Member of Council Kathryn Morgan was one of a select group asked to test the IFoAs new website, launched this month. Here she gives her opinion on the usability of the site and its look and feel
Further to the article on the student page in the August 2014 edition, I would like to clarify some of the issues raised in respect of the core applications CA3 (communications) exam.
The purpose of CA3 is to test the candidate's ability to communicate actuarial matters in a manner that is acceptable to a non-actuarial audience. As the article rightly points out, actuaries are not usually known for their good communication skills. However, these skills are essential for business professionals, and therefore form a key part of our qualification.
CA3 is currently tested via an online application. With more than half of our student members based overseas, we need to ensure that students are given consistent and fair treatment during their assessment. Further, there is the issue of scalability; more candidates can be assessed in an online session. Candidates now record their presentation online rather than having to wait in turn at a venue and indeed, when given a choice, many candidates deliberately opted for the online assessment over a face-to-face version. The increased capacity the online mode provides has eliminated waiting time. Indeed, a recent exam was cancelled due to lack of take-up.
Presentations are performed in front of a webcam and there are plenty of opportunities for the candidate to demonstrate their abilities to make their presentation engaging. The examiners do appreciate that this is not the same as presenting live. Furthermore, they will not penalise candidates for any distractions that occur during their recording; this also happened during the face-to-face presentations, when occurrences such as fire alarm tests would interrupt a recording.
One major benefit of the online application is that students can play back recordings they make. This is a powerful tool for self assessment and preparation. There are a number of other tools the students can access via the application, such as the modules that explain the criteria for passing CA3, as well as a bulletin board where candidates can post questions and discuss CA3. We encourage candidates to make full use of these tools to maximise their chances of passing.
Other resources available include our guidance documents on the pass criteria, which can be found on the CA3 page of the website. They explain, for both the presentation and written question, how and where marks are awarded. They are based on the detailed and objective marking schedules to which the markers work. We also work closely with the Actuarial Education Company (ActEd) and would encourage candidates to use the ActEd course as part of their preparation.
The entry criteria for the CA3 examination were introduced to ensure candidates' familiarity with the technical material. The questions are based on the concepts from CA1, which, in turn, draw on material from the core technical (CT) subjects.
Lastly, as the article says, CA3 is under review. At an initial meeting of employer representatives, they agreed that communication skills need to be assessed. From reviewing a sample of past candidates' submissions, the group was satisfied that the pass standard set was appropriate. However, the low pass rate needs addressing and students need more support and encouragement in their preparation for CA3. Much of this can be done at employer level but we would welcome any suggestions and feedback from employers and students as to how the IFoA can legitimately improve pass rates.
We are looking at ways in which we can improve the experience of using the application and have taken steps to improve it since it was first introduced. Less than 10% of our student population use a Mac or have firewall issues through their employer and we will always work with them to resolve any problems. At a recent Student Consultative Forum meeting, we informed the group that we were introducing a new Moodle-based virtual learning environment (VLE), which is web-based and therefore can be accessed by all students. We will look to move CA3 onto this platform once the review has taken place.