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How to Pass the CII R03: Tips for Calculation Questions

The CII R03 exam is far more than a test of your knowledge of the subject. You need to have a really good base knowledge that you will then apply in different ways.

With 50 exam questions to complete in 60 minutes, many of which are calculation based, this can be a really challenging paper.

This article looks at tips to tackle calculation questions.

One of the main reasons that calculation questions cause so much stress for some candidates is that they dive straight into the detail and then get lost in all the figures. To avoid this, you need to take a deep breath before you start your answer, and then work your way through the calculation one step at a time. If you have a process to follow you are less likely to feel stress in the exam, and are also less likely to miss something out.

Calculation questions: The points are in the PROCESS

If we look at the steps for an Income Tax Calculation, these are:

  • Gather together all of the incomes that are taxable, ignore the ones that are not, and group the taxable incomes in to Non-savings, Savings, Dividends and Chargeable gains


  • Make sure you are dealing with Gross figures. If any income has already paid tax, turn it back into the gross equivalent before you start the tax calculation


  • Deduct any reliefs that are available from the taxable income, such as pension contributions made gross via the Net Pay arrangements or to S226 schemes (Retirement Annuity Contracts) or interest on qualifying loans.
How to Pass the CII R03 - Tips for calculation questions
  • Check to see if the Personal Allowance can be left at £12,500, or should it be reduced due to the individual’s Adjusted Net Income


  • Check to see if any of the tax bands need to be expanded due to payment of Personal pensions or Charity donations using Gift Aid


  • Carry out the tax calculation (remembering to check if any 0% savings starter rate is available)


  • Apply any tax reducers such as the Married Couple’s Allowance, the Married Tax Allowance or investments into EIS, SEIS or VCTs.


  • Deduct any tax already paid (the amounts that you grossed up in step 2)


Each of the tax calculations has a logical process that you can follow to arrive at the right answer. For income tax it’s an eight-step process, for CGT it’s a six-step version.  We cover this in our study materials and workshops. The above graphic is taken from the BTS R03 e-Learning module, showing the first of the eight steps in the Income Tax calculation process.

How many calculation questions will you typically get in an R03 exam?

You could get around 50% of the questions in your exam where you need to grab the calculator. It depends on what questions the system selects for you on the day.

Often they will be a tax calculation, either in full or in part. 

Having a well-understood and a well-practiced process that you can call on in the exam for each of the potential tax calculation questions will help you to pass the R03.

One of the most common reasons why candidates worry about calculation questions is that they see a calculation question and “don’t know where to start”. 

The CII examiners have a good idea of the mistakes that candidates are likely to make along the way with calculation questions. Watch out for incorrect distractors in the answer options, it’s very easy to miss out one part of the calculation process but still arrive at an answer that is listed in the possible answers!

How to Pass the CII R03 - Tips for calculation questions
How to Pass the CII R03 - Tips for calculation questions

Final points

For anyone new to taxation, R03 can be a real challenge. This is particularly true for R03 because a lot of the knowledge that you need in order to fully understand the subjects that come up early in the study text aren’t fully explained until later chapters. Often it’s not until a second read of the study materials that the content really starts to make sense! 

This is one of the challenges that BTS address in our learning materials. Rather than ignore content that is ‘covered later’ or inundate you with info you don’t need to know at that particular time, we tell you just enough about a subject so that you can understand the content you are studying at that time.

That gives you a solid foundation of knowledge that we build on throughout or materials: STEP by STEP 

Learning and practising all the steps for each of the calculation types, and importantly knowing which steps should be considered BEFORE you pick up the calculator, are skills that will serve you well to pass the CII R03. 

The BTS R03 e-Learning module uses graphics, tables and mnemonics to help you to remember the steps in a given calculation process.

Practise full mock exams

Completing a full specimen exam paper will give you a good idea of what the exam experience will be like. Challenge yourself to sit the paper under timed, exam-conditions to replicate the real thing as closely as possible. How is your time management? What is your strategy for dealing with questions you don’t know the answer to? Having a plan ahead of the real sitting will help to reduce exam nerves.

BTS include a full specimen exam paper in the back of the R03 study guide and another completely different specimen exam at the end of the R03 e-Learning module. The specimen exams in the digital study guide and the e-Learning module have the added benefit of being able to replicate the CII online exam experience. Functions including flagging questions for later and a grid to navigate through the questions give a similar experience to the system used by candidates sitting online R0 exams.

Don't just take our word for it...

“I found the convenience of Study Buddy on my phone was a real boon. What I actually did was to write down the questions that I failed and for each one put a learning point below.
As I’m sure you can understand I was immensely relieved having pressed the submit button to more or less instantly receive a Pass notification. Thank you very much indeed for your help.”

Angus Mackenzie | Acumen Financial Planning | February 2022

“I am pleased to say that I sat my R03 exam yesterday and passed it for the first time. I have followed Luiza’s podcast with Sam Oakes, posts on Linked In, messages on other candidates’ successful exam posts, articles written for likes of Professional Paraplanner and via these it has been drilled into me that R03 is the toughest exam out of all of the R0’s. Oh boy, BTS is not wrong! I have never felt so much exam time pressure! I did run out of time with two questions unanswered but I am surprised that I scored the highest mark (86%) in this exam out of R01, R02 and R04. I followed Jeff Scholes strategy in approaching R03 questions and it worked a treat. But you know what helped me the most? Your study buddy app. I downloaded both volumes and I found the app very useful. It is the best thing out there and it was the first time I used it and I am sure that I would not have got the mark I did if it wasn’t for practising the exam style questions on the study buddy app. You have got this bang on mark. It helped me fly through the first 15 questions but CII’s question style got complicated after this.

Thank you so much and I will definitely be using the study buddy app for R05.”

Mohammed Din | Paraplanner | Mattioli Woods | July 2021


View Our R03 Exam overview/toolkit to purchase any R03 Study support including Study Guides, e-Learning modules, online workshops and study buddy. 

Find out more in depth help and advise to structure your R03 studies by viewing our R03 Study Plan.

Chat with other R03 candidates in the dedicated BTS R03 online forum room to help keep up to date , find out any new information and gain help and advise from others.

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