Notes on Exam Strategies from the CAS Exam Committee
For CAS candidates taking the at times seemingly endless journey through the exams, there is fortunately no shortage of assistance. Textbooks, commercial study guides, practice questions and exams, and Examiner's Reports all help candidates master the material they need to reach the FCAS designation. But there is one resource that you don't often hear from – exam writers. Although you rarely communicate with them directly, there's an army of volunteers who work year-round to create your exams. And while we can't give you an advanced copy of the next exam, there are a few tips we can offer to help you on your voyage.
Read the Syllabus Texts. Commercial study guides are abundant and popular aids for candidates of CAS exams, but they're just that — aids. They are a supplement to source material, not a replacement. CAS exam writers do not make use of these myriad guides; they rely exclusively on the syllabus texts when writing questions. And while study guides may try to anticipate how the source material will be covered on exams, if at all, this is at best an educated guess. To ensure adequate preparation for the exams, we strongly recommend reading all of the syllabus texts directly. Read Exam Questions Carefully. The committee does not go out of its way to make questions intentionally tricky or misleading to candidates. Riddles can be fun, but not when your career is at stake. But this doesn't mean that all questions will be straightforward and require rote regurgitation of facts. To test deep understanding of the material, some questions may be more challenging than they appear at first glance — and the question will not always directly bring that to your attention. The 15-minute reading period at the beginning of each exam is useful for finding these potentially complex or unusually tough problems. Read through each item carefully and make sure you understand exactly what the question is asking. And if you don't understand, read it again.
Don't Reinterpret the Questions. In the Spring 2018 sitting, some candidate challenges alluded to reinterpretations of questions. This, frankly, caught us off guard. All of the exams go through many rounds of reviews and edits before being printed. Despite this, mistakes do happen occasionally. However, even if you think it is painfully obvious that something is wrong in the problem, do not assume that we made an error and try to answer what you think we intended. If there is a typo that results in a nonsensical answer, even if it's not what we intended, we will always at least accept a response consistent with the literal reading of the question. On the constructed response exam questions, candidates are also welcome to state their assumptions if they think the item is unclear. Graders will consider these assumptions, though simply stating them is no guarantee that they will be accepted as valid. Either way, we encourage candidates to let us know following the exam if they think there's an issue with a question. We will do our best to solve the issue judiciously and fairly. Caution: Do not assume that you know what we "meant" and solve that reinterpreted problem without writing an assumption, and then only tell us later.
Support Your Challenges. If a candidate believes that an exam question was flawed, we want to hear about it. The most effective way to write a challenge is to first succinctly and clearly state what you believe the issue to be, and second provide any supporting documentation you can. Ideally this will be a specific reference in the syllabus texts that supports your point, but any sort of documentation will be helpful. We consider every challenge fairly and thoroughly, and we want nothing but the most just outcome for everyone.
Be Patient With Us. The CAS exams are created by hard-working volunteers. We donate our time to this effort because we're proud of the CAS and the opportunities that it has given us professionally. Our goal is always to make the best and most relevant set of credentialing exams that we can, and we're constantly striving to improve the process. At times, the candidates may view the process as frustrating, confusing or dysfunctional, but we assure you that we're doing everything we can to make this as painless as possible in the long run. We hope that you all will someday be in a similar position, as credentialed actuaries, to pass along your appreciation of our organization by volunteering for one of many great committees too.