Top Tips to Help you Pass High Level Exams

CISI / CII / IFS Exam tips


This article contains tips to help you pass any high level exam, in particular Level 6 and Level 7 Investment Exams.


Students frequently leave the exam room at the end of their first Level 6 Investment paper in a real state. Why? Many complain about the totally unexpected or ‘unreasonable’ questions that they were faced with; but there is often one real reason why they are so upset – they have not prepared well enough to tackle the paper.


Many students would have felt prepared following several hours of comprehensive study and note taking. However, even in these circumstances, the preparation may not have been as good as it could be.


We always say to our students that first they have to take on board the fact that they are about to sit a really tough exam. They will need to be equally prepared in both technical understanding and exam technique. So where do we start? Here are a few simple tips:

  1. Any quality exam institute will be testing from the syllabus it has prepared for the subject. Always go to this first to see exactly what is expected of you. The syllabus learning outcomes should specify the extent to which your abilities will be examined. Will it be simple knowledge of an area, a more detailed understanding of how or why something works or will you have to apply your knowledge to deal with different scenarios even to the extent of making specific recommendations and justifying them?
  2. Once you understand what the syllabus covers, you need to gather appropriate study resources to fill the gaps. Often, institutes provide a primary study text and some students relying heavily on this, will expect to pass. A word of warning however. Many students leave exams bemoaning the fact that a particular question cannot be found in the primary text. Examiners always justify their actions by stating that they test from the syllabus and not any one textbook – even the Institute’s own! We always recommend that students read very widely around subjects. There is a wealth of information out there in books, magazines and on the internet. We have found that you have to read widely on a complex topic, just to understand its workings and potential application. The more you read, the better.
  3. If possible, find students that have taken the exam themselves. Can your peers give you any tips? How hard was the paper when they did it? Were there any recurring themes from past exams? Such snippets of information can be really useful in preparing you to take the paper proper.
  4. Practice with past exam and other mock papers. In our opinion, this is as essential as studying the subject matter. If you don’t look through any past papers at all, you will have little or no idea what to expect and you run a very high risk of getting stuck on exam day. Passively looking through past papers is not enough – you need to actually do some. Run these to exam time conditions and don’t sit there answering questions with a text book on your desk. The key to this exercise is to look at the gaps in your knowledge or your exam technique. What don’t you still know? Do you understand a subject but have just failed to answer the particular exam question properly? As you can see, you are actually going through a learning process each time you do a mock paper. The important thing is take your mistakes into account and prepare to be able to improve for the next mock and so on.
  5. Finally, always expect the unexpected. Psychologically, unexpected questions really throw students off course. They may only be worth a small proportion of the marks overall but their impact on exam performance can be disproportionately negative. With higher level papers, the examiner will want you to be able to deal with unusual looking scenarios or sets of data. More often than not, if you know the syllabus, you will be able to look ‘through’ the information provided, interpret it correctly and deal with the questions posed. The more active studying you carry out beforehand using different examples combined with exam practice, the better prepared you will be.


A revision course run by a reputable training organisation can often be invaluable in tying up the ‘loose ends’ of your preparation for a paper. Good sessions will focus on all of the points made above to give students a structured, informative and interactive session, maximising their chances of success.

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