Alex Langhorn, head of Business Support, sums up some of the main questions BTS has been asked by exam candidates over the past year.
I’m new to the financial services sector, where do I start when studying for the R0 exams?When the support team at BTS receive an email or telephone call starting with this question, our hearts do a little dance of joy as it means the person on the other end of the enquiry has reached out for support right at the start of their journey. Why is this a good thing? Well, there are quite a few options on the market when it comes to R0 study support (not just the examining body’s study materials, which you don’t have to buy) so the fact that they are shopping around from the off means they will be in a much better position than a candidate who launches headlong into spending hard-earned money on a study plan that may or may not suit them.
This month’s R0 focus article looks at the top 10 questions we commonly get asked by candidates when they are getting started with their R0 exams.
Question 1: How do I enrol for the Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning?
The Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning is examined by the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII). There are six units in total (R01 – R06). Candidates need to enrol for each unit separately and can do so one at a time. Each unit is ‘purchased’ from the CII website but be aware, the default option is to purchase ‘enrolment plus’ which includes the exam sitting and examining body revision aids. Candidates do not have to purchase the examining body study text and revision aids. It is possible to purchase the unit as ‘assessment only’ which means just the exam voucher. You are then free to shop around for study materials that suit you.
Question 2: How do I book an exam?
Exams are booked on the CII website. Once you have purchased your unit you can redeem the exam voucher against a date and time of your choice. Exams can be sat in exam centres nationally or online using remote invigilation. Having an exam booked gives you something to aim for. Bookings can be amended up to 48 hours before the time of the booking. There are some handy videos showing you how to book and amend your exam sittings here on the CII website: https://www.cii.co.uk/learning/qualifications/assessment-information/before-the-exam/exam-booking-guidance/
Question 3: How much does each exam sitting cost?
Each exam sitting costs between £103 – 113 (for CII/PFS members) and £123 – 154 (for non-members). In addition to this cost, candidates will need some support materials, as a minimum a study text for each unit plus some specimen exam questions. Other support available includes revision workshops and e-Learning resources. Most providers offer free samples of their resources so you can ‘try before you buy’.
The support package required will depend on the candidate’s existing experience, their budget (!) and the R0 unit they are sitting. Some of the tougher units may need a broader package of support options.
Question 4: Should I join the CII/PFS?
Absolutely, categorically yes!
Becoming a student member of the CII/PFS, whilst an additional expense, comes with benefits such as accessing CPD events at a subsidised cost, reduced CII exam fees and other perks. Membership is also required for those wishing to use the designation DipPFS after their name, following completion of the Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning.
The reduction in exam fees is substantial – usually an individual will recoup the fee they have paid by their third exam sitting.
Question 5: What are the exams like?
R01 – R05 are on-screen multi-choice exams. R01 and R02 are both two-hour papers with 100 questions, R03, R04 and R05 are one-hour papers with 50 questions per paper. R06 is a three-hour written paper based on two case studies which are released to candidates two weeks before the exam date.
Exams can be sat remotely or at an exam centre. Both have pros and cons. At an exam centre you have invigilators physically on hand if you have a systems issue, but it can take longer to get an exam date. The CII use PSI as their remote exam provider and there are still quite a few documented incidents where candidates have had system issues. However, getting an exam sitting more readily is likely.
Question 6: Where do I start with the material if I have no prior knowledge?
Studying for the R0 exams with no prior knowledge of the sector can be daunting, but not impossible. A big benefit is that candidates are a blank slate and absorb the CII way and take on financial services like a sponge. A drawback is they often lack the experience that can help when looking at some of the tricker worded questions.
Always start with a study guide, ideally one that brings the learning to life. The more engaging the guide the more likely you are to understand and enjoy the subject matter and the more likely you are to retain and be able to apply it. Build in more study time – CII recommended study hours are only a guide – you are likely to need more if you have little or no base knowledge. And be kind to yourself – these are tough exams that take time and a lot of effort to get yourself ready. If it takes you a few goes, having ‘deferred your success’ a few times initially, so what…
Question 7: How do I build a study plan – and stick to it?
Putting together a study plan will help your intentions become reality. Start by looking at the examining body syllabus to get an understanding of the breadth and depth of knowledge required for the unit. Next, check the weighting of the syllabus in the exam – which learning outcomes carry the most marks? This will help you to prioritise your study time. Have a date in the diary for your intended exam sitting, this gives you something to aim for.
Have a look for revision workshops, these are commonly offered remotely using an online platform like Zoom now. Revision workshops can really help candidates understand some of the trickier concepts and have the added benefit of introducing you to other candidates on the same journey. As your exam date gets closer, you should practise as many exam-standard questions as you can. The CII is notorious for tricky question wording so the more sample questions you can have a go at, the better. Make sure the questions you are using are exam-standard, as many on the market (including the examining body’s) can be either too easy, or too difficult and don’t represent the questions on a real exam paper.
Question 8: What order should I sit the R0 exams in?
There is no one recommended panacea in relation to the order candidates sit their R0 exams in. Some candidates follow the numerical order, so start with R01, then R02 and so on. BTS’s preferred order starts with R01, then R05, R03, R02, R04 and finally R06.
There are some exams that should ideally be sat in a certain order. Take the R04 pensions exam – this has within its syllabus rules relating to income and capital gains tax, plus a whole learning outcome on alternatives to using a pension. Therefore, it makes sense to ideally have sat and passed both the R03 personal taxation and the R02 investment and risk unit before attempting it.
Question 9: How long will it take to complete all six units?
This depends on a candidate’s circumstances. Recommended study hours for each unit are listed on the CII website, but for some candidates it can take longer than this. A full-time student with a clear study plan could progress through all six units in 6 – 9 months. A student working alongside their study might take 12 – 18 months. A student working with weekly study leave may achieve this in 9 months.
Question 10: Where can I find help and support?
Finding a mentor or study group to share the journey can make a big difference. For candidates studying independently it can feel like a lonely road, but there is heaps of support out there. Initiatives such as NextGen Planners, the Financial Adviser Mentorship (FAM) group and The Paraplanner Club to mention just a few, offer support to individuals both looking to break into and those already working within our industry. There are also individuals within the profession who are very willing to give advice and support to new entrants. Getting your LinkedIn profile up to date and searching for conversations on the R0 exams is a good starting point.
An edited version of this article was first published in the December 2021 issue of Professional Paraplanner
About Bespoke Training Solutions
Bespoke Training Solutions (BTS) have been supporting regulated exams for 18 years, specialising in R0 support with outstanding candidate tracked results and feedback. Resources include digital and printed study guides, group and 1:1 training, e-Learning modules and a mobile app R0 Study Buddy which provides practice exam questions. Visit www.bespoketrainingsolutions.com to learn more on how BTS can help you on your regulated journey.