CAS Leadership and the Failure of 2020 Exams

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  • #1056
    elecguitarist2
    Participant

    With AO being changed, I don’t want us to miss the opportunity to point the chaos of this exam sitting to our CAS leadership. I have talked to several other actuaries who honestly thought that CAS was just doing the best it could under the circumstances. This is false.

    The decision by the CAS to delay exams was a hard one, but it was also understandable. Remember back in March when you were really getting into your exam studying and waiting to hear what was going to happen? The CAS came out and said that exams would be delayed at least until June/July.

    The key thing that the CAS leadership wrong is that they decided to make decisions in this time of crisis top-down. They did not consult with the CAS candidate liaison committee, candidates themselves, exam writers or graders. They just decided that we were going to take exams at Pearson exam centers.

    And unfortunately, because of that decision, many candidates are unable to take exams. And those of us that manage to take the exam are doing so under duress that is literally incomprehensible to the leadership. I’m honestly extremely ashamed of the CAS leadership.

    I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, but then they came out with an NDA on top of the candidate agreement we already have. And we aren’t allowed to discuss the exams ever again? And they won’t share the results or full reports? I can’t help but ask: are they trying to hide how poorly candidates are going to do? Are they going to release information on how many candidates had to cancel because they couldn’t figure out a better solution? Unfortunately, I don’t see why I should trust there to be transparency. But they can be held accountable. I hope that those of us who are candidates now will remember this, keep track of those who made these unilateral decisions, and ensure that they are not in positions in the CAS anymore to fail others in their time of need like how the CAS failed us.

    #1084
    saul goodman
    Participant

    I totally agree with everything said above.

    I’ve been studying for this sitting for over a year now. I was told May, then July, then October, now next week. The COVID numbers are the worst they’ve ever been and I feel forced to exposure myself for the sake of my job.

    I contacted the CAS about having a health condition that makes me high risk, and asked if there was any possibility of online exams. I quoted their disability accommodations policy. They said “no and no refunds”. They didn’t bother to email me a few days later when they changed their minds on refunds.

    I had to take exam 5 at home in spring 2018 against my will, and during a global pandemic they won’t offer this option again—- when Pearson is fully capable of offering this to all exam takers today.

    I study nonstop for an exam that will likely be cancelled do lock downs happening through out my state. For an exam I feel I am literally risking my life for.

    #1086
    Loki
    Participant

    “Risking your life” is super dramatic. 1-1.5m people die in car accidents per year, was the CAS making you risk your life by requiring you to leave your bubble and drive to a test center in prior years? Given the majority of exam takers are under 30, your concern doesn’t make any logical sense considering how wildly unlikely you are to die from the specific cause you’re so concerned about. Hell, some test sites even give us orange juice and muffins loaded with super deadly sugar. How irresponsible of them?!

    The point is, like all things in life, if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t to it.

    #1087
    saul goodman
    Participant

    Obviously we have differing opinions about the matter. But just to respond to some of your points, some of our companies require passing exams in a certain period of time to maintain employment. It isn’t as easy as just not sitting if I’m not in the mood. We already lost the spring sitting.

    I’m also nowhere near under 30, and as I said above, have a condition that puts me at risk. While it’s unlikely to catch it while wearing a mask, it’s possible. Especially with 4.5 hours of exposure time.

    #1088
    Loki
    Participant

    It’s unfortunate that you have a high risk health condition. I’d be very surprised if they reject your request for a refund given their recent, very public, post to the contrary: https://www.casact.org/press/index.cfm?fa=viewArticle&articleID=4865 . In fact, if they reject it, please post their response, I’d be happy to join in with you in putting pressure on them to respect their own policy. Also presumably you’re in the US, so you have a very strong lawsuit if you choose not to take your exam and you’re fired.

    Again, as all things in life, if doing something makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. I think you have a lot of possible routes you can go down to solve this problem.

    #1106
    elecguitarist2
    Participant

    I actually don’t think “risking your life” is dramatic. Remember that you can quantify car accidents because we have a stable understanding of the risk in driving a car. COVID-19 is such a new risk with a lot of uncertainty regarding transmission and what happens when infected. This is especially true in Saul’s case above when he mentions his own health risks.

