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View Poll Results: Is the UK's education strategy changing quickly enough?
Yes, any concerns which exist are being addressed adequately. 3 42.86%
No, the changes are happening too slowly for modern actuaries to keep up with the real world. 2 28.57%
Not applicable. There is nothing wrong with the exams in the first place. 2 28.57%
Voters: 7. You may not vote on this poll

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  #21  
Old 09-29-2010, 03:28 AM
actuary21c actuary21c is offline
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Originally Posted by Will Durant View Post
The technology thing is a no-brainer. As far back as 2000 when my wife was in law school, they'd solved all these problems and L1 students wrote their final exams on their own laptops. The students received a flash drive that contained a program that contained their exam questions. This program was system-modal, so that you couldn't open any other window. If you wanted students to have access to specific open-book material (say, the cases read in class) this was made part of the program. That eliminated the problem of having to check that students brought only kosher stuff on their own flash drives.
Thanks WD. It is good to know that, as I suspected, there are lots of different ways in which the technology aspect can be sorted.

In addition, there seems to be flexibility as to how much/how little open book material is permitted.

So given that most candidates will be typing and not writing by hand the vast majority of the time in the rest of their lives, it is a 19th century anomaly that they are currently forced to handwrite during the exam. Both from the point of view of resolving that anomaly and from the point of view of improving the environmental cost and efficiency of the exam process (i.e. no paper/postage costs, instead everything can be sent electronically, including marking/marking comments), it seems a no brainer to me that the exams should move to electronic ones as soon as possible.
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  #22  
Old 09-29-2010, 03:50 AM
sugarbaron sugarbaron is offline
 
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Originally Posted by actuary21c View Post
I didn't mean full time for the whole year, but actuaries who spent particular parts of the year working either fully or almost fully on marking. (In the same way that many life insurance actuaries work near full time on year end stuff at one particular time of year, and work on a variety of other matters at other times).
If there is more focus on the marking process, and more money behind it, then it may become possible to take exams much more regularly, if a student paid for it. Imagine how much quicker the road to qualification might be if you could take a failed exam again almost immediately instead of waiting for the next session to come along. All the material will be fresh in the student's mind. For sure, there will be students whose lack of knowledge was the cause of failing in the first place, but candidates who knew their work very well will benefit hugely from not waiting six months before testing their knowledge again.
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  #23  
Old 09-29-2010, 04:03 AM
sugarbaron sugarbaron is offline
 
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I think this part from the article on actuary21c.com just about sums it up for me:

But we should stop thinking that just because things have been done a particular way for years/decades, that now isnít the right time to start moving to a better way.

This discussion is about change, something the actuarial profession, in the UK at least, is not famous for being open to. An actuary joke that is much too old goes:

One actuary asks the other: 'How many actuaries do you estimate it will take to change a light bulb?' Clearly shocked, the other one replies: 'CHANGE?!!'

Many of the other points I meant to comment on have been picked up very well by others. The idea to allow USB sticks in the exam room is very interesting because it opens up a much wider question. Unless what people store on USB sticks can be controlled, allowing this means the exams become open book tests. I'm not saying I disagree with the idea. This is such a fundamental question that I don't feel I fully grasp the implications yet.

In the real world it seems to become less important what you know, as long as you know where to find what you need. So in this it may appear that memory, a skill that was such a benefit to actuaries from earlier generations, may become somewhat less relevant. And if it's redundant in the real world then there aint no point testing it in the exams either.

But then if candidates cannot be filtered according to how well they remember, what will the examiners test instead? Perhaps the answer is that the exams need to be made more fit for purpose (another theme from my paper) and the syllabus needs to be reviewed to make sure it tests only what actuaries in the real world will need. Then the point is no longer to fill the gap left by removing memory tests but rather basing the syllabus on an actuary's required skills in the first place. And if this makes the exams easier to pass, so be it! If a review of the syllabus does not reveal enough complicated skills required from a modern actuary then the exams should not be made artificially difficult either.

I like GargoyleWaiting's point about not allowing students to re-use old calculation models from a USB. If we're hoping to encourage changes to the way things have been done then giving students credit for recycling formulas and code might not progress the correct candidates. On the other hand, there is a danger in training people to start every new job from scratch. In reality an actuary might strike a balance between re-using the old and rebuilding from scratch. Finding a corresponding balance for the exams may be tough.

