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How to Pass the CII R04 | Acing the Exam with the lowest National Pass Rate

Why is the R04 exam difficult to pass?

The main reason that the CII R04 exam is so difficult to pass is the sheer volume of pension information candidates must learn, understand and be able to apply. Whoever coined the phrase ‘pension simplification’ needs a good kicking. We think HMRC must be having a good chuckle at this one.

Candidates need to know a bit about so many different pension subjects. From pension simplification to freedoms, individual and employer schemes, pension bodies, state schemes and alternative options for retirement planning, the list just goes on.

Pensions is also choc full of jargon – the number of abbreviations within this syllabus really knows no bounds.

How to pass the CII R04 | Acing the exam with the lowest national pass rate

All of this makes it a tricky subject to tackle. Fortunately, pensions are one of BTS’ (Luiza’s) all time favourite subjects. The BTS R04 support materials aim to explain technical pension concepts in an easy-to-understand fashion, building your knowledge from the ground up. Starting with the BTS R04 study guide, through to our training dayse-Learning and practice questions via the App.

So if this is your next R0 exam get in touch with us before making any decisions on your study plan.

How to pass the CII R04 | Acing the exam with the lowest national pass rate

5 top tips to pass the R04 pensions and retirement planning exam

The R04 exam is now officially the one with the lowest countrywide CII pass rates, having picked up the baton from R03 personal taxation. In 2020 pass rate for the pensions exam were 61%, the lowest from the entire R01 to R06 suite. So, what are the BTS 5 tops tips on how to pass the R04 pensions and retirement planning exam?

Tip 1 - Get to know and love pensions

Use the BTS R04 study guide for your initial base revision. The examining body option is a technical guide, fine if you are already a technician but not the best option for someone starting out in their pension knowledge journey.

The BTS guide starts from the bottom and gradually increases your pensions knowledge. It has humour weaved through it – our aim here (well Luiza’s) is to make everyone love pensions as much as we do (!)

Tip 2 - Know the different pension options and how to apply them

Your pension simplification and pension freedoms knowledge need to be sound and robust. Both these subjects have a heavy weighting in the R04 exam so make sure you not only understand the different elements and options, but you know how to apply them.

How to pass the CII R04 Acing the exam with the lowest national pass rate

Tip 3 - Identify key dates to remember

Don’t worry about trying to learn all the various pension dates as you are unlikely to get many date related questions. There are usually five key dates you absolutely must know:

  1. When pension simplification came in (6th April 2006).
  2. When pension freedoms were introduced (6th April 2015).
  3. When the state pension morphed into the single tier (6th April 2016).
  4. The dates when both revaluation rates (6th April 2009) and,
  5. Escalation rates (6th April 2005) fell from CPI capped at 5% to 2.5%.

Tip 4 - Revise DB schemes

The CII R04 examiner loves defined benefit (DB) schemes. Not just how they work but who is involved in the running of them. Questions on the role and responsibilities of a trustee, scheme administrator, actuary, auditor and investment manager are very common in the exam. So don’t forget to revise these.

Tip 5 - Practise exam standard questions

Practice on exam style questions both during your revision (using the BTS R04 study guide) and in the lead up to your exam sitting. BTS sit the pension exam every year, and as a result our R04 questions in the BTS App R0 study buddy are very ‘exam style’. They will be a massive help in your revision towards a first time R04 exam pass.

BTS R04 Revision Workshops

BTS R04 training is AMAZING. With a subject as complex as R04 you need a facilitator that knows their stuff and has years of experience coaching candidates in this subject. BTS Associate facilitators love pensions as a subject and are skilled at bringing key subjects to life through examples, visuals and exam style practice questions. Painting pictures is essential with pensions as your subject matter to ensure candidates both understand and can apply key concepts to exam style questions.

Not everyone learns best within a group environment. With one-to-one support your BTS facilitator can concentrate on the areas you are struggling with. If you would benefit from some more bespoke training support, get in touch with us to request a call back.


View Our R04 Exam overview/toolkit to purchase any R04 Study support including Study Guides, e-Learning modules, online workshops and study buddy. 

Find out more in depth help and advise to structure your R04 studies by viewing our R04 Study Plan.

Chat with other R04 candidates in the dedicated BTS R04 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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