    Note the date that the article was updated: 11/16/2020. I don’t know about you, but that’s extremely late. As far as I understood, the CAS was not offering refunds (or what they would say is “we are offering refunds except a $100 fee”…which is not the same as a refund). I’m not exactly sure how that lawsuit would go anyways. But I do agree that the CAS failing to address this problem explicitly discriminates against less affluent candidates, candidates in particular geographical areas, and candidates with heath concerns. It’s really concerning that while the CAS leadership is espousing plans to diversify the actuaries in our country they could be disenfranchising them all at the same time.

    I’m not sure about your personal study habits (or if you are sitting for exams), but in case you didn’t know already CAS exam takers do not trivially sit for these exams. The studying is extremely intense. Haphazardly suggesting that a candidate can simply shrug off their attempt (while paying a fee and risking potential punitive actions from their employer) after contributing so many hours is a callous response. Candidates poor hundreds of hours into these exams and having the carpet swept out from under them due to the ineptitude of our leadership is beyond disheartening.

    #1109
    onefishtwofish
    Participant

    I disagree with pretty much everything you’ve said.

    I think the CAS did an excellent job with the transition to the new format. I think they gave plenty of notice of the change, plenty of opportunity to get a refund, and plenty of time to understand the differences with the new format. You were welcome to attend the webinars to ask question and voice concerns.

    I’m not sure about the non refundable $100, It could be a charge from Pearson as you took a time slot that someone else could have used. I think they offered full refunds earlier on.

    I felt that the site I went to was safe and well managed. Plenty of hand sanitizing/washing, everyone wore a mask, plenty of spacing between people. It felt much less dangerous that going to the grocery store. I really have zero complaints with my testing experience.

    There are more Pearson testing centers than CAS testing sites, so I don’t understand your discrimination argument.

    If not releasing the exams leads to a 3rd sitting each year and faster grading, I can live with that. There are plenty of questions released from past exams to use as long as the question formats don’t change too much.

    I don’t think the NDA means no discussing it ever, just until the testing window is over, but I could be mistaken.

    Yes, we have all spent hundreds of hours studying, are you suggesting they cancel everyone’s exam because you have some health concerns and your employer is being unreasonable?

    #1110
    saul goodman
    Participant

    To clarify, there were no refunds until the November 16th announcement. Plenty of exams were taken this sitting before then.

    #1115
    Harbinger
    Participant

    All things considered, I think they did a great job. The exams were set up to be administered by Pearson and likely couldn’t be shifted or set up to be online, at your house due to the software they’re using. The decision to flip to CBT happened in April or May and then they had four to five months to look at various vendors, get exams CBT ready, etc. All things considered, understanding their staff and volunteers are also dealing with the stresses with of this pandemic, I think they did a great job. What’s unfortunate is great solution for one is not so great for another. It sounds like their solutions was not so great for the OP, which is a bummer.

    #1119
    silenced one
    Participant

    I partly agree with each of you. There are a lot of components to talk about, but here’s how I see it:

    Overall solution CAS leaders implemented under difficult circumstances – 3 out of 5 (Low score due to an inflexible process that only works for a majority of candidates. One or two people’s good experience doesn’t equal a success here. The fairness of every single person’s exam matters. Score would have been lower, but giving leadership some credit for the unique challenges faced.)
    Transparency of decisions to exam candidates – 2 out of 5
    Making decisions based on doing the right thing – 1 out of 5 (Decisions were largely made based on what “looks good” in front of the public, and therefore decisions were very reactionary. Even the “right” decision can have corrupt motives.)

    Bottom line for me – I agree with the OP. Replace CAS leadership for failing to recognize how important exams are to people’s careers. This exam sitting was mediocre. Other organizations might find this acceptable, but we are the CAS! Our exam process has existed for many, many years, and needs to uphold the highest of standards. Candidates having a terrible experience even 10% of the time is unacceptable.

    Next sitting, it might be you.

    #1126
    elecguitarist2
    Participant

    The irony is that I was about to type my response when I saw the blowup in the other thread about folks having their exams rescheduled and the CAS had not yet communicated to any candidates (which appears against the guidelines that they had established). So, I almost feel as though I don’t need to respond – it’s kind of case and point.

    But…

    I think the CAS did an excellent job with the transition to the new format.

    Your statement seems to respond as if the CAS were backed into a corner and were forced to this format. They chose the format. Why would they decide to do this massive transition at this time unless it was just purely Machiavellian? There is no excuse for any problems. There is no excuse for candidates having their exams delayed again or being unable to take exams if they have disabilities.

