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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

The examination process

I am writing in response to your editorial in the September issue. Our examination process is hugely complex. In April there were over 10,800 entries for 24 examinations [plus six multiple-choice practice modules” offered in over 100 centres around the world involving around 200 examiners and markers. The administration is handled by a small team of four staff in Oxford who work incredibly hard to make this process work effectively. The marking process involves double-blind marking of all scripts and standardisation of marks. Marginal scripts are third-marked and in some case the lead examiner fourth-marks papers. This process is more thorough than for any other professional body I know. There are bound to be mistakes in such a complex process.

However, in April everyone took the exam they expected to take. One centre, Horsham, was overbooked and some candidates had to sit in Croydon instead. For September, one centre [in the US” has pulled out a week before the exams start and the exams team has organised an alternative to minimise disruption. Such incidents are inevitable given the scale of the operation. The loss-of-scripts incident to which you referred was because four unmarked scripts from Beijing, on their way to be first-marked, were in a courier van that was hijacked in Bristol. Our staff liaised with the police to see if the scripts were likely to be recovered, but to no avail. The matter was discussed thoroughly by the Exam Board and there was no real alternative but to offer a retake at no cost. The candidates were not given ‘automatic fails’ and the incident will be recorded as a non-attempt. There is no prospect of giving an ‘automatic pass’ given our responsibility for maintaining and demonstrating standards. However sad the circumstances, I hope that the ‘months of study’ are not wasted and will help the unfortunate candidates in their actuarial work as, after all, that is a key purpose of the requirements to study for the fellowship.

We have invested a great deal of effort in identifying what went wrong in April and improving our procedures to offer a more effective and reliable service from September onwards. I would prefer our actions to speak for us and, hence, I have deliberately not publicised our intentions or made promises about how the September diet will run. However, the early signs are good. All the entry forms were input on time, permits have been sent to all candidates, and exam materials sent to centres and to markers. Given the complexity of our processes, some things are bound to go wrong and many things are outside our control, but we will continue to work to improve our operations. If candidates have concerns, they can contact us and we will address their worries.

Finally, it is kind of you to offer me sympathy but unnecessary as I am very happy in my work and glad that I have such a dedicated exams team and registrar who are the ones who actually make our processes work.