For many of my peers in the industry, getting through the exams was simply a case of “read the book, do some past papers and pass the exam”, but I didn’t pass every exam first time. Using my experience and also that of my peers, I’ve come up with some tips. While many are fairly obvious, I hope they’re helpful too.
Every time I sit an exam, I get a text from my dad that says “read the question, put the correct answer down and you’ll pass no problem!” Oddly it makes me laugh every time, but it also reminds me to relax. Make sure you give yourself time to take a breath and keep breathing throughout the exam. Work out the best way you can achieve focus – it’s important to be able to hold your concentration for long periods as many of the exams are rather lengthy.
2. Set goals
When I first embarked on my exams I had planned to sit the six exams required to get the level 4 Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning and stop right there, thank you very much. I’d been to university, so before I’d even started I was pretty fed up of exams and all the stress that came with them. Once I was half way through, colleagues were asking if I planned to keep going to get the Advanced Diploma or take a break. Some thought that it was a good idea whilst you were “in the swing of exams” to keep going and others said that I’d need a break! Whilst it’s great to have long term goals, make sure you set yourself small achievable goals too.
3. Know your strengths
I’ve read so many stories about “the youngest ever Fellow” and met individuals who have steamed through their Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning in 3 months – and they are great people! In 2016 there were just 231 people aged between 22 and 30 that held the Fellow of the Personal Finance Society – and I certainly intend to join them, (though time is running out). I’ve also known several people who are able to sit multiple exams on one day and pass all of them. If you can do that – great! If you’re not sure if it’s achievable, be patient and do one at a time. Whilst sitting multiple exams in one day can mean you reach your goal quicker, if it means you’ll fail them both, don’t risk it. It’s not a race to get there as quickly as possible and you may learn more by doing them one at a time.
4. Fail to prepare and prepare to fail
Well in advance of the exam, sit down and look at all the material you need to get through. Set aside enough time each week, be committed and stick to it. Keep track of where you are each week and make sure you have a plan if you get behind.
5. Make use of your employer’s support
Many employers will give you financial support and study leave, but it doesn’t have to stop there. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for businesses where colleagues have stepped in to help. If you can’t quite your head around a formula, or you’re confused between puts, calls, options and futures – ask someone!
6. Make use of your support network
Along the way there have been several people who have been there for me when I’ve not had the results I was hoping for; those people are invaluable – thanks Mum! There will also be peers who have done the exams and know what it’s like to try and balance work, studying at the weekend, family, a social life and staying sane. Ask them as many questions as you can and know that you’re not alone in the struggle! If you’re sitting an investment exam, you can always go and ask people in investment management/research or reach out to peers at other companies who are experts in this area.
7. Don’t give up!
There are some people in life who can pick up a text book one week and sit the exam the next – sadly, I’ve never been one of those people. I’ve learned to learn from my failures and keep going!
In April I will be attending the Personal Finance Society’s Graduation ceremony, it gives me a chance to celebrate my achievement and enjoy a meal with my family. It’s important to recognise all the hard work you’ve put in that has paid off, before setting your next goal. I’m certainly going to enjoy my weekends for a little while before I go on to more study and exams!
Chloe Moran APFS Chartered is a Senior Paraplanner at 1825 and a Chartered Financial Planner