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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Actuarial Agony with Jen & Jean

4 June – the day the June 2007 Education Noticeboard was published and the once-idyllic world of the actuarial student was thrown into disarray. Chaos ensued as students read the message of impending doom that was thrown into their universe… a list of only six calculators that are permitted in exams from 2008.

Shock. Horror. Tears. Outrage.‘I find the unilateral imposition of a trifling number of “approved” calculators permissible in exam rooms completely unjustified and unacceptable.’‘Everyone’s quite upset about it.’‘There has been zero consultation on this issue, and the Examinations Team has made minimal effort to research the number of equally valid alternatives that would considerably increase the list of “approved” calculators from the paltry six that have been included.’‘A lot of people are annoyed at the expense and future unfamiliarity with future calculators.’‘Many students fail to see the need for changing now – their view is that they should be allowed to continue using the calculators they have been using up to now.’‘… it would seem that the Institute has ignored all the feedback. Most students I’ve spoken to are very annoyed at this decision.’‘I now need to research which calculator to buy (albeit from a very small list) and then learn how to use the thing, shortcuts, etc. A hassle I can do without.’These are a sample of some of the comments we’ve received/heard ever since the publication of the new policy, after which Jen and I, and many members of the Student Consultative Committee, were inundated with emails. A discussion was held by the Education Committee after Trevor Watkins also received a number of comments.The result? Apart from changing the model of the Casio calculator that was allowed (from one that was discontinued), it has decided to stick with the policy ‘to try and ensure fairness for all candidates’.Of course this provoked further outrage. How dare the profession not change its policy at once? How dare it try and change things from what we are all comfortable with? It would appear that a great injustice had just been perpetrated.Or had it?The reason this policy was introduced was partly in response to requests made by students who felt it was unfair that some people were using ‘unauthorised’ calculators to cheat during exams, eg storing formulae in the memory banks. It was also to make it easier for invigilators to check whether a calculator is permitted. If we had a list of hundreds, or even thousands, of permitted calculators, can you imagine how long it would take for invigilators to check each and every calculator against that list?Yes, it is a hassle, and yes, we shall all probably have to buy new calculators, but as an actuarial student on an actuarial student’s salary, is a £10 calculator really going to break the bank?

‘But I have to learn how to use a new calculator’Students, please enlighten me. Are you trying to tell me that someone who has enough intelligence to try and become an actuary in the first place cannot master the usage of a calculator? The most complicated thing I remember having to calculate in an exam is a power – and that includes exponentials. And in my experience, calculators of the same make are usually very similar in usage, regardless of model number.As far as I can see, the profession has tried to include one of every make of calculator most commonly used by students – this is a lot more generous than some of the calculator policies enforced at universities, where you are allowed one – and only one – make and model of calculator.The level of negative comments we’ve received in regards to this really makes one think. As a profession which is supposed to be moving forward and changing with the times, it is surprising that its members would react so badly and vehemently at the slightest change in policy – on calculators.Is this really the biggest controversy that has rocked the actuarial student’s world? Or is it merely a change in policy in the best interests of all students, and therefore we should accept it (and go buy a new calculator if necessary)?You decide. JeanPlease get in touch with your views. The best letter wins a Faculty and Institute-approved Casio FX85ES.