AF3 Pension planning: study requirements and guidance

The CII lists the relevant study texts for the AF3 exam as being the CII study texts for R04 and J05 together with their AF3 case study workbook.

Regarding further reading, candidates may need to obtain a wider knowledge beyond the CII study manuals and case study workbook, as the general principle is that the CII will set an exam based on the syllabus, not on their manuals/workbook. The CII material is written with the syllabus in mind and the examiners will often refer to the CII manuals for technical points as well as to past papers to ensure continuity of style and approach.

What makes an AF paper different from a ‘J’ or ‘R’ paper is that candidates must be able to apply the knowledge they gained during their diploma level studying to relatively complex client situations, which are given in the form of case studies.

The majority of the knowledge required is that already contained in the Wizard Learning AF3 Pension planning study package, which includes access to our R04 and J05 online courses.

Most of the other reference materials listed in the CII syllabus are very expensive and often out-of-date, and go into a level of detail beyond which the examiners will test. Extremely few people will purchase these reference materials in order to possibly pick up a few additional marks. Although please note that CII/PFS members can borrow most of the additional study materials listed from Knowledge Services.

Most useful resources
In our view, the most useful resources to help with exam preparation for AF3 are as follows:

  • The case study book sold by the CII is well worth purchasing as it gives you an up-to-date range of case studies (with model answers) across the syllabus that will ensure you know what to expect in the exam.  It will also help build up your knowledge and identify the areas on which you need to focus your studies.
  • The CII past papers are also a must, although some of the technical/legislative points may have changed, they will nonetheless show you the typical questions that the CII ask on each element of the syllabus. You may wish to sit these as mock papers or simply read through the questions and model answers to help get a feel for the exam and how to approach the questions.
  • Our AF3 study package will also be of great assistance; not only to help refresh your pensions knowledge, but equally as important help you with the application of knowledge by providing exam standard additional mock case studies to try, as well as a self-marked paper.

The full contents of our AF3 study package are:

  • R04 Pensions and retirement planning: Online Multimedia Course
  • J05 Pension income options: Online course
  • R04 Pensions and retirement planning: Assessment package containing 300 multiple-choice questions.
  • J05 Pension income options: Assessment package containing 300 multiple-choice questions.
  • AF3 two self-marked papesr - Online exam papers that you type in your answers online and then mark yourself against the model answers
  • AF3 case study 1 - Case study with 20 related multiple-choice questions including explanations of answers. Deals with various capped drawdown aspects including income levels, planning, critical yield and death benefits.
  • AF3 case study 2 - Case study with 20 related multiple-choice questions including explanations of answers. Deals with defined benefit schemes focusing on aspects of the lifetime allowance, annual allowance, benefit crystallisation, income options and protection.
  • AF3 case study 3 - Case study with 20 related multiple-choice questions including explanations of answers. Deals with defined benefit funding aspects, MNTs, contracting out, PPF and key legislation areas.
  • Learning to Learn - 5 online learning skills courses.

We would suggest that you get started by doing a mixture of revision, going through mock case studies and reviewing past papers. How you are getting on with these will be a good indicator as to how you will perform in the exam and whether you need to revisit a syllabus area. Many people will pass the exam by this method alone and those who get a good pass tend to be those involved in the technical end of financial planning already.

Should you feel the need to read more widely, the books listed on the CII AF3 syllabus are indeed the most likely suspects. The books and reference materials listed are unlikely to be of much practical assistance for the reasons detailed above, and whilst reading relevant journals and magazines can be useful for keeping your knowledge up to date, they may actually cause confusion.  The AF3 exam is based on the law at a fixed point in time, and subsequent changes will not be examined until a later point.  The general rule is that the new tax year and changes that arise from the Finance Act will be examined from the 1 September each year.  Other changes that are not related to the Finance Act will be examined 3 months after they have legal effect.  In other words your exam will be based on the legal position 3 months before your exam date.  Care therefore needs to be taken in this regard and it is recommended that you check the Learning solutions updates which can be found under ‘Unit updates’ on the AF3 content page of the CII website.