Perhaps the skill to test here is how to pick out the right model to apply to a situation from a vast volume of available (and standard?) ones. I haven't thought how that might work in practice though. Any ideas?
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  #24  
Old 09-29-2010, 05:15 AM
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Originally Posted by sugarbaron View Post
In the real world it seems to become less important what you know, as long as you know where to find what you need. So in this it may appear that memory, a skill that was such a benefit to actuaries from earlier generations, may become somewhat less relevant. And if it's redundant in the real world then there aint no point testing it in the exams either.

But then if candidates cannot be filtered according to how well they remember, what will the examiners test instead? Perhaps the answer is that the exams need to be made more fit for purpose (another theme from my paper) and the syllabus needs to be reviewed to make sure it tests only what actuaries in the real world will need. Then the point is no longer to fill the gap left by removing memory tests but rather basing the syllabus on an actuary's required skills in the first place. And if this makes the exams easier to pass, so be it! If a review of the syllabus does not reveal enough complicated skills required from a modern actuary then the exams should not be made artificially difficult either.
I don't agree with this. You do actually need to have quite a bit of info in your brain, not just externally, to use it effectively.

But also, I don't agree that the exams should be limited to what you need in the "real world".

The "real world" stuff is effectively checked from your actual work. Theory and core knowledge is what should be checked in the exams -- this is what should be in your brain, and underlies your understanding of the "real world" stuff.

Seriously, "real world" stuff would involve things like: aberrant data, deadlines where one can't do a full calculation so you need to come up with some sort of approximation, error-filled spreadsheets that you need to untangle, etc. etc. The "real world" isn't clean. And it's very difficult to test for that stuff, as there's no correct answer for most of it, but trying to get something that's good enough, and improving upon iteration.

Having the fundamental ideas in my brain help me detect what's wrong in the data, where the spreadsheets go wrong, how to prioritize steps when I can't do all of them, etc. It's not a matter of being able to look them up somewhere -- I have to understand what things mean. What does DAC mean, and why does it amortize the way it does? Why do reserves usually follow particular patterns?

If one wants the exams to become more like real life, the problems will be more difficult, and the grading even murkier. Because real life is more difficult than the exams.

So, nothing wrong to change the nature of the exams, but you need to think through what the new ones would look like, and whether they'd be better than what they're replacing.
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  #25  
Old 09-29-2010, 06:02 AM
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I don't agree with this. You do actually need to have quite a bit of info in your brain, not just externally, to use it effectively.

But also, I don't agree that the exams should be limited to what you need in the "real world".

The "real world" stuff is effectively checked from your actual work. Theory and core knowledge is what should be checked in the exams -- this is what should be in your brain, and underlies your understanding of the "real world" stuff.

Seriously, "real world" stuff would involve things like: aberrant data, deadlines where one can't do a full calculation so you need to come up with some sort of approximation, error-filled spreadsheets that you need to untangle, etc. etc. The "real world" isn't clean. And it's very difficult to test for that stuff, as there's no correct answer for most of it, but trying to get something that's good enough, and improving upon iteration.

Having the fundamental ideas in my brain help me detect what's wrong in the data, where the spreadsheets go wrong, how to prioritize steps when I can't do all of them, etc. It's not a matter of being able to look them up somewhere -- I have to understand what things mean. What does DAC mean, and why does it amortize the way it does? Why do reserves usually follow particular patterns?

If one wants the exams to become more like real life, the problems will be more difficult, and the grading even murkier. Because real life is more difficult than the exams.

So, nothing wrong to change the nature of the exams, but you need to think through what the new ones would look like, and whether they'd be better than what they're replacing.

Completely agree with this one.
There's very little to choose in the quality of work between an actuarial student who's been in the job 4 or 5 years, and a (say) statistics graduate who's been in the job for the same period. You learn how to do your day to day job by doing your day to day job.
Why do actuaries get paid more than non-actuaries? Because once we're qualified, we're expected to know when things look wrong, we're expected to understand what should be happening, what is happening, why they're different and what to do about it. It's not just filling in reports (or, at least, it shouldn't be!).

