Guinea pigs, unlike their small furry namesakes, play a vital part in the IFoA exam process.
Each year, 100 members are needed to test, review and provide feedback on new exam papers. In 1994, Fiona Layton was one such volunteer, but at that time did she have her sights set on becoming chair of the Board of Examiners? Here she discusses her journey from 'guinea pig' to the chair person's role.
Q. What enticed you into applying for the guinea pig role?
A. I was asked, and having had some unhappy exam times while qualifying I was keen to try and improve the system. It was strange seeing things from the other side, but I can confirm what many examiners say: some students don't read the questions carefully enough!
Q. What did you do next and why?
A. There was a natural transition to become an assistant examiner, which involved marking scripts, followed by 'promotion' to an examiner, which added question setting to my role. As a pensions consultant it was fun to convert my clients' problems into questions for the applications exam. Later, with this experience, I became principal examiner for the pensions exams.
Q. Which of your professional development and responsibility (PDR) roles prepared you most to become chair of the Board of Examiners?
A. The principal examiner role; it involved me directly in the work of the Board of Examiners beyond my 'own' subjects, maintaining standards, reviewing the syllabus and core reading for the subjects.
Q. How do you balance work and volunteering?
A. I couldn't have managed things without the support and good humour of other examiners, the Registry teams in Oxford and the education actuaries, and, of course, my employer.
Q. So what sold the role of chair of the Board of Examiners?
A. It's an honour to chair such a dedicated board of volunteers. Their willingness to work hard so that there is a continuing supply of qualified actuaries never fails to impress me. This area is about being a part of the future, influencing change that will determine the pathway of the members of the IFoA.
Q. Describe a typical day as chair of the Board of Examiners
A. I'm pleased to say that there isn't such a thing as typical day. I can be attending meetings with students or the Education Board or other interested parties, reviewing future exam papers, reacting to exam-related issues that arise or just generally keeping up to date with education matters. It is a much more varied role than I had anticipated.
Q. What do you hope to achieve in your two years as chair?
A. To maintain the standards and integrity of the current exam systems and to support its adaptation to reflect the changing role of actuaries both in the UK and overseas.
Q. What advice would you give to others considering taking on a PDR role?
A. It is a brilliant way to meet people at other organisations and pleasing to be part of the team that ensures the future supply of actuaries; but it is not all down to altruism. In my professional life, this is the most rewarding thing that I have done, everybody says thank you; it is so nice to receive this recognition. Did I mention there are even opportunities to gain some CPD!
Q. Looking to the future, what next for a retired chair of the Board of the Examiners?
A. I could stay with the exam system I know and get involved in exam counselling, or look to help the profession by being a link with one of the IFoA's accredited universities, which offer courses leading to exemptions. For this, independent examiners are used to ensure that the standard is equivalent, and I believe it is important that these standards are maintained.
Over 500 PDR volunteers support education in a variety of roles. If you are one of the 2014 guinea pigs, where will your journey take you? For further information, email [email protected] or visit bit.ly/10QSdIQ