before the April sittings, covering five of the “J” subjects.

When it comes to the dreaded day – and yes most people feel this way – you need to understand how to get maximum marks.

Here are my top 10 tips:

1: Remember that the CII uses a positive marking system, which means that the examiners are trying to give you marks, rather than penalise you.
2: Write legibly – use bullet points to get your answers across rather than reams of prose.
3: Show calculations and workings to demonstrate understanding – the final answer is only worth a fraction of the marks.
4: Answer the question written down, not the one you hoped for or want to answer.
5: Answer the question in the manner asked (list / state / explain briefly / describe etc).
6: Make it easy for the examiner by not hiding your answer.
7: Where relevant, use and reiterate the information in the tax tables.
8: Tell the examiner the date and year of the tax regime that you are referring to.
9: State the obvious, such as the basic rate of income tax, as this may pick up an extra mark.
10: Tell the examiner what you know – they don’t know you know it.

There is a fuller guide on the PFS website which anyone can access, not just members. We genuinely want to see a significant increase in the number of people passing first time. Good luck with your studies and I hope you find some of these tips helpful.

Fay Goddard is chief executive of the Personal Finance Society


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There are 14 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. You can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig.

    Did Park Row have more certified planners, or whatever they are called, than any other firm?

    What good did that do the poor souls left to pay for the FSCS ‘fund of last resort’?

  2. I clicked this link with such anticipation. I thought I would learn something I didn’t know. Wrong again. This is just a campaign to sell more CII study material and events. I would encourage people to seriously consider the IFS Diploma as it is much cheaper to complete and is more in tune with the times and serves the same purpose.

  3. I have asked before and got the FOB off from the CII, Why will you NOT send back the marked exam papers on request. The best learning tool is to see where we have gone wrong or what we have failed to demonstrate.
    Will you (CII) commit to do this?
    If not why not?

  4. I agree with Phil. If the CII are confident enough that they can mark an exam correctly and fairly, why not let me see the marked version and let me compare against the ‘model’ answer when it comes out?

    I’ve sat AF5 twice now and failed it twice. Both times I’ve exited the exam thinking it was the easiest exam I’ve ever sat. I have appealed the second fail and am awaiting the result (hope the CII don’t read this). However, on looking at the ‘model answer’ of my first fail, there was nothing there that I hadn’t captured. I asked the CII for some guidance on what I can do better, and they suggested more exams and perhaps some revision days before attempting a resit.

    I could say that I think the CII are just a money-making machine but that would be cynical wouldn’t it?

  5. I am 71 and despite previous higher qualifications gained quite some years ago I find I need at least one J pass if I am to continue as an IFA. I am sitting JOI in April – my biggest worry is my writing which I know is absolutely awful. Whilst agreeing that the CII will be one of the main beneficiaries of the new examination requirements I must say that I have found Revisionmate extremely helpful – for Fay’s information it enables you to print out previous exam and answer papers.(Free of charge) One comment – for those of us who have been giving advise for years it is difficult to show ‘all the workings’ as our mind automatically goes to the next step – surely if you come out with the right answer you should get full marks. I acknowledge if you get the wrong answer you would get no marks – I also acknowledge that if you show most of the correct workings and get the wrong answer then you are entitled to something but certainly, under no circumstances, as many as the person who has the right answer. This assumes that under examination conditions it is not possible to cheat. It would be interesting to hear a regulator’s comment.

  6. One clever chappie (well he thought so) who used to set CII exams took great delight in telling me there was an art in making sure people failed their exams which resulted in more fees for yet more attempts.

    The RDR was sold to the likes of David Kenmir as a solution do the moaning IFAs who refused to pay FOS awards, the premise was that well qualified people would generate fewer complaints and well capitalised firms would pay any compensation without a quibble when required to do so.

    Easy life for the regulator? Only a fool would believe that load of twaddle, yet another Kenmir effect…

  7. I attended a CII meeting last week, the subject being: Exam Preparation. The talk lasted an hour and at the end of it I was even more depressed and nervous than I was before the event.
    When I am under pressure I have an involuntary shake in my hands.It’s not new, I’ve had the problem for years but cope fairly well. You should see me in a snooker match!
    When I sat and failed JO5 I was shaking so much that I honestly couldn’t read what I was writing. Why oh why do we have to write the answers in our own hand?
    I mean, I managed to type this OK and I bet that no reader knew that I had a shaking
    By the way. The questions in JO5 were made up in fairy land.They certainly didn’t reflect any client situation that I’ve ever encountered!

  8. A Chartered Financial Planner 2nd March 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I would encourage you all to read the following article that appears in this months Money Marketing – Adviser Evolution magazine:

    Having read it you may feel differently about blaming the CII for everything or perhaps you’ll continue to blame someone else for your inability to pass what is little more than an A level in financial services.

  9. A Chartered Financial Planner 2nd March 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I would encourage you all to read the following article that appears in this months Money Marketing – Adviser Evolution magazine:

    Having read it you may feel differently about blaming the CII for everything or perhaps you’ll continue to blame someone else for your inability to pass what is little more than an A level in financial services.

  10. Richard Brydon 2nd March 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Bravely spoken, Anonymous.

    Obviously, you don’t find passing these easy exams a problem. Well I do and that’s all there is to it.

    I do have SV1 and Cmap.

    But then again, those exams were only the equivalent to the level of the 11 plus if these exams are only the equivalent of A levels. How come that they were acceptable standards at the time.

    Oh, and the SV1 was done because I wanted to do it, not because my livelyhood depended on it. A very different state of mind I do assure you.

  11. To Anon,

    I have a suspicion that like Richard Brydon Iam failing in part becuase of my hand writing. All the time the CII refuse to return marked exam answer papers, I will never know for sure and will continue as a result to be critical.

    I did not and would not be making such a song and dance about it were it not theat the exams were becoming mandatory. All the time they remained voluntary, I was quite happy to pay my fees and simply resit the exam as it meant that compared to someone who sat and passed 10 years ago, my failed knowledge (often I suspect failed on handrwiring and parts of the syllabus irrelevant to my clients) was actually more up to date than someone who had passed. I have friends (surprising I know) who had their AFPC years ago (because it was relevent to have for the clients they were dealing with) who do EXACTLY THE SAME as I do with something they havne’t done recently i.e. LOOK IT UP on the internet ratehr than rely on historical and falwed memory of last years exam or even worse 10 years agos exam.

    I am NOT an employee and I will always therefore object to be treated like one by the FSA, CII, IFS or anyone else telling me I must have this or that exam in order to express an opinion (often referred to as advice) to a friend who might wish to pay me for my opinion.

    If my PI insurer said to me, we believe that having an opinion without an exam to back it up is a risk, therefore we will charge you more, then I would as a businessesman make a decision based on that and that alone about what to do. Since the PI insurers have not (as yet), perhaps becasee as we are now seeing, that someone or some firm who has Chartered Status or a Lawyer can be the one who ends up pushing up our own FSCS fees!

  12. Lady Winkworth 4th March 2010 at 4:37 pm

    I don’t think the CII penalise you for bad handwriting. I have terrible handwriting, and passed J01, J02, J04 and J05 first time.

    I suspect the main reason people fail is because they forget the state the obvious in their answers and therefore lose valuable marks.

  13. i have failed – help!

  14. This has just given me an idea. Develop software that can be used in exams so that instead of handwriting answers, people can just type answers such that capable people can clearly express themselves without being penalised for bad handwriting. Beat me to it if you can.

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