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Level 4 to Level 6 – Just how big of a step up are the AF exams?

Nikita BTS

Here at BTS, we believe in walking the talk. Our team sit the CII exams annually to keep up to date with the candidate experience. In this article, our newest team member, Nikita Phillips, Candidate Support & Business Development Adviser, talks about her experience of progressing from a level 4 to level 6 exam and embarking on her first advanced exam.

I recently sat my first AF exam. Having achieved my Regulated Diploma in Financial Planning, I always knew that I wanted to go further and eventually become a Fellow. Therefore, I was aware that I would have to face the AF exams.

I had struggled with exams growing up and had been surrounded by friends who were A* students, whilst I had been referred to as the “B” girl by one of my teachers. This had stuck with me, and I therefore wanted to prove to myself just how capable I am, now that I have found the right industry. Not only this, but I wanted to continue my learning journey.

Having previously passed the J02 trusts exam, I decided my first AF exam would be AF1 – Personal Tax and Trusts Planning.

The most recent pass rate for AF1 was 42% in 2022, but I was optimistic (and maybe a bit naïve!). Having had a rather smooth R0 journey, I really did underestimate the big jump between the R0 and AF exams.

So, what is the big difference?

All the R0 units, excluding R06, are multiple choice exams. This means that if you don’t know the answer to the question, the correct answer is on the screen somewhere and this can prompt you. In the event you do get the question wrong, it’s only one mark lost. I’m not suggesting the R0 exams are a walk in the park though, they do come with their own challenges and also should not be underestimated!

The AF papers are all written exams and case study based, and for AF1, AF4 and AF7, you do not get the case studies until you are in the exam. This means that unlike R06 and AF5 where you get the case study / fact find in advance, you are not able to narrow down potential areas for examination, so, you need a broad understanding of the full syllabus.

The fact AF1 was a written, case study based exam was the biggest difference for me. In the exam, I came across questions where I was not sure if the answer I was putting down was correct, and when faced with a completely blank space to fill, I also had to make sure that I was applying the answer to the case study, and ensure that I was actually answering the question being asked, not the question I wanted to answer.

Not only that, but some of these questions were worth over 10 marks. It was at this point, I started to question my sanity for sitting more exams in the first place!

At the end of the day, these exams are Level 6 for a reason and are essentially a quarter of a degree.

This means that you need a much deeper understanding and level of application than you would for the R0 exams. You are also not looking for the correct answer on a screen, you have to really know and understand technical concepts and be able to apply these to the case studies that you are presented with.

Level 4 to Level 6
Level 4 to Level 6

So, should you let this put you off going for an Advanced Exam?

Absolutely not!

Whilst the Advanced Exams are a big step up, you can certainly achieve a pass in these units if you put both the hard work and the time in and have a plan in place.

The AF examiners assume you have prior knowledge before sitting the exams. For AF1, they assume knowledge from R03, R05 and J02. Most individuals sitting this exam won’t have done J02, and whilst you don’t have to sit J02 to pass AF1, there is a lot of crossover between the two exams and therefore it can make sense to do both units.

The same applies with AF4, where there is knowledge assumed from units R02 and J10 – and a lot of crossover with J12. As long as you know what you are getting yourself in for, you can certainly achieve the Advanced Diploma and the designation AFPS.

Level 4 to Level 6

What will I do differently next time?

The first thing I will do is not rush into an exam I don’t feel fully ready for. The AF exams only sit twice a year and therefore it can be tempting (guilty as charged) to rush into exams because you don’t want to wait a further 6 months for the next sitting.

But let’s face it, if you go into the exam unprepared, there is a good chance you will have to re-sit the exam anyway, at a further cost, and your confidence knocked!

The second thing I will do is stick to a plan. My study for AF1 was a little bit all over the place, and on reflection, I realise that I had enough time to prepare for the exam, but I didn’t utilise my time effectively. I had no structure, and planning is key to exam success.

For my next exam, I will be using the BTS study plans to give me a track to run along. These are a free resource, providing lots of key information needed for upcoming exams. Having this structure will enable me to stick to a study plan and ensure that I am using my time effectively.

You can access the study plans through the Careers Zone section on our website.

BTS AF Exam Resources & Support

BTS now offer resources and support for all of the AF units excluding AF6 including free Kickstart webinars for each exam. The webinars are designed to give you key hints and tips on the exam unit and provide a study track to put you in the best position to achieve a pass.

Beyond that, BTS have developed Study Guides which are a complete replacement for the CII material, plus e-learning modules and remote workshops that you can book on to in the weeks leading up to each sitting.

We would also recommend that you join our student-led forums for your exam, where you can discuss with others who are sitting the same unit and ensure that you are not going through your exam journey alone.

And, as always, the team at BTS are happy to help, so please do get in touch and reach out if you want to discuss your studies.


View Our Advanced Diploma AF Exams overview/toolkits to purchase any AF Study support including Study Guides, e-Learning modules, online workshops and study buddy for AF1, AF4, AF5, AF7 and AF8.

Chat with other Higher Diploma candidates in the dedicated BTS AF1, AF4, AF5, AF7 and AF8 online forum rooms to help keep up to date , find out any new information and gain help and advise from others.

Find out more in depth help and advise to structure your Advanced Diploma AF studies by viewing our AF1, AF4, AF5, AF7 and AF8 Study Plans.

Read another insightful article on ‘Moving from your Level 4 Exams to a Level 6 Exam’ to find out more about information about the Higher Diploma AF Exams.   

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