Managing the Switch to Computer-Based Testing (CBT) for CAS Exams
Matthew Meade

Managing the Switch to Computer-Based Testing (CBT) for CAS Exams

Matthew Meade January 18, 2021 Posted in: News

In July 2020, the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) announced that all actuarial exams for their fall exam “sitting” would be administered through computer-based testing (CBT) rather than their traditional pencil-and-paper format. CAS exams are required to become certified practitioners in the actuarial profession.

Although multiple-choice CAS exams, MAS-I and MAS-II, were set to be delivered via CBT as part of a long-term goal to transition all exams to the format by the end of 2022, this announcement expanded the program to include exams 5-9. The CAS cited concerns for the safety of all those involved in the testing process amidst the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic as the primary driver for the decision. The organization had canceled all exams in the spring 2020 sitting.

As a current student taking upper level exams, this news directly impacted me and my advancement through the actuarial profession. Although I was keenly aware that in coming years the transition to CBT was inevitable, the announcement of the expedited timeline came as a bit of a surprise, one that I knew would require additional preparation. 

The biggest difference with CBT is that exam answers are recorded through a Microsoft Excel-type software program instead of a written response on exam paper. While this format has the time-saving advantage of typing answers instead of writing by hand, it also presents challenges of preparing charts or quickly building triangles, writing out formulas with specific symbols and notation and showing work clearly to receive credit. All are arguably more intuitive to do by hand. To its credit, the CAS helpfully provided advance access to sample questions in the new program as they would appear on the day of the test and I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with the mechanics of navigating the site and constructing responses beforehand. 

The switch to CBT had other impacts as well. For instance, exams are self-scheduled over a three-week window instead of having an established exam date. Large gatherings required to administer an exam to all candidates on a single day would inevitably violate social distancing protocols, so an expanded window was offered. This flexibility, along with waiving all change fees to reschedule an exam, was crucial for allowing as many candidates as possible to take an exam. 

I took advantage by booking a time later in the day at an exam center closer to my home as opposed to an early morning start time at a far-away building which was the only option available in past sittings. A 15-minute reading period typically afforded prior to starting the exam, during which the candidate can preview the exam questions, check for errors in the exam packet, etc., was eliminated. This change reduced the effective time to take the exam by counting the reading period against the total time allotment. 

Aside from the change in format, there were also new COVID-19 safety protocols. The testing center required temperature checks and masks to be worn at all times during the testing process. While I deemed these precautions wholly appropriate given the circumstances, it would nonetheless feel like a different testing experience compared to prior sittings.

Despite all of these changes, my concerns were alleviated once I arrived for the exam. The early afternoon appointment led to reduced traffic on the way and less stress about arriving on time. The check-in procedures were seamless and I was seated right away. 

The software was easy to navigate, and the time saved from typing outweighed the time lost on the more burdensome aspects of showing math calculations in a spreadsheet. I could have used the extra 15 minutes at the end of the exam, but the total time was fair given the length of the exam. I even forgot that I was wearing a mask after a while. Overall, the experience was a positive one and I have no doubt that it will continue to improve with each sitting. CBT is the future for the CAS exams and I got to experience it ahead of schedule.

Matt Meade is an associate actuary with Pinnacle Actuarial Resources in the Atlanta, Georgia, office. He has been in the property/casualty insurance industry since 2010. Matt has considerable experience in assignments involving loss reserving, captive renewals, funding studies, loss cost projections, and risk margin calculations. He is an Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society and a Member of the American Academy of Actuaries.
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