2014 CFAI AM exam - Individual Portfolio Help?

So I need to know how to improve this. I’ve read through schweser and done their questions, and I’ve gone through the CFAI 9, 10, and 11 E.O.C. questions, but when I get to these past CFAI exams the answer writing/calcs themselves are hurting me although I understand the material. Examples include the following that I’d really like some help with how to think about, and I would be greatly appreciative…

  • Q: The investors realize that to retire in four years they could choose to increase their annual savings or earn additional income. Scolari states that another option would be to sell their house of borrow against their home equity. Identify two other options that could allow them to retire in four years. (Not mentioned is they were just considering setting up a college fund for their kid)
  • A (given): Decrease living expenses (no problem!), or increase their willingness to take on risk (they would need an 11.2% return to retire in four years).

Here I immediately thought increasing the risk tolerance, with a decreasing time horizon, was a horrible idea, so I said don’t pay for the kids college. How would you go about answering this question?

  • Q: Demonstrate that the family could not retire in 4 years (given their current portfolio, expected rate of return, and annual contributions, and value needed to retire)
  • A: Calculator 4 inputs into equation for N, I/Y, PMT, PV, FV, and solve for 5th to demonstate it’s a higher xx they’d need to retire

Here I just wrote out the returns (portfolio value x (1 + e®) ^ 4, plus pmts for each year (x (1 + e®) ^ n), and summed them up to get the value of the portfolio and note it’s lower than the retirement value. Is that correct, or do I need to just explain the calculator inputs method instead?