    My chief complaint is that the CAS leadership neglected to engage or consider any of the resources at their fingertips including our candidate liaisons! If I had been asked: “Hey, we’re sorry that we can’t offer the exams in the spring, but we are planning to do it in the fall. What is the best way to guarantee that all candidates can take exams in the fall?” I would have responded with: take it remotely. That’s the only way. If they had said “We’re considering Pearson VUE. What are your thoughts?” I would have responded puzzled: “Wait, you cancelled in-person exams in large rooms due to a contagious pandemic and yet you want to put candidates into smaller rooms that are less available…how exactly will this help? What if places in the country go into lockdown again?” (See the other thread…this is literally happening right now).

    You were welcome to attend the webinars to ask question and voice concerns.

    Actually, I attended every single webinar. I submitted questions each time at the start of the webinar and emailed the CAS arc@casact.org for support. They did not address my concern until one week before my exam – they never responded to my questions and they definitely did not respond to my concern about their testing plan. I literally brought up the very real possibility that candidates could not take the exam because they were far away, or lockdowns were occurring. They have no solution which…is their responsibility.

    I’m not sure about the non refundable $100, It could be a charge from Pearson as you took a time slot that someone else could have used. I think they offered full refunds earlier on.

    Unless something changed in the past week, this is not correct. The CAS in the most greedy fashion possible has refused to offer refunds to candidates. It’s an amazing and distasteful thing. I don’t pay for it, but it shows the color of the leadership that they couldn’t even figure that one out.

    I felt that the site I went to was safe and well managed. Plenty of hand sanitizing/washing, everyone wore a mask, plenty of spacing between people. It felt much less dangerous that going to the grocery store. I really have zero complaints with my testing experience.

    Actually, I have no complaints about the Pearson VUE decision. I believe that long-term this will be a good move for the CAS. That said, there were serious problems with the Pearson experience that I cannot voice due to the NDA…which actually is forever – not just beyond the window. You cannot discuss the exam at all. In fact, the CAS is not going to release examiner reports or results anymore. So, you know how everyone could look at Exam 7’s 2012 sitting and go “hey! this was a bad exam! everyone did significantly worse than all the other years!?” We won’t be able to do this for our sitting. Why won’t the CAS release the results for this sitting? I can only think of one goal: obfuscating how much they mess this up.

    There are more Pearson testing centers than CAS testing sites, so I don’t understand your discrimination argument.

    I’m not going to make a strong argument here. But in the city where I live, the testing centers are located in predominantly affluent areas and there are no testing centers in impoverished areas. Also, remember that the CAS testing sites were where actuaries worked…so, there were more actuaries available to take them. If you don’t live near a big city (and I mean a really big city), you may be really out of luck. If it’s a pandemic, then you should expect to have to drive 6+ hours even if you live in a big city.

    If not releasing the exams leads to a 3rd sitting each year and faster grading, I can live with that. There are plenty of questions released from past exams to use as long as the question formats don’t change too much.

    I see merits to both sides here. The biggest complaint for me is that the CAS has never written a test without at least one widely regarded defunct question. The CAS would have to move away from Bloom’s questions for this to work because they are incapable of writing them well. And, to be honest, those questions are the best ones for them to develop and just write more clearly.

    Yes, we have all spent hundreds of hours studying, are you suggesting they cancel everyone’s exam because you have some health concerns and your employer is being unreasonable?

    First, because of health concerns it appears that they are just cancelling everyone’s exams right now…so your question is hardly theoretical (again, see the other thread…and good luck to anyone who didn’t get to sit for their exam yet). Second, at least offer a full refund right away. Third, …errr remote proctoring? It would work. I know dozens of actuaries who would volunteer to remotely proctor. That is the only guarantee that all candidates can take it (no matter where they live or if there is a pandemic).

    #1129
    saul goodman
    Participant

    Pearson offers at home testing. With a flip of a switch we could be taking exams at home today.

    https://home.pearsonvue.com/Test-takers/OnVUE-online-proctoring.aspx

    #1143
    saul goodman
    Participant

    I’ll post this here too, since it’s relevant to CAS’s response.

    CAS Press Release 4/7/20

    By cancelling the April exam sitting now, we will be able to expend our energy on a viable contingency plan for October that would allow candidates to take exams remotely.

