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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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The exemptions debate

Not all the letters I received were negative. Here is an extract of a letter I received from someone who is now qualified having got there via the route of an economics and actuarial science degree:‘Universities are under pressure to keep their courses consistently marked and graded across faculties and across the university generally. For my A1 (101) exam at university, the standard of completed exam papers was so poor, all papers were upgraded to bring them in line with other, non-actuarial courses – the argument being that the paper had obviously been set at too high a level. The result was that far more students achieved the 60% pass mark, and hence the exemption, than should have been the case. It would be interesting to know whether the proportion of students passing the exam at university is higher than the proportion passing Faculty/Institute exams – my feeling is that it should be far lower if the standards are the same, precisely because the average calibre of university students is lower.’Of course there was a completely opposite view from someone who is currently studying actuarial science in a postgraduate diploma:‘I think there is a misconception that we all have it easy and are told the answers in advance. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. There may only be nine 100-series exams, but this translates into 12 separate courses on a nine-month diploma. That’s equivalent to sitting more than one exam a month. Take on board also that these modules are taught in unison, unlike non-university students we don’t have the luxury of progressing gradually through the exams. The same time we’re learning the basics of 101, we’re also doing 109! In addition to this, we’re also expected to complete 22 marked assessments.’Back to another different point of view:‘After a couple of failures at what is now 104, I realised I needed to find some way to progress from being able to do the most basic examples in the books to being able to do the exam questions. A friend lent me some university past papers on mortality, advising that they might offer a useful step up. What a perfectly sized half-step! As far as the exposed-to-risk (and related) questions were concerned, the papers were far, far easier than the past Faculty/Institute papers. In my position they were the best educational aid imaginable. After a week working with the help of these “limbering-up” questions, I felt at last that I knew what was going on, and went on to tackle some “real” past papers. And then to pass.‘Perhaps the main difficulty for the students who have to sit such easy papers is having the disadvantage of choice: it must be a great brain-teaser and time-waster having to decide which of the questions they wish to answer.’And another:‘I wholeheartedly agree that an actuarial science (AS) degree does make for an easier route through the 100 series, for exactly the reason described – namely that studying is easier when it doesn’t have to be balanced with work. To judge that this is unfair, that it produces lower-quality actuaries and that the profession should abandon exemptions in favour of forcing AS graduates to redemonstrate their skills has merit only if the exams’ sole purpose is as a barrier to entry to the profession.‘If instead the exams are to be regarded as a training programme in the skills an actuary requires, then we should be encouraging students – via exemptions – to spend three years acquiring those skills – rather than three years studying a less relevant academic area in which they happen to have some skill and/or interest.‘Exemptions granted to graduates in actuarial science are a just reward for their more relevant knowledge.’And to our final snippet:‘This article comes at a time when a large number of students are finding it difficult to find actuarial jobs and you have given the less discerning recruitment agents/HR people more ammunition to ignore some of the best candidates…‘Please remember you are a student representative and with that comes the responsibility of keeping all their interests in mind.’At this point I’ll allow myself to comment because I find the last sentence perhaps the most interesting in all the letters I have received. The article I wrote was a set of opinions. I don’t even claim they are all mine; they are representative of discussions I have had with a good many people. Yes, as editor of this page I need to take account of the opinions of all students – but it’s very difficult to keep these opinions in mind when nobody is telling me what they are. I have received so few contributions from students that the student page has reflected my views disproportionately. My article has at least provoked some reactions.I’m delighted that some of you disagree with me – I didn’t expect anything else. But tell everyone about it. Write an article for the student page! In its current state the student page will not last for much longer. Its demise will not be the result of my opinions; it will be the result of an absence of any opinions.

04_03_students.pdf