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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Actuarial exams — a testing time for all

The Profession’s exam process is fraught with potential problems, from the chance of hijackings to errors on papers. Fortunately, a comprehensive management system has been put in place to ensure that glitches are few and far between

The hijacking of a courier van was one of the few contingencies the Profession had not prepared for in its exam administration process. In 2005, the unforeseen happened and four scripts were stolen when the van couriering them in Bristol was hijacked.

They were among the 10 000 scripts completed by 6500 students in two exam sessions each year at 120 centres around the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the US, Australasia and the UK. Apart from the hijacking, a complex system of checks and balances carried out by the Profession ensures that problems, such as lost papers, are rare. Steps in the extensive and complex process of administering each exam include:

>> Development of the papers
This involves between three and seven examiners setting each paper, recent qualifiers testing the paper at first and second draft stages. Staff actuaries and the chair and deputy chair of the Exam Board also scrutinise the paper
>> Despatch of the papers
Blank scripts and other stationery need to be delivered to exam centres, 40% of which are located outside the UK
>> Delivery of completed papers to the Profession’s Oxford office
Five scripts are photocopied and sent to all the examining team and markers, as well as to a staff actuary. In a markers’ meeting, the scripts are evaluated to ensure a consistent approach to marking and to check the need for changes to the marking schedule
>> Delivery of scripts to one of more than 150 volunteer markers
Once scripts have been marked they are then forwarded to a second marker, before they are sent to a lead examiner for the subject. Scripts in which a discrepancy between the two markers appears are sent to a third marker. The lead examiner produces a report, recommending the pass rates for the subject
>> Due consideration
Mitigating circumstances that might have influenced a student’s performance are considered by the exam board
>> Pass rate
The pass rate is then determined by the exam board
>> Appeal process
An opportunity is given for students to appeal, or attend exam counselling sessions that aim to help them perform better in the future.

Head of learning Trevor Watkins said that despite the Profession’s efforts to ensure the process ran smoothly, it was not without its risks. “Given the complexity of the process, it is not surprising that very occasionally something goes wrong. “There might be a minor error in the paper or a script might be lost. Losing one script out of 10 000 doesn’t seem too bad — unless it happens to be your script, in which case it is devastating. However, we do have in place a very thorough process to do our best to avoid that happening,” he said. “Fortunately, apart from the hijacking, it is very rare that a script gets lost. We also have an exhaustive series of checks to avoid mistakes in papers,” he said. “We want to assure students that we go to great lengths to avoid problems and make sure the process runs as smoothly as possible given its complexity.”

If you are interested in volunteering to be part of the exam administration process, please contact karen.brocklesby@actuaries.org.uk