    Where is that contingency option? According to the other thread, the contingency is a refund, or an expectation to travel 6 hours out of state and quarantine for two weeks before sitting.

    #1144
    TryhardActuary
    Participant

    Very tough time we are living in. Covid sucks!

    #1189
    Michael Scott
    Participant

    These responses are ridiculous. I agree with the point on the CAS making a top-down decision, but I’ve never seen them act differently. While in theory, they should consult us on these matters, I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting it. Not worth the energy trying to fight them on this, they’ve already made it clear from their actions that their goal is to make it even more difficult for us to get through the exam process than it was for them.

    But as for the rest…

    “Risking your life” are you for real? For those that have additional health conditions, I understand the risks and honestly don’t sit for the exam if you genuinely feel your life is in danger by doing so. The vaccine is coming and you’ll get a chance to take it next year. And if you are seriously claiming your employer will fire you if you don’t take the exam now, then please PM me the name of your company, and I will assist you in helping you get a better job because that is BS, and I cannot imagine any even half remotely decent employer would do that. I for one do not believe any company would do that during a pandemic, but I could be mistaken. I get the anxiety, I am not under 30 and am concerned too but if it’s too much for you, don’t sit. You’ll get another chance.

    This whole demanding a remote option is perhaps the most entitled one. If they haven’t offered it to the people who already sat, why do you feel and demand they should offer it to you? This is just mind-boggling. And before people try the “states closing down argument”, IL is the only state I’ve heard this supposedly happen (and the CAS is already working on contingency plans for them). No other state has gone into lockdown and closing, so please stop spreading that it’s happening all over the country because there is no evidence of that. If I am mistaken, please tell me which state you’re in and the state-wide lockdown that was issued if that is indeed the case because I have not seen that anywhere. Or demanding the whole sitting to be cancelled because some people had to travel?

    The point that I’d like to bring up which IMO is truly the biggest issue with the whole thing, is the fact that people taking exams at the end of the window (likely the OP plus a few other loud folk), are going to have a MAJOR advantage (basically a free pass if they’ve done a decent job preparing on their own). Despite what the CAS may claim with the NDA and Code of Conduct, people are going to talk. The people taking exams at the end window, especially who work at larger companies are going to share about the exams, and those at the end will have unfair advantage. It happened on the TBE 5 sitting, it happened on the non-proctored online courses, and I guarantee it’ll happen this time. If you seriously think people will not reveal anything, then I don’t know what kind of a rock you’re living under. I think of it akin to interview candidates at companies. If an actuary interviewing the candidate at the prospective employer knows an actuary at the candidate’s prior workplace, you can bet they will contact them and ask about them. That is 100% an unethical & unprofessional thing to do without the candidate’s permission, but I guarantee it happens all the time.

    This is why it is gravely concerning that because people taking it at the end will cheat (you can define that however you wish), they will score better. And then the CAS will likely raise the passmark or grade harsher since they can’t let 70% of people pass again (remember TBE spring 2018 sitting where they passed 70% and then screwed us with super low pass rates in the fall). The only workaround I can think of is to give different exams (it’s been over a year since last fall, I would think they have at least 2 tests worth of questions developed) to the people taking it later in the window, but I suspect given the pandemic that may not be done. I’d hope that it would taken into consideration when grading (e.g. they can release a distribution of scores by day), but I doubt they can/will adjust people’s individual exams from this, and those who took it earlier may end up getting screwed. If there is a failure on the CAS for exams, it’s this.

    #1192
    IamLoaded
    Participant

    New to AO and I feel I understand the discussions from both sides.

    I have asthma and am kinda overweight so I am more at risk when it comes to COVID. I would not go out, I ate can food, and I used straight 90% alcohol to clean when wipes were out. So I think those who view “risking your life” is dramatic should pause for a sec and think about why people would say that before typing out a response. It’s not that hard to do.

    Turning points came when my wife was “forced” (or take a break from work) to travel for work. A long story here but that’s how I learned life needs to continue and I cannot be so scared anymore. I started to work out, eat healthy, take flu shot, think positively…

    My exam is rescheduled to January like many others and I believe CAS will address this and give me the chance to take the exam that I’ve studied for over 1 years.

    More importantly I think we need to show some respect to our fellow actuaries. People live and think differently. No need to add avoidable pressure at times that are already difficult to some people.

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