Casualty Actuarial Society

Exams & Admissions

Examining the Process-Part IV

The "Myth" of 60

by Arlene F. Woodruff, FCAS

My number isn't on the list! I can't believe it! They said in the review class that if you got over 60 you were a sure thing! There must be a mistake!!!

Since the beginning of actuarial exams, candidates have looked for a way to determine whether they passed an exam before the results were released. The number 60 has become a target in candidate circles, and they feel robbed if they hit this target but still do not pass the exam. In reality, the CAS Examination Committee has several guidelines for selecting a passing score, and too often, the committee's goals conflict. Passing scores have been substantially above as well as below the magic number of 60.

The experience and mix of the CAS Examination Committee change over time; and only a limited number of questions are on the exams. Committee members do their best to create a balanced exam in terms of difficulty. But, at times, the result appears to suggest that an exam may have been harder or easier than past exams. Since the difficulty of the exam can (and does) change, committee members have established a series of benchmarks to gauge the candidates' knowledge of the material. Each individual question is analyzed for how well it distinguished between those who "knew the material well" and those who did not. The overall distribution of scores is also analyzed and compared to past exam distributions to remain as consistent as possible. Selecting the exact point that determines the passing candidates is still a gray area and the CAS Examination Committee members do not take their decision lightly.

Unfortunately, just one question can mean the difference between passing and failing. On the next exam, the mix of questions can mean the difference between passing and failing. Candidates should try to put themselves in a position where their future is not decided by one single question. Aiming for a higher target may mean more studying initially, but will save six months of studying for an additional sitting. Such dedication pays off. It isn't for everyone-but neither is the actuarial profession.

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