Crucial insights from the FAE financial services examiner

Jun 30, 2020

In the second of two articles on the FAE financial services elective, Financial Services Lead Lecturer, Larry Gordon, summarises some crucial insights passed on from the current FAE financial services examiner for the benefit of candidates preparing for the upcoming elective.

Last year was the first year of the FAE financial services elective, and it is generally agreed that it was a huge success. In the end, there was a 100% pass rate, following the repeat cycle in January 2020.

However, to ensure continued success, it is important to take note of the crucial insights passed on to us from the FAE financial services examiner. It is interesting to see that these observations are universal – the issues raised related to age-old exam and assignment 'mistakes', which we will discuss in this article.

The interim assessments and the SIM2s in the elective exams were essay-style in the form of reports or emails. There were no calculations and few numbers involved, so this format is slightly different from some other areas examined in the FAE. The expectation is that candidates will be able to deliver a professional and business-like response to the simulation set.

Given the success, candidates mostly achieved good standards of answering; however, the examiner did give us some insights into several exam management issues that occurred across a number of scripts. While not fatal, they did reduce the number of marks earned by candidates. The following tips should serve future candidates in good stead.

Answer the question asked!

There are three Indicators to be covered in the SIM2 portion of the final exam: investment funds, international trade risk management strategies, and products. The indicators are deliberately structured to look for the candidates' understanding of these aspects of the course. The examiner commented explicitly on the way candidates will give an answer which is not relevant to the indicator that has been asked – even in an open book exam. Sometimes candidates just want to show how much they know about a particular part of the course. This is what the examiner referred to as the 'time thief'.

The time thief

The examiner warned candidates to be wary of topics that you know inside out and upside down. There were a handful of examples where candidates wrote several pages on areas they knew well. The examiner was quick to point out that there is a limited amount of marks available for each indicator element, and these candidates used up valuable exam time that meant subsequent answers were rushed. It must be remembered that the examiner is bound by what is being asked and cannot nor will not credit candidates for answers that have veered off the indicator requirements.


Rambling is an activity that should involve hills, dales, and lots of fresh air. It has nothing to do with an exam. The examiner was keen to point out that some candidates tend to 'waffle,' particularly in their introductions and conclusions, sometimes veering off tangent from the indicator ask. The examiner offered that this could come down to poor exam technique preparation: if a candidate is to practice indicators under exam conditions, this will lead to brevity of response and eliminate some of this problem. The candidate should continually ask themselves "am I on topic?".

Watch your time

The examiner was able to recall several scripts where the last indicator was poorly attempted or not attempted at all; this was clearly down to time management. In the exam, the candidate should ensure they are aware of the time limitations placed on them and acting accordingly. Divide your time correctly for each SIM and ensure you do not fall into the trap of running out of time. There needs to be a ruthlessness in your approach to the exam by allocating minutes per answer according to the maximum marks obtainable. For example, a SIM with three out of eight indicators in a four-hour exam (excluding reading time) should tell you that you devote a maximum of 30 minutes to each indicator.

Open book exam, not open-book transcribing

While open-book exams can lead to a temptation to copy from course materials, the examiner and marking team are familiar with the teaching material and will know if you have 'cut and paste' content in the exams. The purpose of the examination is for candidates to display your opinion and your understanding of the areas being covered, not your ability to transcribe materials.

Remember your audience

Keeping answers well structured, clear headings, paragraphs and focused content make for a symbiotic relationship: if the examiner is struggling through a rambling maze of answers, it will be harder for them to mark. Earning marks becomes an easy job for the examiner when your answer is clear and structured correctly. Needless to say, the examiner agreed the online format would at least remove the squiggles that sometimes pass as handwriting!

Best of luck

You have been through the learning process and hopefully will walk away from the FAE financial services elective with a greater understanding of the financial services environment and global marketplace in which we operate. As teachers and facilitators, we want you to go away having obtained, and hopefully retained, new knowledge from when you first came into our class. 

I want to wish all our FAE financial services elective candidates for 2020 the very best of luck in all parts of their final exams. Remember, even though last year's class was unique, as the first group to go through the financial services elective, you are all writing another piece of Chartered Accountants Ireland history in the COVID-19 world of 2020.