Future Fellows - December 2008
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Reading Syllabus Material—in the Original

By Shira L. Jacobson, FCAS, Candidate Liaison Committee

With any piece of literature, reading in translation presents the risk of missing overall themes and key details. While you might take issue with the characterization of the CAS exam syllabus as literature, the same principle holds true for exam preparation.

Exam graders and the CAS members who review exam surveys are concerned that candidates are relying too heavily on third-party study guides. On some topics, they note common blind spots among candidates. In addition, some candidates submit exam survey comments that erroneously list study guides in response to the question, “What (syllabus) readings were of questionable value?”   

Many candidates find study guides to be a valuable addition to their arsenals as they prepare for exams. The guides, however, are a complement to, rather than a substitute for, reading the syllabus material itself. Study guides, by necessity, highlight certain topics and paraphrase others, according to the authors’ understanding and interpretation of the syllabus material. Many offer sample questions only if the question has appeared on a prior exam, which can artificially narrow a candidate’s idea of what is “testable.” As a result, relying solely on study guides could leave you at a disadvantage when sitting for the exam.

While the syllabus readings may not be scintillating page-turners, taking the time to read them means that you’ll have a basic understanding of the range and scope of the subject matter. Specific terminology, examples, and figures in the readings can be important in successful exam preparation. Particularly when new material is introduced on the syllabus, developing your own independent understanding can help you be ready for the exam. Reading the source material will also enable you to make educated choices about what additional materials you need for adequate preparation.

Please take the time to read the syllabus material in the original. Compared to the total time you dedicate to exam preparation, it’s a small investment in your success. And while you may not see syllabus papers in your favorite anthology of non-fiction for 2008, there’s always hope for the future.   

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