Pearson “Viewed”: The First Sitting

by Rajwayne Neufville, Candidate Representative to the Candidate Liaison Committee
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Using Pearson VUE computer-based testing (CBT) services for the Fall 2020 exam sitting represented that one step for the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). 

Engaging Pearson is expected to have numerous benefits for candidates in the future. These include the ability for questions to simulate real-world scenarios, additional testing opportunities, scheduling flexibility and, one day, maybe even preliminary results for multiple choice exams. With the first step occurring last fall, the CAS received varying reviews, and the Candidate Liaison Committee (CLC) thought it prudent to explore them. The experiences collated for this article provide insight for those yet to encounter the CBT environment and some learnings from the process. Contributors hailed from varied locations, namely in the United States, and at least one international perspective was provided.

Before we share their experiences, it’s worth reviewing results from the post-exam surveys, which provide quantitative data from over 4,500 exam takers across eight CAS exams. When asked to rate their overall testing experience at the testing center, eight out of ten candidates indicated the experience was “good” or “excellent,” with one in three responding with “excellent.”

Given that we are in a pandemic, an issue of major concern was the COVID-19 protocols in place to ensure the candidates’ safety. Candidates indicated that they felt completely safe as there was sanitization upon entry, and mask wearing and social distancing being practiced.

The transition from entering the Pearson VUE testing facility and sitting to take the exam did create stressful moments for some candidates. One waited approximately 30 minutes, a delay that may have been attributed to the popularity of the location or the number of professional accreditations moving to digital offerings. Another candidate ended up having to wait much longer to go through the verification process due to complications with the software. In this situation, the proctor advised the candidate to reschedule the exam, but, thankfully, the software issues were resolved and the mental strain associated with rescheduling was averted. Most candidates eased through this transition, however, by knowing the spectrum of possibilities that would help them prepare before arriving at the testing facility.

A unanimous position expressed was disappointment with the features of the spreadsheet environment compared to an Excel spreadsheet. In their webinars leading up to the sitting, the CAS offered sample test questions in the new spreadsheet environment and sought to prepare candidates for these differences, but old habits die hard. The new environment had some technical issues, and, commendably, the CAS had mechanisms in place to account for those issues whenever they arose through reports submitted by Pearson. In addition, the CAS introduced its own grievance process. Despite these challenges, the CBT approach was preferred over the traditional pencil and paper alternative by the majority of the contributors. 

Considering the above, it is evident that the CAS and its candidates will have “teething pains” in transitioning from pencil and paper offerings to CBT. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the CAS to make a transition to computer-based exams under a heavily compressed timeframe. What was once considered an approximately three-year process was compacted into six months. Although not every aspect of this change will be perceived by candidates as an improvement over the old pencil and paper approach, it is undeniable that this is the way of the future, and the CAS is committed to exploring ways to improve the candidates’ experience and the overall process. With the Society’s increased dependency on data and the expanding skill sets being demanded of an actuary, the move to CBT will see us into the future. Candidates are encouraged to stay engaged and watch for CAS updates on the testing experience, so that the next sitting yields even more success.