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Secret IFA

I’ve spent at least two decades involved with financial services examinations, and I’ve experienced them from every angle. I’ve been a candidate, question writer, question marker, examiner and moderator. It’s given me an insight that very few have, moreso because I’m one of relatively few ‘at the coal-face’ practitioners who is fully involved in the exam process.

I have criticisms, although it may surprise you that I’m more critical of candidates than I am examining bodies. A significant number of candidates display such an obvious lack of basic knowledge that if I knew them, I couldn’t ever recommend them.

Yet many of these candidates manage to scrape a pass, in part because there is a ‘no negative marking’ policy (taking marks away for answers that contradict each other). Some of what I’ve seen leaves me open mouthed.

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One problem with exams is they only test a representative sample of the syllabus. They can rarely test every area, and a deep testing of understanding and application is generally restricted. In short, candidates pass or fail based on a sample of what we expect them to know.

This sample can be quite small because some exams only require candidates to answer less than half the questions correctly. Therefore a successful candidate might know a fraction of what we think they know. It’s a dangerous position to be in if you’re a client of that adviser (or their employer).

I’ve heard many arguments against exams over the years and while not a perfect system, it’s relatively easy and cost effective to push a large number of people through. There’s a downside if left mainly to academics and the academically minded, but many of the examining bodies include practitioners on their panels. I got involved myself because I wanted to ensure exams were more relevant to my employees.

As a business owner I can see the flaws in the current system, so subsequently place importance on Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Not as the box-ticking exercise that some see it as, but as a process to fill the gaps left by the examination process. CPD for my team (including me) involves taking formal examinations each year as a way of demonstrating learning – and taking different exams means testing different syllabus areas.

I believe that re-sitting exams should be mandatory for all advisers – including the older ones. In my experience, as we become older, knowledge fades, and it’s too easy to use old knowledge instead of new. I’m sure this isn’t a popular notion, but it is a necessary one. It’s all too easy to attend a provider’s conference, or read an article, and call it effective CPD. Who are we kidding?