As spring arrives, Jessica Elkin talks of the re-birth of the CA2 exam and explains what differences you can expect to see
It's about time we had a non-winter month. February conjures up images of bitter winds and frosts; of huddled-up pedestrians hurrying down the street battling against the elements, hugging coffee cups in their red hands; of nights in bed where your feet just can't seem to warm up regardless of sock thickness level. But March! March is bunny rabbits, chicks, bluebells, dew on bright wet grass, cool sunny mornings full of promise.
Spring is a time of new beginnings, is it not? All right, so January is also a time of new beginnings, being the start of a new year, and September is the start of a new academic year, and October and May are the starts of new study sessions. And I've not even included the new years of other cultures and countries. But spring, with its baby animals and longer days, actually feels fresh and new.
Having been thinking along these lines (probably), the CA2 model documentation, analysis and reporting module is also shedding its dreary old skin this month, and emerging, butterfly-like, in a brand new format. If you've never sat CA2, the chances are that this won't make much of a wrinkle in your ironing. People who have passed won't be too fussed either. But if you need to re-sit the exam, it may be a bitter pill to swallow, as you must adapt to the new style.
It's not all bad. The IFoA has now lifted the eligibility criteria for CA2; this means that if you haven't passed all the core technical (CT) subjects you can still sign up, making the exam available for all. It's recommended that you give all the CTs a good go though, and knowledge of the subjects will be assumed in the exam. This will be a relief to those of us who have failed one or two along the way or get stuck on an earlier exam (I'm looking at you, CT8).
Relinquishing the requirements for CA2 also makes it less likely that you will qualify on one of those pesky courses as opposed to in a regular session. However, the same relaxation will not be applied to CA3 - it seems that the IFoA prefers people to sit the communications exam once they have significant experience under their belts.
For now, you can still choose whether to take the exam online or at an exam venue in the UK. However, from October 2015, the CA2 exam will be totally online, so no venues. This won't be welcome news to people with Apple computers and/or limited facilities at work, but I suspect firms will largely learn to accommodate students taking CA2 in the office. If you have problems, I suggest you get in touch with the examinations team, who are keen to accommodate everybody's needs.
A clean sheet
Rather than CA2 being one long day of examining, there are now two three-hour CA2 papers, each with 15 minutes' reading time. The papers will be exactly one week apart, so if you sit paper 1 on Monday morning, the second paper will be the following Monday morning. This could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. The single day was a bit of a slog, but you did get it over with.
In any case, CA2 still counts as one exam, and students will need to pass both parts overall rather than pass each one separately (just like CA1). At least if you're weak on one half of it you can make it up on the other. Not that that's the correct attitude to have.
The content of the exam as a whole looks to be similar to its forebear. Paper 1 will comprise data analysis and the development of a model with clear documentation and audit trail.
Paper 2 will focus largely on analysing the methods used and the outputs, including checks, interpreting the results and communicating the approach and conclusions. A sample new-format exam is available on the IFoA's website to show what you can expect to see. Don't forget the ActEd material as well; those chaps put a lot of work into what they do, and it shows in the results.
As with most new exams, the hope is that they err on the 'too easy' side to start off with, but that remains to be seen in the results and from anecdotal evidence. There is plenty of material on the IFoA website to quench your thirst for knowledge, so hopefully we can all go in fully armed. We'll have to watch this space, as the first new-format exams start this month.
I'd be keen to hear people's thoughts on the new format, so contact me via [email protected] - particularly as I'll be taking it in May myself, and I could use the tips.