If the actuarial exam became a qualification to "fill out out a spreadsheet properly" we'd quickly see the status of the profession fall away. We need the exam pass to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the world we work in than we'd get by just turning up to work.
I don't think the current system does this as well as it could, but it's not a million miles away.
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  #26  
Old 10-05-2010, 05:18 PM
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Limited time - It seems that almost everything I do at work comes along with very challenging deadlines. It also seems that the deadlines seem to be getting shorter and tighter. I prefer having a system that selects for people who can maintain their composure and solve problems in a challenging time frame.
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  #27  
Old 10-18-2010, 02:23 PM
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Limited time - It seems that almost everything I do at work comes along with very challenging deadlines. It also seems that the deadlines seem to be getting shorter and tighter. I prefer having a system that selects for people who can maintain their composure and solve problems in a challenging time frame.
I agree with this to a point. The real world does have pressing deadlines and getting the answer in time is much more valuable than coming up with something through trial and error. I get concerned though when it appears that time is used simply to make what is a relatively simple question harder. This has nothing to do with meeting deadlines but alot with progressing candidates who are simply fast instead of smart. And with examiners who are running out of ideas for challenging questions.

The stakes in the exams are so high anyway that candidates' composure will be tested with a challenging paper even if time pressure is significantly less.

So, although BOTH are clearly essential, it becomes a question of priorities. Which is more important: speed or problem solving skills? If actuaries are to be known as analytical speed merchants then perhaps tests of speed should be the top priority. Unfortunately, in the real world they'll be competing against PC processors. In the real world actuaries are widely respected for getting it right (despite some spectacular failures!) and even today this skill sets them apart from analysts with a finance background. There is no way that actuaries can maintain an edge if they're trained to be fast and nothing else.
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  #28  
Old 11-12-2010, 05:04 PM
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There are a lot of good points raised in the discussion. While some of the comments have focused on the handwriting issue there are a number of more fundamental questions to consider. Here are my thougths.


1.1 Intentionaly limiting time. Personally I think that this is fair enough. Generally the better you know something the quicker you can do it and this does sort out the people who have taken the time to practice the course rather than those who just plan to work it out on the day.

Also how exactly would the exams work if time were unlimited? Would you start at 9 in the morning and not leave until the evening when you had finished perfecting your paper? This would add a long time to the exams as they would need to be sat over a month to fit them all in.

1.2 It is fair to adjust the pass mark as we all know that some exam papers are easier than others. I spoke to an examiner about this a few years ago who talked through the process and it all seemed pretty reasonable. The people that I was with thought so to.

1.3 I agree that exams that require knowledge of something should mainly stick to material that is in the core reading and there have been some examples of exam papers that seem to require a lot more than the core reading provides.

1.3b I don't always think that it is true. Working in an area is a double edged sword. You are probably more familar with the terms used in the industry but you can easily fall into the trap that "this is the way that we do it at my company" and give a narrow answer. Students who are outside an area of practice can frequently give a broader answer and they come with a fresher perspective.

1.4 Given that you have done the earlier exams and "know" the courses then it is reasonable to expect people to know how to do these questions. Most of them are pretty simple by comparison to the through testing in the earlier subjects. I always looked at these as easy marks.

1.5 I would be useful if the examiners report had more detail on the range of things that would get a mark and how much each point was worth.

2. The appeals process is not really practical nor does it really seem to be particularly of much use. I suspect that the profession does not have enough resources to get a proper system because if it did then the exam would be so high.

5. SA exam. I personally think that this an approporate exam to gain fellowship. This test that canditates know an actuarial subject area in a high level of detail and can comment on a range of solutions to an issue. None of the earlier exams do this in detail.

Professional standards require actuaries to only do work where they are professionaly campable hence it is unlikely that you would be capable of being an appointed actuary at a life company after walking out of a SA4 exam. In any case if you do want to be an appointed actuary/scheme then you need a practicing certificate which requires significant practical experience in an area as well as a fellowship qualification.

New fellows being asked to mark exams. I don't really see the issue of this for the early exams as they probably know the technical stuff better than than actuaries who have not used it for years. I would possible say that marking an SA exam just after you have set it does seem a little strange.

Again all makers should ensure that they are professionaly capable before they agree to mark the exams.

Handwriting. Yes this will probably change over time. I am not aware of too many universities that allow typed exams at the current time.

The thing that I would say for handwriting are

A. It is the same for all
B. People know that this is how the exam is and have chance to practice beforehand.
C. Typing can be quite noisy and distracting for others in the room. Writing generally does not have this problem.

6. For the earlier exams it might be possible to have auditing of these but I struggle to see how non-actuaries would be capable of auditing an SA exam.

Finally, I would have thought that getting full time markers would be difficult. Who really want to give up the day job just to do marking for 2 months of the year. This would therefore narrow the range of people that mark the exams.
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