I did it.
I achieved a pass in my final exam, R06 Financial Planning Practices, so I have been awarded my Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning!
How Long Does It Take To Achieve Diploma?
When I first heard about the Diploma I was told it could be achieved in as quick as 9 months. In fact, a reader of this site managed to do the full diploma in 6 months. My plan was to get the exams done within a year. My journey took a little longer, passing R01 in summer 2013, and sitting and passing the final exam R06 in April 2015, just a couple of months shy of the 2 year mark.
Here’s how it went down.
R01 – Financial services, regulation & ethics
This module is to develop knowledge and understanding of the financial services industry, including regulation, legislation and the Code of Ethics. I was new to financial services when I began reading the text book, and treated the exam as a big quiz. It was all new information and I simply concentrated on recall of legislation and facts. I managed to pass the exam with just reading the book, no revision aids or extra study. Give yourself a month of evenings reading through the book and you’ll be in the same position as I was when I passed the exam first time.
R02 – Investment principles and risk
This module is to develop knowledge and understanding of investment products and the application of the investment advice process. At first glance the textbook is intimidating, as it has quite a few formulae and mathematical concepts to get your head around. It’s not too difficult though – it certainly does not require any better competency in maths than GCSE level. I had worked in a quantitative field in my previous career but I wouldn’t say I’m particularly gifted at maths. I still managed to pass this exam on my first attempt by learning the formulae and, as in R01, learning the facts by rote. Give yourself a little more time to prepare compared with R01. I gave myself a month off in July, and then revised in August and September before feeling ready to give the exam a go. The consensus online says this is the hardest exam of the R0s but I found the subject matter interesting so perhaps my enthusiasm for the content made studying easier and got me over the line.
R03 – Personal taxation
This module is deceptively difficult. It’s only 10 credits towards the Diploma, but don’t let that fool you – you will need to prepare for this exam, just as hard as you would have done for R02. In my case I needed to prepare more. The textbook is written to inform exam candidates about the UK taxation system, and give readers the ability to analyse the taxation treatment of individuals and trusts during the investment advice process.
So a lot to cover.
Unsurprisingly, the book is almost as long as R02, despite being worth only half the credits, and also includes formulae and calculations. This is the exam that took me off course for getting the Diploma within a year, which was my original time-scale. Failing an exam is disheartening and deciding when to go in for a resit is challenging. On reflection I went in for the resit too soon, without giving myself time to review the module content again to fix the holes in my understanding. I was worried about leaving it too long and forgetting all the facts I had built up in my short-term memory. Certainly I don’t recommend leaving it too long though…if you find yourself stuck on an exam for several months, the act of revising can become torturous and the content starts to become boring (if it wasn’t boring to begin with!). Working to get this exam passed tested my resolve but also made me more sure than ever that this path was what I wanted, and I got there in the end. Allow at least 2 months of evenings to study. In my case I was reading, learning, and revising this content for 6 months, and paid for tutoring when I needed specific answers. If you’re working in a financial planning firm you can always ask your colleagues!
R04 – Pensions and retirement planning
Another 10 credit module, this exam tests knowledge and understanding of and ability to analyse pension and retirement planning issues. After the full-on R02 and R03 experiences, this module seemed much easier, and the textbook was an interesting read, too. As with all the exams, revision should still be treated seriously. I ordered the R04 textbook whilst still stuck on R03 to maintain momentum.
The CII recommends the modules are done in order because they build on one another. Having listened to their advice, I don’t think others need to necessarily! Certain concepts do link well together – pensions are simply a tax-planning strategy so R03 and and R04 do complement one another, but if you’d like to mix it up for any reason, perhaps so you can have a study-buddy in the office, then doing the exams in a different order shouldn’t be a handicap.
It was around the time of sitting R04 that I finally found a financial planning business to join, to learn the practical side of financial planning. Having 50% of the qualification when I was interviewing made me a stronger candidate, but I admit I’m jealous of those who were already working in a financial planning practice before beginning on the journey. As I was self-employed at the time, my studying impacted on the amount of time I could commit to earning money, and the exams and learning resources were also expensive. If your employer wants you to do exams and are funding them, be grateful!
R05 – Protection
I felt I was on the final straight. After passing R04 in the summer of 2014, and an entry-level role in a financial planning business, my new employer wanted me to concentrate on settling into my new role rather than exams. But I was still set on getting my diploma. The next module on insurance is a popular one to do 2nd after R01 and it’s easier than the rest – it is a ‘Certificate’ level unit rather than Diploma level, but its 10 credits still counts towards the Diploma. What makes it easier is there are no multi-response questions, unlike modules R01-R04, which each have a difficult set of multi-response questions towards the end. Multi-response questions are difficult because there’s no room for guessing. Out of 5 responses, you could be sure that 2 of them are relevant to the question, but if you don’t know if each of the 5 is true or false, then one incorrect answer could result in getting the whole question wrong. Thankfully in R05 there is only one correct answer for each question and this made the exam seem like a breeze.
R06 – Financial Planning
The first 5 R0 exams are computer based, selecting answers on a screen with your mouse. R06, in contrast is a 3 hour written exam. I hadn’t written for 3 hours straight since my A-Level English exam back in 2004. I did a history and politics degree after that but I’m pretty sure none of my university exams were 3 hours. I was more nervous about my writing hand giving out than the actual exam content! If you’re weird like me you can try my technique of writing out notes and passages from the textbook for hours on end…all in the name of hand strength conditioning….I wanted to ensure my handwriting didn’t descend into a scrawl either due to exam-room fatigue.
The exam is limited to 4 sittings a year but if I wanted to avoid travelling out of York where I live there are only 2 sittings a year: April and October. I felt I was ready to sit the exam in October which would have reduced the time to reaching Diploma level to under a year and a half. However being only a few months into my new role in a financial planning firm, my employer felt it would best to continue getting settled into the business and pick up more real-world financial planning knowledge that would help achieve a more convincing R06 pass in the next sitting.
April soon came around and I felt ready, having learnt that exam technique is important as well as knowledge to get the all important pass. Writing in quick bullet points is the only way to get as many marks as possible in this exam, which despite being 3 hours, is tight for time. I was writing from the very first moment to the last second. The format is two case studies of families that need financial planning. Candidates get the case studies two weeks before the exam so you can prepare. Think about what additional information you might need to provide financial advice, and think back to all the different areas of financial planning topics from the previous exams. I recommend purchasing a ‘solution’ from one of the many providers of exam support. They can’t guarantee anything but the questions they predict will come up will help enormously in your revision. I used Brand Financial Training and was very happy with the output.
I left the exam with a smile on my face which is always a good sign, and I was thankful for the pass which concluded my journey to Diploma level.
This isn’t the end though, but the end of the beginning: next up is achieving enough credits to be awarded the Advanced Diploma, the path towards Chartered Status!
Will you join me?
Can you add anything to this? Be sure to join the discussion by leaving a comment below this post.
This post was written by Adam, a Financial Services Apprentice (and aspiring financial planner) based in York, UK. Read more here. To follow his progress just put your name and email in the boxes below and join the Financial Planning Academy