There are three key differences between the AF4 and PCIAM: structure, syllabus, and technique.

  1. Structure

AF4 is comprised of three unseen case studies, and short answer questions about them which are typically answered using bullet-points. Question 1 is worth 80 marks, and questions 2 and 3 around 40 marks each. There are 160 marks up for grabs in each sitting of the exam. You typically need 88 to pass.

PCIAM is also split into three sections, but this is where the similarities end. Section 1 comprises 10 short-answer questions (non-case study based) totalling 40 marks. Section 2 is an essay (you have a choice of three subjects) worth 20 marks. And Section 3 is a case study based question worth 40 marks very similar to an AF4 question. We would generally suggest you tackle the PCIAM sections in the order of 1, then 3, then 2. These are the easier, more clear-cut sections of the paper in terms of guaranteeing yourself marks – particularly if you’re used to the CII’s way of working!

  1. Syllabus

While AF4 is straight-up focused investment planning, the PCIAM syllabus comprises about 50-70% investment planning (depending on what essay subject you choose), and a 30%-50% mix of regulation (R01), pensions (R04), tax/trusts (R03), protection (R05), and securities advice and dealing (J12). The syllabus is enormous, and you need to know it in a fair amount of detail in order to secure the available marks. This is why you’ll notice the CISI recommends 200 study hours to get yourself exam-ready!

Our Technical Director Michael Pashley (see below) remarked of the June 2018 sitting: “I’d just finished a 20 mark essay on the uses of fixed interest securities within investment portfolios, and then I was immediately asked in Section 3 to complete a relatively detailed CGT calculation. This huge subject shift completely threw me within the timed, pressured environment of the exam, and I ended up skipping the question, when usually I wouldn’t think twice about tackling an AF1-level CGT calc… I think the best way to tackle this for me in future is to do Section 1 first, then 3, then 2…”

Such a varied syllabus will be a dream come true for all-rounders, but can be very challenging for specialists and those who prefer to focus their study. Indeed, the CISI has repeatedly remarked: “To use an analogy with medicine, [PCIAM] is a GP exam, not one for consultants. It is necessary to have a basic knowledge of a wide range of topics. It is difficult to provide suitable advice if the adviser is not aware of alternatives available to clients in the industry as a whole.”

  1. Technique

With the CII and AF4, when you have a question that offers 4 marks, you know you have 4 points to raise to achieve them; and the model answers confirm this.

However, with PCIAM, you might encounter a question carrying, say, 1 mark. Candidates familiar with the CII therefore expect one significant point will achieve the mark, but when you look at the CISI model answer there can be two or more key issues in the answer needed to achieve the 1 mark. This is totally different to CII and as a result many candidates familiar with the CII find themselves writing a lot more or less than they perhaps need to, and aren’t always sure whether they have enough information to achieve the mark.

The best way to think about it, we believe, is to equate 2 CII-standard marks with 1 CISI mark. This is the AF4/PCIAM exchange rate, so to speak: 2 to 1.

This also makes time management difficult. With CII it’s pretty much 1 mark = 1 point = 1 minute, whereas with PCIAM, establishing how much time to commit to each of the three sections can be incredibly difficult. You only have 180 minutes, and using our exchange rate of 2 CII points/marks to every 1 CISI one, this is 200 CII-standard “points” you need to make to achieve full marks, plus you need to factor in reading and thinking time. Time management is a real skill with PCIAM, and is a key focus on our PCIAM workshops going forward.

PCIAM also requires candidates to “critically analyse” something in the exam, such as a concept like CAPM, or the suitability of an investment portfolio. Critical analysis is an extension of the S.A.E. (Statement. Analysis. Evaluation) explain/describe model taught by us for AF4 and the other AF exams. However, critical analysis has one key difference: It generally requires an opinion and subsequent justification of that opinion, which is something the CII rarely asks for.

Critical Analysis was historically up at Level 7, but with the CISI and LIBF introducing it into their Level 6 exams, this is now the world in which we live!