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Exam techniques

Tips for passing diploma first time

Passing exams is about technique as well as knowledge. Successful candidates pace their studies, acquire a depth of knowledge and practice their exam technique through taking past papers.

Here are some hints and tips you may wish to consider to help you on your Diploma journey:

Deciding what to study

  • Get a copy of your learning statement
  • Ensure any relevant prior learning is accredited where applicable
  • Plan how you will accumulate the 140 credits required to pass Diploma
  • Match subjects to your experience, knowledge and strengths
  • Consider combining relevant papers, i.e. JO4, JO5 & AF3
  • Consider using one advanced paper towards the total


Credits required for Diploma

  • Bear in mind the potential requirement for 'gap filling',focusing on Tax, Investment and Planning to minimise the need to undertake additional CPD
  • Develop at least an 8 week study plan - you could spend circa 100 hours studying each unit (this is an average, some candidates will take longer) Learning the material
  • Read and understand the syllabus - exam questions will be based on learning outcomes from the syllabus and the indicative content
  • Read the whole book at least once
  • 2-3 weeks from the exam, practice using past papers
  • Pay particular attention to the examiners comments in Exam Guides - they are there to help and give advice on how to avoid common errors
  • An Exam Preparation Course with a dedicated Tutor will enable tailored feedback to be given
  • Use the free on-line Revisionmate tool provided by CII
  • The Patterson Audio CDs are also an effective way of learning, as someone reads the book to you
  • Make the most of product provider learning and revision resources
  • Don't go it alone - facilitated study groups enable you to get together with your peers
  • Revision days are proven to improve chances of exam success
  • It's a simple equation; the better prepared you are the higher your chance of passing!


Preparing for the exam

  • Enter for the exam in plenty of time (and at a convenient location)
  • Check the confirmation when it comes to ensure you have been allocated your choices (and to give yourself time to resolve any issues)
  • Be clear about how you will get to the exam centre on time (and where you will park etc)
  • There is a nominal pass mark of 55% and the CII uses a positive marking system, meaning that the examiner will try to give you marks, rather than penalise
  • Write legibly and use bullet points where appropriate rather than lots of prose to get your answers across (and make best use of your time)
  • Show calculations and workings to demonstrate understanding - sometimes, the final answer is worth a fraction of the total marks
  • Read the question carefully - questions do not waste words, so each is there for a reason
  • Answer the question written down, not the one you hoped for or wanted to answer
  • Relate your answer to specific parts of the question
  • Answer the question in the manner asked (list/state/explain briefly/describe etc)
  • You will be made aware of the tax regime applicable for the exam you are taking in the syllabus which is updated annually - where relevant use and reiterate the information in the tax tables
  • State the obvious, such as the basic rate of income tax, as this may pick up an extra mark
  • Remember, the examiner doesn't know that you know, so make it obvious that you know and understand!

The below recordings are from an Exam Technique seminar run by Eddie Grant, Chartered Financial Planner, who is a board director of the PFS and a CII accredited trainer:

Preparing to study

Structured learning

Exam preparation

Good luck!