Looking at 2011 CAS exams – Part One

Tough year for the CAS exams. Results were wacky:

The lines on the chart represent the percentage of students passing an exam in a typical year, between 35% and 45%. But this year pass rates were all over the place. Only 11% passed the advanced reserving/ERM course. More than 70% passed the introductory reserving exam.

This led the Exam Committee to publish an open letter in which it concludes all of the exams above are “‘outliers’ relative to historical results.”

Of the major CAS exams, only Part 9 – advanced finance – had a typical sitting, with 37% passing.¹

It’s a tough topic, not least because the organization overhauled its syllabus and renumbered the exams.²

The old reserving exam seems to be split in half. One half was attached to the introductory pricing exam and called Exam 5. The other half was attached to an ERM module and called Exam 7.

Meanwhile, some students had passed the old ratemaking exam but not the old reserving exam (and vice-versa). So the CAS put together transition exams – 5A for those who hadn’t passed the old pricing exam and 5B for those who hadn’t passed the old reserving exam.

Each exam contained half of the full Exam 5. Exam 5A contained the ratemaking questions from the full Exam 5. Exam 5B had Exam 5’s reserving questions. The partial Exam 5’s were two hours each, half the time alloted for the full exam.

But look up at the chart. More than 60% passed each partial exam, but only 27% passed the full exam.

Students on the wrong end of the pass mark cried foul. Some apparently alleged the Exam Committee manipulated pass marks to restrict the number of new fellows.³

The Exam Committee fired back:

. . . [S]uch assertions, even if made only in jest, are not only unfounded, but also offensive, as they call into question the integrity and professionalism of the members of the committee, all of whom are credentialed members of the society . . .

The reaction seems a bit harsh, though I haven’t seen the original accusations. The exams are hard and the process opaque – even though there’s far more openness now than, say, a decade ago. Students get frustrated and vent.

Unfortunately, the umbrage the committee took had two downsides. First, it set off a new round of bitterness, with comments like this:

it was worse than i imagined. especially the high and mighty “how DARE you question the integrity of the exam committee!!?” attitude. like a politician. that’s all i have to say. i better be careful because from the note it sounds like there’ll be consequences for saying the wrong thing now.

Second, it took focus off an interesting set of data on the exams, which I’ll look at in a future post.


¹ I know, I know. The CAS focuses less on the overall pass rate and more on the effective pass rate – the percentage of people who passed after you exclude people who scored so low they probably weren’t even trying. But the open letter focused on the distribution of scores across the board, so I’m following suit. Anyhow, spring results are here, and fall results are here.

² Most people think about CAS exams by their number – Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, etc. That makes it a bit confusing to compare exams across years, since the new Exam 8 is comparable to the old Exam 9, the new Exam 6 is comparable to the old Exam 7, and so on. That’s why I, for the most part, will shun the exam numbers in favor of labeling each exam by its subject matter, as I’ve done in the chart above.

³ Can’t find the right thread on Actuarial Outpost – maybe someone can post it in comments.


2 thoughts on “Looking at 2011 CAS exams – Part One

  1. Footnote Number 3 says:


    A post in the teens talks about restricting new member counts in favor of higher salaries for us.

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