What is the best way to prepare for my CII exams?

9 February 2023

As part of our Ask the Experts series, we put your exam and study questions to the Brand Financial Training team. We have been publishing their answers every day this week. Check the website for the other questions and answers.

Today we tackle two questions one answer: What is the best way to prepare for my CII exams? and How can I make my study time more productive?

Paraplanner question: I’ve been a paraplanner for many years but not sat an exam in years. Now as I look to progress my career I’ve forgotten how to study and revise and find the whole process daunting. I’d appreciate some advice on how to get back into study mode, how to study effectively and what a good study plan looks like.

Brand Financial Training answer: We’ve had some great questions regarding exam preparation which we will tackle today. This is a great way to end our week of Q&A as it is relevant to all candidates sitting CII exams.

There are many techniques to help with revision and it’s always worth trying out new things but ultimately, how candidates structure their revision will vary from person to person as what works well for one candidate may not for another. Below we highlight some key points you may want to  consider, we also look at the benefits of a study plan.

Quality over quantity

Spend quality time on your revision, try revising in short bursts of say 20 to 30 minutes, with breaks in between. This is likely to be more effective than trying to study for hours at a time. Any session needs to be short enough for you to give full attention throughout, interspersed with breaks so the brain has time to consolidate learning.

And test yourself afterwards. Have you really understood and committed to memory the information that you’ve just worked with?

Make effective revision notes.

Of course, you need to read the information you intend to learn, but that should not necessarily be how you spend most of your revision time. The majority of time should be spent actively manipulating that information and representing it in your own way. Often this will be in the form of revision notes. We provided some pointers on how to make effective revision notes in Wednesdays Q&A – do take a look

Always use mock papers!

These are a highly effective part of any revision schedule.

After you’ve worked on a mock paper, you will be able to assess your efforts and analyse what you have done right (or wrong!) and whether your efforts would have been enough to earn you a pass were it for real. Some mock papers include a correct answer rationale to give you a further explanation as to why that answer is correct.

Be sure not to lose heart if your marks in the initial trial runs aren’t what you would have hoped for. After all, that’s the whole point of practising! Mock papers will help you identify those areas where more revision is required. Knowing and understanding your weaknesses and targeting them can help focus your revision and, in the long run, save you time.

A full mock paper is also an ideal way to understand the amount of time you will have to spend on each question on the actual day of the exam. That’s why it’s always best to complete such papers under self-imposed exam conditions. Work somewhere quiet with no distractions, with internet and phone alerts all turned off and a timer set. Make it as close to the real thing as you can.

Finally, mock papers make revision interactive and real, in a way that simply reading information – or even taking notes – isn’t. They offer a way of knowing whether the information you have been learning has truly stuck.

Use the CII Exam Guides

It is essential that the CII exam guides are used as part of your revision, as they give you the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the type and style of questions that you will be faced with in the exam.  The question stems are often quite long, but the more you practise, the more easily you will be able to pick through the information to get to what is actually being tested.

The exam guides (and mock papers) will help you familiarise yourself with the structure of the exams and the wording used in different types of questions. You can see how the questions are weighted differently, depending on complexity. Once you understand how points are allocated, you will be better placed to manage your time during your paper.

Buddy up

Of course, ultimately only you can sit your exam – no one else can do it for you. But you don’t have to do all the preparation completely alone. You could find a study buddy – it may be worth asking around on social media if you can’t think of anyone to buddy up with immediately.

Having someone to share your knowledge and discuss the exam material is a really interactive way of working. And, after all, being able to explain a topic is probably the best guarantee that you understand it yourself. It can give you a fresh angle on a subject and provide motivation; equally, you may learn a few new study techniques this way. As the old cliché goes, two heads are better than one.

Study Plan

Using and sticking to a good study plan can be a huge factor in ensuring you are well prepared for your exam. It provides clear goals, ensures you break down your study into manageable chunks and helps you fit your schedule in and around your other commitments.

Here is a step-by-step guide of how you could structure your study plan for your CII exam.

Step 1: Gather the information.

Compile a comprehensive overview of absolutely everything you plan to use to study for your exam, this may include the CII study guide, mock papers, exam guides and other resources such as online courses, audios and e-learning.

Step 2: Estimate timings.

Consider how long you will need to spend on all aspects of your revision detailed in Step 1.

Ensure you prioritise. For example, you may want to look at the number of questions allocated per chapter and spend longer on those sections that are more heavily tested (this information is in the exam guide by the way).

Step 3: Time available.

Use your diary (work and personal) and make a list of the revision slots you have available, some weeks you will be busier than others so factor this in. Just opting for say three chapters a week is unlikely to work out in reality. Also, think about when you are likely to be most productive in your study.

Step 4: Allocate time slots and set goals.

Allocate appropriately sized revision chunks to each ‘slice’ of time available, ensuring there is sufficient time over the course of your entire revision schedule to work through everything.

You may want to factor in some ‘catch up’ time slots as nothing can be more demoralising than running behind all the time!

Set goals or milestones this helps to keep track of your progress and can give positive reinforcement when you reach your set targets.

Step 5: Stick to the plan.

Once you’ve allocated all your revision to the time available, try your best to stick dutifully to your schedule as you’ll feel far more confident that you’ll be able to cover all the information comfortably.

Your study plan, just like your revision techniques, will be very individual to you. It may be a few timeframes on a scrap of paper it may be a detailed plan with tables, timescales, methods and revision strategies – whatever works for you!

Need help with your CII exams? For resources including mock exam papers and e-mocks, calculation workbooks, revision notes, audio masterclasses and video tutorials do visit Brand Financial Training at https://brandft.co.uk, including free taster versions!

Professional Paraplanner