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How to Pass the Coursework Element of the DipFA

The DipFA is a fabulous exam from the ifs School of Finance mainly because it doesn’t just require regurgitation of knowledge. It requires careful assimilation of knowledge from a variety of online and offline resources and an application of this is the real world which IFAs find themselves in.

Let me share with you in 950 words the four main metrics to remember, how to warm up, plan, do and review your coursework…to bring you success.


    30. The Coursework section is a fair chunk of the final mark result. 30% in all. The final exam is worth 70% but both sections need to be passed in order to achieve the qualification. 150. There’s 150 marks for the coursework. 100 are for the answer but 50 are for structure, presentation and evidence of using appropriate resources for your research. This last bit is known as the bibliography. 2,500. The examiner wants you to produce around 2,500 words which doesn’t include the bibliography. This isn’t long at all and evidence shows that the majority of students in the last few years have struggled to keep within this number. Bear in mind that the question for the coursework is going to be fairly “meaty” you’re going to struggle to pass by presenting less than 2,500 words. The key is, have you answered the question sufficiently, at the depth required 4. You have just under 4 months to complete the research and submission of the coursework so this gives you an idea of the amount of study that is expected.

Warm up

If you were going to go for a run for 2 hours, maybe a half marathon, there’s no way you would make a start without warming up. In the same way, many students tackle the coursework straightaway without warming themselves up appropriately. The ifs expect you to analyse your strengths and weaknesses and study up on your weak areas before starting the coursework.

They provide a few interesting tools to do this. You have the Gap Analysis Tool which is an online test of your knowledge and can produce interesting results to show your weak areas. Your next step is to research and study these areas.

They also provide Subject Gateways, which are mini coursework questions designed to get you researching and studying specific areas. Discussions based around these can take up the bulk of your initial time and these dialogues can take place online in the forum or face to face with other students. After all 4 months is a long time just to write a 2,500 article so you are expected to warm up first.


Make sure you know exactly what the coursework question is asking for. Obviously you will read the question a few times but get someone else to read it as well and tell you what is needed. Sometimes an alternative opinion can open up the real meaning of the question. Note the specific words used. Calculate, compare, describe, evaluate, explain, identify, illustrate, outline, state are pretty much the key words to look out for. Know what each of these words require of you first. If in doubt look them up by putting in Google “definition=calculate”, for example.

One of the best ways to plan is to use Mindmaps. Google “mindmap:filetype pptPT” and you’ll be given some interesting PowerPoint presentations showing examples and instructions on how to create them. The benefits of mindmapping are numerous – they allow creativity, sporadic thinking, they don’t channel you down one alleyway, they allow you to add to your thoughts later and change the order of information. Ideal essay planning tools.

The ifs provide lots of material in which to do your research but move beyond just these and ensure you remain up to date. For example, the latest Coursework requires you write an article to an Accountants Magazine. Do you know what’s keeping accountants awake at night at the moment? If not get Googling.


Structure traditionally and you won’t go far wrong. Remember the News at Ten technique also known as:

    Tell “em what you’re going to tell “em Tell “em Tell “em what you told “em

Have a clear start outlining your purpose, maybe start with something to get the reader’s attention, a fact, a quotation, something startling or different.

Next, move into the bulk of the essay outlining your key points as you go and then finish with a clear summary and call to action. The bulk of the essay should have headings just like this article, after all, many people speed read these days and headings help them to do this effectively.

All classic stuff. Some other reminders for you:

    Don’t rabbit on when you start writing. A clear mindmap will prevent this but be aware that many students repeat their messages earning no additional marks. Be totally clear who your audience is and write as though you are talking with them. You would write differently to accountants as you would for bee keepers. Break up your essay with bullet points, graphics, tables…methods of displaying information in easily bite sized chunks. Your challenge is not to write up to 2,500 words but not to write too much so these methods will reduce your word count.

A bibliography is an essential element of the coursework as you’re to demonstrate where you have researched and you must give reference to these publications, blogs, podcasts, videos, Ezines, websites, magazines or books in a standard format. Look up how to display your bibliography, the ifs show you how to do it properly.


Do review your own work carefully. Have you repeated yourself, have you waffled, have you included everything from your mindmap, have you addressed the writing to your correct audience, have you been clear and precise, do you have headings and bullets and tables if appropriate?

Finally don’t rely on your own ability to proof read, give it to a colleague to proof read, a second eye always sees things differently.

Enjoy the process, research well and produce a document worthy of maximum marks and you would not only have enhanced your knowledge but shown that you can apply it to the real word and benefit your clients with your expert financial advice. Isn’t that what we do well?