CII Advanced Diploma exam tips

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Studying for the CII Advanced Diploma exams – First reference points

The CII’s Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning exams have been categorized at QCF Level 6 – Bachelor’s degree with honours standard. For busy financial services professionals out of exam practice for several years but wanting to develop their knowledge and understanding of complex topics, they are tough but ultimately, highly rewarding exams to conquer.

So where do you start? Is it just easier to go on a course and be told what to study and do to pass? As a provider of exam preparation training courses, I would be one of the first to encourage this approach but to be fairer to you the student, there is a lot you can do under your own steam before you even think of going on a revision course. Here are a few important tips to get you started:

Check the syllabus for the exam you are taking.

These are easily downloaded from the CII’s website. Although they just look like a list of subjects, there are some other vital clues to help you work out to what extent you will be tested on a particular topic. For example, “knowledge” will simply mean just that – a knowledge that some thing or some concept exists. “Understand” will take you one step further. Not only will you have to be aware of the topic, but you will also have to realize for instance “how” it operates or “why” it is there in the first place. Application of a subject takes you further into how the topic operates in given scenarios.

Obtain past exam papers.

In my view one of the most important things you should do prior to taking any exam, is to look at how your peers have been tested in the past. The two most recent exam papers are available for a small cost from the CII website. In addition, older papers can be downloaded for free if you have access to the member’s part of the website. By studying past papers, you will learn the way in which the syllabus is applied to the exam and the sorts of questions you will often be faced with. You will learn key words in the structure of exam questions and just what the examiner is looking for in terms of detail with the model answers provided. If there are recurring themes in past papers, are they being tested in the same way as before, or is there a change in emphasis? You will very often find that there is a relatively set format to the ways in which questions are asked. If that is the case, can you “learn” how to answer these questions beforehand?

These exams are tough but achievable providing the right sort of preparation is made. Of course, one major benefit of using past papers is to actually treat them as a dry run for the exam. Try answering the questions in timed, “exam like” conditions. Do this regularly with different papers throughout your studies to help you gauge your progress.

Revision materials.

The AF exams do not have set course books in terms of knowledge. The CII state they are testing the same depth of knowledge as that which appears in the Diploma (QCF Level 4) papers but at AF level, the knowledge is being applied in detail to specific scenarios. What does this mean then for the student? If you do not have Diploma standard textbooks on the subject, we would recommend that you obtain them. In addition, you would be wise to read about the subject as widely as possible. This may be in the form of an alternative course book, a specialist title on the subject, industry periodicals and websites as well as just simply going through topics with a more experienced colleague at work. Case study workbooks are available for most of the Advanced Diploma exams via the CII website.

Note taking.

Even some of the most experienced exam students find this difficult. It can be very easy to write out the contents of a text book verbatim. This is both time consuming and often does not have the desired effect in remembering key areas. Try using your senses better to retain information. Can you reduce a page of subject matter down to a few words or headings? Can the subject be translated to a diagram perhaps in colour? Can you create a scenario or questions to answer about the topic?

These are just a few things you can think of at the start of your studies.

Revision courses can really help with understanding vital topics and practice with exam technique in your final days of study but your preparation beforehand can considerably enhance your chances of passing.

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