Exam delays: more time to study or prolonging the agony?

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Last week saw parents around the country dusting off their arithmetic skills, monitoring online French lessons and adapting their morning exercise routines to better reflect a PE lesson as many plunged into the deep, uncharted waters of home-schooling.

Yet schoolchildren weren’t the only ones whose education has been halted as a result of the omnipresent Covid-19 since the latest coronavirus pandemic continues to thrive.

Advisers, paraplanners and other finance professionals saw the results of hours of study put on ice as the awarding bodies behind the primary qualifications and pertaining to our sector took the responsible move of postponing many imminent exam sessions to later in the year, in the hope that life may have returned to ‘normal’ by the autumn.

Autumn sittings

As many as 2,000 people were due to sit the Chartered Insurance Institute’s (CII) April exams (on 20, 21 and 22 April) across the insurance and financial planning sectors, including those completing their final paper towards their level 4 Diploma (R06), or papers contributing to their qualification to gain the coveted Chartered status. The majority of these exams are now scheduled to take place in October.

The CII said the two exceptions are the final R06 paper (financial planning practice) – which was scheduled for July and is currently scheduled to run as normal, and an additional AF7 (pension transfers) exam, which has been added to the July schedule. Being licences to practise, Personal Finance Society president Keith Richards said these were prioritised in the organisation’s postponement plans.

The CII’s exam centres for multiple choice exams closed and only set to re-open once government guidance indicates it is safe to do so.

Keith said: “We cannot fully predict the impact of the coronavirus situation but we have in place contingency planning for a range of scenarios, which we are reviewing regularly. We are working on a range of potential plans to create opportunities for our learners to sit exams safely and at an appropriate time even if there is continued disruption from the virus.”

More time to study

Charles has had his progress pushed back six months due to the government’s social distancing rules.

Like many in LIFT-Academy – which co-founder Joel Adams describes to me during our interview last year – Charles holds his Diploma in regulated financial planning and is working towards his Chartered status.

He had already sat and passed one of the requisite Advanced papers, and was planning to sit a further two in April. If he had passed, these, plus his degree credits, would have seen him able to qualify to the Advanced Diploma, which – added to five years’ industry experience, would have made him eligible to be a Chartered financial planner, and therefore able to advise LIFT clients.

“It’s probably pushed me back by six months or so, which is obviously frustrating because – like many others in the Academy, we have been sacrificing weekends and evenings to revise, but, I could see this coming, so was able to prepare, As soon as things started looking like getting worse, there was no way they would have been able to have 100 people sitting in an exam room.”

From his personal perspective, only having three years’ industry experience rather than five, his ability to practise won’t be delayed, per se, rather he’s lost the head start he’d gained from passing the exams so quickly.

"Hopefully we can get to sit the October one, but we have no idea how long this is going to go on for."

“We can still get all the exams done and get the credits but [those of us in LIFT-Academy] would still have to wait a year or two before we could technically be called a Chartered financial planner, so it’s not delayed the end result, just pushing the exam component into a different time slot.

“If we are effectively in a ‘lockdown’ over the next few months, it’s probably not a bad time to get a lot of revision in. There’s not exactly going to be as many social things going on at the weekends.”

The learners have been automatically enrolled into the October dates, and recognising they can’t keep revising at their current levels for six months, he says it will be a case of putting that all to one side, focusing on everything else for the time being and picking up that revision in a few months’ time.

“It’s a case of hammering the exams and hopefully getting decent marks as we’ve now got longer to revise. Hopefully, we can get sit the October one, but we have no idea how long this is going to go on for," Charles added.

The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), meanwhile, has pushed back its Spring sitting until September. All its 18 UK (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) test centres will be closed until May 1, with Birmingham shutting its doors until May 28 (this centre is based on the campus of University College Birmingham and therefore needs to follow its lead).

The CISI said none of its financial planning exams are affected as their last sitting was 4 March, so luckily took place before the government response to the virus was announced. However, it has postponed the narrative exams, including those pertaining to wealth management, which were due to take place in June and are now scheduled for September. The CISI has waived the £20 fee to transfer to a different date and says it will announce the new dates and begin transferring bookings ASAP.

Is anyone due to sit these exams and would like to tell us how the delay will affect their progress? Does anyone have an employee or team member sitting them and want to share how it’s affecting things, if at all?

The institute is also working out a plan for remote invigilation for its multiple-choice exams, with more information to follow.

A CISI spokesperson said: “We will continue to keep all our arrangements under review as the situation develops and will make every effort to minimise the disruption to our candidates in these difficult and uncertain times.

“At the current moment in time we are actively working with our testing partner to set up the remote invigilation option and this will be a positive and welcome development for our candidates.

“No business can look too far ahead at the moment as the situation globally is changing so rapidly. Our priority is ensuring that our candidates and members have everything they need to complete their studies and we are working really hard to ensure they have that.” 

As Sam and Charles have made clear, it’s an unusual and uncertain time for everyone. Stay safe and stay home. 

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