Casualty Actuarial Society

Exams & Admissions

The Importance of Adverbs on Exams

By Steven Armstrong, FCAS, Examination Committee General Officer

October 2009

During the creation of the CAS exams, the writers, Part Chairs, and General Officers pour over the meaning of every word in each question to ensure that the question is not ambiguous and that it prompts the test-taker to provide enough information to demonstrate required mastery of the relevant subject material.

For non-calculation questions, there are typically three levels of information that may be tested: a deep understanding of the material, an average understanding of the material, or a concise understanding of the material. Through certain prompts and cues from the point value of the question, the candidate should be able to ascertain how to answer the question.

The following are examples from Spring 2009 Exam 5:

Briefly define the terms “moral hazard” and “morale hazard” and provide an example of each. (Question 1, 1 point)

The key word here is the adverb “briefly.” Couple this adverb with the fact that the question is worth one point but asking for two definitions (brief ones) and two examples, the candidate should quickly ascertain that a “brief definition” is worth ¼ point. The response to this kind of question, prompted by the adverb “briefly,” should be concise, succinct, crisp, and, most importantly, not verbose or lengthy.

Here is another example from Exam 5:

Discuss three purposes of exclusions in insurance policies. (Question 3, 1.5 points)

The key to this question is the lack of any adverb. With this question, the candidate should immediately ascertain that a “discussion” on each topic is worth ½ point, or twice the point value of a question that would have asked for a “brief discussion.” The exam writer is looking for a more in-depth response from the candidate to ensure mastery of the material being tested. Given such, the candidate would be best off answering this type of question in more detail compared to a question that asks for a brief response.

Here is one last example from Spring 2009 Exam 5:

Fully discuss why it may be inappropriate to apply a basic limits loss trend to total limits losses. (Question 24, 1 point)

In this example, the key word is “fully” which is the strongest prompt being used by the Examination Committee to solicit a very detailed and thorough understanding of the subject material. An example like this is typically worth twice as many points as an equivalent question with no prompting adverb. A question asking the candidate to “fully discuss” or “fully describe,” however, can be unbounded in its point value (for example, Question 14 on the same Exam 5 is another “fully describe” question worth 2 points).

The typical key for any examination follows this rubric:

  1. Brief descriptions, discussions, etc., are worth ¼ point
  2. (Unmodified) discussions or descriptions are worth ½ point
  3. Full descriptions or discussions are worth at least 1 point

Please look carefully for these word choices and point values on all CAS upper-level exams. Most importantly, answer the question in accordance with the amount of information being asked.

Samples of how these three questions were answered for full credit are available in the Study Tools section.

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