What am I letting myself in for?

There is no quick fix for this degree-level qualification. You will require an in-depth technical knowledge and understanding of investments, coupled with the ability to demonstrate advanced advisory and problem-solving skills relevant to the management of investment portfolios. AF4 is a 3-hour written paper in two sections, with 160 marks available. The CII suggests an average 150 study hours are needed before candidates are at “pass” standard.

However, with the necessary work comes an immeasurably rewarding experience, and 30 credits towards your Advanced Diploma and Chartered Financial Planner status. Investments are an incredibly interesting part of our profession. Countless films and TV shows have been made by Hollywood about the subject, and this can’t be said for pensions or tax. People are fascinated with investment, and AF4 is a fantastic way to build your knowledge and enhance your advice business by becoming an expert in something in which your clients may have a genuine interest.

How can I increase my chances?

AF4 is based on the Level 4 exams J10 Discretionary Investment Management, and R02 Investment Principles and Risk, which together teach the technical knowledge and theory underpinning AF4. AF4 asks you to put this technical knowledge into practice. Expert Pensions highly recommends sitting both J10 and R02 alongside AF4. They are great dress rehearsals for the big day, worth a further 20 credits each towards Chartered.

What you might find useful is putting together a three-month study plan and stick to it! Things can always come up at the last minute, but ensure that any time you miss is made up at a later date. Get the full 150 recommended study hours behind you.

What can you do to calm my pre-exam nerves?

We are going to share some handy, must-know pre-exam top tips so that you can strut into your exam and put this AF4 exam on your ‘done it passed it’ list:

• Understanding the formulae and being able to manipulate the numbers is a ‘must know’ for success in the AF4 exam: Formulae and algebra is a very important part of any investment exam.
• Take 10 minutes reading over the whole of the paper first, jot down some notes along the way and highlight any key word prompts in the questions.
• Read each question, then read it again. Ensure you understand it before putting pen to paper.
• Be careful how you interpret the question – Look for the ‘way’ in which the examiner wants you to demonstrate your answer. Are they asking for a calculation or an explanation? If they are asking for a calculation are they looking for a weekly, monthly or annual calculation? Read it. Check it.
• Don’t write in BLOCK CAPITALS. Studies have shown that this takes longer than normal writing and can put more strain on your hand. The CII won’t penalise you for poor handwriting, providing it is legible.
• If in doubt, write it down. The CII operates a positive marking scheme – you do not lose marks for wrong answers. You only gain them for right ones. The only proviso here is that your answer must be unambiguous.
• Particularly for calculations, show your working. You only get one mark for the correct answer – the rest is for showing your working.
• Pay attention to words in bold type and CAPITALS. Particularly verbs such as “do” and “do not”, to understand what the question is asking.
• Check for the verb in the question – is it asking you to list, explain, or analyse? While 2 or 3 word bullet points may be sufficient for a list question, it probably isn’t enough to get the marks on an explain or analyse question.
• Relate your answer to the case study. If you’re asked about the factors you’d consider when making a recommendation, simply saying “health” may not be enough. But “Suzanne is in poor health and may have a short life expectancy” shows you’re taking into account the details in the case study and applying them to the question at hand. As the old adage goes, show you know!
• If a question is worth two marks, there are likely to be only one or two points for which the examiner is looking for, so a long answer is wasting your precious exam time. On the same token, if a question has 10 marks allocated, a couple of lines will not be an adequate answer.
• Manage your time – the clock is ticking and unfortunately you don’t have all day. Practice those mock papers and put yourself under exam style conditions. Preparation is the key. Complete the paper you need to get to the finish line within the allocated time.
• You have to demonstrate your depth of knowledge so explain and expand and leave no stone unturned. If the question isn’t calculation based then bullet point your answers in order to gain marks.
• Spend at least 10 minutes at the end of your exam looking over your answers and making sure you haven’t missed any important marks.
• Don’t get intimidated by any of the AFs, including AF4. If you’ve focused your study, you should be able to pass confidently. Understand that an exam is just an opportunity to demonstrate your ability.
• Read examiners’ comments in the CII exam guides to find out common pitfalls.
• When marking your mocks, never give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Mark harshly; and hone your answers to the point that you’re giving the examiner no choice but to give you the mark.
• Reward your victories. Passing a mock exam under exam conditions is at the very least deserving of a slice of cake…

If I can get through this exam, what do you suggest next?

If Chartered status is your aim, then the CISI’s PCIAM certificate gives you the chance to gain an additional 30 Level 6 credits toward your Chartered Status – it’s a no-brainer!