Lockdown diplomas… Let’s talk to our newly qualified paraplanners

Last year was a whirlwind for our exam candidates, with the closure of test centres, exam cancellations and revision timetables coming to a halt. However, that didn’t stop our Para-Sols superstars Sophie, Andrew, Mike, Fran and Ali from achieving their RQF Level 4 Diploma in Financial Planning – congratulations! Although they have now gained fancy letters after their names, their determination to work and study whilst the world was changing did not go unnoticed here at The Grad Scheme. So, let’s hear what they have to say…

How did you feel when you completed your diploma?

AliFirstly, I felt a huge relief! But now everything has calmed down, I would say ‘accomplished’, especially seeing DipPFS after my name on the Para-Sols website and e-mail signatures.

Soph – It was a mixture between relief and feeling accomplished. At first, I thought I’d read the screen wrong but once it had sunk in, I felt that all the hard work had paid off and I could have a good break from revising.

Andrew – I was glad to have finally done it, especially having completed it during the pandemic as I was worried the last two or three exams would be cancelled or postponed.

What were your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Fran – I think my biggest challenge was not to stress. I sometimes felt that things didn’t go to plan with my revision and that would be a detriment to me in my exams, but I had to tell myself that nobody knows everything and it’s ok to get some things wrong.

Andrew – My biggest challenge was to pace myself because I felt it was too easy to rush through exams, answering the questions as quickly as possible to get it over and done with. However, I think this is what Charted Insurance Institution (CII) exam board wanted you to do to ensure that you have retained the information and can put it into practice.

Sophie – One of the biggest challenges for me was motivating myself to revise whilst working full-time. After working 9am – 5pm on weekdays, the last thing you wanted to do when you got home was to open a revision book and learn about finance legislation. However, I found that setting a specific time for revision during the week helped with my revision planning.

Which exam did you find the hardest and what plan did you put in place to pass it?

Ali I would say R03 – Personal taxation is the hardest exam because there’s just so much to remember regarding different tax rates, and how the different tax rates affect certain conditions. I also think this is probably the most important exam to put together a revision plan for because of the large amount of content you have to remember.

Mike – The hardest exam was definitely R03 – Personal taxation. My reason is because this is the exam tests your time management as well as your knowledge. This one was a real threat for me because you lose time very fast and puts you in a deficit when it comes to checking your answers at the end. I’d recommend doing extra time management practice around the questions for this exam especially.

Sophie I definitely found R01 – Financial services, regulation and ethics, and R03 – Personal taxation exams the most difficult. The reason why is because there’s so much content to learn and it’s very technical. I did find that it helped to listen to the CII audiobook on my commute to work and asking then my colleagues questions when I didn’t understand something.

What are your top tips for future grads?

Ali – Don’t be afraid to ask questions; we were all beginners at one point, and are happy to help out with any queries. Chances are, we had the same questions a year or two ago in the past.

Fran – Keep note of anything useful or unusual. If you come across something you’ve not dealt with before, or some wording for a report you really like/ found useful, keep it.

Andrew – Complete lots of practice papers. You will get similar questions in the exam and the more past exam papers you’ve done, the less time you will spend figuring out what the CII question is asking you.

Mike – Don’t rush your study. We work in a very hectic and fast paced industry, and this is reflected in our day-to-day work. But with these exams, it’s important to slow things down and take them at your own pace. I dedicated a couple hours every other night for revision and I found this method more manageable and pressure-relieving. Overall, don’t be afraid of the exams and find a revision method that suits you.

Sophie – Create revision flashcards and mind maps. I think creating ways to condense your notes to an easier format to remember, will help you a lot when it comes to exams. I felt the content was much easier to learn and my friends and family were also able to help me revise by conducting an end of chapter quiz. I’m also a visual learner so I find it much easier to retain information from diagrams and colour coded notes.

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into financial services, check out our latest vacancies. We are always on the lookout for new graduates to join The Grad Scheme so make sure you look at the job descriptions for the different roles and choose the one that feels right to you. Also, just to make things even better for you, we now have a new graduate position to work as a Graduate Exam Trainer for The Art of Finance – So what are you waiting for, start your application now!


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