Tips for Adapting to CBT Exams

by Holley Rouse, CLC Candidate Representative, and Chip McCleary, ACAS

The year 2020 was a watershed year for CAS candidates. In terms of exams, the Spring Exam sitting was cancelled, the CAS moved all exams to a computer-based testing (CBT) format, and the CAS decided to no longer release the exams after the sitting. We’ve all had to adjust, adapt and accept these changes. Therefore, with two sittings of CBT exams under our collective belts and a third sitting coming up, we have some CBT study tips!  

We’ve narrowed down our tips to two major themes after reflecting our own experiences and speaking with other candidates:

  1. Be familiar with the Pearson testing environment.
  2. Build your own examples.

The new CBT format makes these two items a necessity when studying for CAS exams, particularly for the “written” exams.

  1. Be familiar with the Pearson VUE testing environment.
    We cannot stress this enough! Pearson’s spreadsheet is Excel-like, but it has enough differences to feel unwieldy if you haven’t practiced with it. Many commonly used short cuts do not work (the loss of F2 and F4 haunts us) and the list of 500+ formulas is available on Pearson’s CAS page.

    Other ways to familiarize yourself with the Pearson testing environment include:
    • Using the Sample Spreadsheet at the bottom of the Pearson CAS landing page to work problems.
    • Figuring out how to format written answers in the spreadsheet.
    • Deciding how you will make use of Pearson’s question flagging.  
    • Using a countdown clock on your screen when taking a practice exam.
    • Using a substitute such as pen and paper to mimic the laminated, unerasable notebook Pearson provides.
  2. Build your own examples.
    Many of us have had a moment when we’re studying past exam questions to the point that we know what the answer is, but then we wonder, “Do I really know how to do this?”

    An easy trick to test yourself is to build that same example in a spreadsheet but randomize the inputs. You’ll learn how the pieces come together and the steps needed to solve the problem. Then you can instantly generate a new problem with different inputs and a different answer. Creating and solving your own problems using a spreadsheet may be a useful tool for multiple-choice exams too.

    Building your own examples has become crucial to studying for actuarial exams, especially with the new policies releasing exam questions and prohibiting the discussion of exam questions. While we still have access to prior exam questions, they will become less relevant when the CAS moves to more sophisticated questions and using larger data sets.  

    If you’re looking for general study tips, there are two great articles in the Future Fellows June 2019 issue, “Study Tips and Tricks” and “Know Your Learning Style”. You can learn more about CBT in Fall 2021 CBT Candidate Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) or in the CAS CBT tutorial video.  

Do you have other ideas or tips for preparing for CBT exams? We’d love to hear from you! Send your thoughts to and we’ll publish them and include your name in an upcoming blog post or article.