Are past papers important?

We always recommend that our students revisit previous exam papers and take them under exam conditions. We believe that this is one of the most effective ways of checking your progress and of identifying any gaps in your knowledge.

The feedback in exam guides – the last two for each AF topic being available on the CII’s website – provides an insight into what the examiners are thinking and the areas where those who sat the exam performed well and not so well.

Examiners Comments

So, pulling out a few of the examiner’s comments from the October 2019 AF1 paper, we learn that:

  • Candidates perform well on calculation questions. Even where errors are made in parts of a calculation, high marks can still be achieved for getting the rest of the calculation correct.
  • New rules will be tested – the examiner specifically states ‘Candidates should make sure that they are keeping up to date with any and all changes.’

For the 2020/21 sittings, the examiner has a fair few options to choose from including (among others); finance costs for buy-to-let mortgages; two sets of company car rates; reductions in HMRC’s official interest rate and  business asset disposal relief (formerly entrepreneurs’ relief); changes to private residence and lettings reliefs; and an increase in the residence nil rate band to £175,000.

  • Some students struggle to relate their answers to the case study presented; this suggests that some students are giving generic answers, as opposed to answers specific to the circumstances of the client the question is asking about.

Looking through the more detailed feedback, here are a few key pointers:

  • You really need to read the question very carefully. Take care not to make assumptions. For example, some candidates based the whole of an answer on the current tax year, whereas part of the answer needed to be based on the previous tax year.
  • Some candidates were not able to describe the new 5-stage process for top-slicing – we tend to get quite tied up working out how to perform this rather complex calculation during our investment taxation week. A key learn here is that we also need to be able to explain how it works.
  • Candidates struggled with private residence relief and lettings relief – the examiner sometimes re-tests subjects where candidates haven’t scored as highly as expected quite quickly. Also, both of these topics have new rules this tax year, perhaps making them a priority for revision.


So to conclude the one unquestionable use of past paper questions is in forming an excellent basis for revision in preparation for exams. They will help to consolidate your knowledge and allow you to ‘rehearse’ specific skills required in the examination.

Passive learning on its own does not work! – It’s not effective to just read your notes over and over, copy out notes or highlight bits of handouts. You need to think actively about ideas if you are going to remember them.  Our study plans and revision courses are designed to encourage you to learn actively by thinking, understanding and connecting the things you are trying to learn to your existing ideas and knowledge.

Best of luck with your studies and remember it’s never too late to join us at Expert Pensions for support, guidance and encouragement to get through to exam day. [Please note if you purchase our structured study plan you do not need to purchase the revision course as it is included]

Click here for our AF1 Structured Study Plan

Click here for our AF1 Revision Course