Rethinking the Level 4 Diploma – including removal of a written exam

22 January 2024

John Somerville, director of financial services, professional education at LIBF, explains why the professional body reviewed and changed the way it assesses candidates for the Level 4 qualification, including removal of the final written exam.

How do you feel about taking exams? Are you a fan, or does the very idea fill you with dread? We did a recent study on this, which showed that not only are most people affected by exam nerves (91%) – but this kind of anxiety can have a lasting effect on study and career options.

Exams have their benefits. They are, of course, a tried and tested means of assessment, and studies have also shown that, when implemented correctly, they help support learning and can actually lead to better outcomes compared to courses that rely on coursework alone.

But they can also act as a barrier to entry – and for an entry level qualification such as our Diploma for Financial Advisers (DipFA) that gave us pause for thought.

DipFA is the first step for many embarking on an exciting career in financial advice. It covers the essential concepts and theory that all advisers need if they are to be successful in the industry.

The qualification has always been an effective way of preparing for a career as a financial adviser, but in recent months we’ve been considering the changing demands of the industry – as well as how education itself has been evolving. This led to us making a few changes to the way DipFA is delivered, to ensure it offers the best possible outcomes for our students and the companies that employ them.

Rethinking the assessment format

For a qualification like DipFA, the aspiration has to be that we equip students to become effective financial advisers from the off. DipFA has always focused on being practical, as well as theoretical, but, following feedback from advisers and networks, we undertook a review of the assessment approach as well as our registration model.

DipFA now features multiple choice exams at the end of each module. This means that students can effectively test their knowledge but also identify areas needed for improvement as they progress through the course, allowing them to adjust their studying accordingly. At the same time, the removal of a final written exam should go some way to mitigating potential exam-based barriers, but it also makes the qualification more true to life. Very few employers are likely to ask new recruits (or potential candidates) to sit an exam, but they should rightly expect them to be able to undertake scenario-based tasks to meet client needs.

So, a coursework assignment forms the final assessment of the course. This gives students the chance to apply their learning in a real-world scenario and demonstrate their ability to start their careers with a firm understanding of the key concepts they have learned throughout DipFA.

Flexibility from the start

The DipFA programme is also now available on demand, which means students can study modules as and when they choose to. They can also study the modules in any order, and pay by module. Once again, this allows them to tailor their educational journey according to individual needs – allowing them to allocate more time to modules they are likely to find challenging, for example.

We believe the refreshed DipFA format offers our students the best of both worlds. Regular multiple-choice assessments help to check progress and cement learning, whilst the coursework component ensures they understand how to apply that learning.

Making financial advice an accessible career for all

Today’s advisers need practical education that can easily translate to the workplace. A flexible learning programme with a coursework-based final assessment provides exactly that – with modular assessments to check progress and support students’ learning as they work towards their qualification.

Once students have achieved the license to trade as a financial adviser, they can continue their learning journey with a much more robust level of knowledge behind them. Not only will this put them in the best possible position for a successful career, but they’ll also be better prepared to pursue more advanced qualifications.

Exams still play an important role in education, but they shouldn’t act as a barrier to entry. By adopting a more flexible approach, LIBF hopes to ensure that financial advice remains an accessible career option for all.

Professional Paraplanner