From TBE to TBD

By Donald Williams posted 05-11-2018 10:55


     “You done messed up, A-Aron!” That quote from a Key & Peele sketch is what comes to my mind when thinking about what transpired last Thursday and Friday. You may have seen my pre-TBE blog about preparing for the exam. The plan was for me to blog again after the exam, recapping the experience for those that did not take Exam 5. This is not that blog. Why? Because the exam is not over. Candidates experienced such frequent and severe technical difficulties that the CAS announced a re-take opportunity even before all exams were submitted (for those who could submit). I was one of those candidates - my exam was paused or crashed multiple times; I waited an excruciating amount of time to hear from my proctor during my first crash; I had to call PSI support multiple times after first stressing out about whether my exam would be disqualified for using my phone when I agreed not to; and I had to re-install the secure browser from the PSI website more than once. The kicker is that my experience wasn’t the worst, as you can easily find out from a quick scan of Actuarial Outpost. I will defer going into the details of my exam attempt until after the re-take so I can evaluate both experiences at once. As your Candidate Liaison Committee representative writing on the CAS Future Fellows Blog, the purpose of this post is to acknowledge our shared frustration, to reaffirm that the CAS is listening to us, and to address the CAS response to the events of last week.

     This was a bad situation, and the CAS knows it. They made repeated assurances that this process would go smoothly and even improve the testing experience, but the process failed due to relying on a vendor that could not deliver on its commitment. A change of this magnitude to the exam process was unprecedented, as was such a large-scale failure. I didn’t get the re-take notice until Monday morning since it was through my work email, and spent all weekend wondering how this situation would be resolved. The only event I could think of that came close was when a shipment of Exam 6U papers went temporarily missing from FedEx’s delivery system last year. In that instance, only eight candidates were affected, and they ended up reviewing both exams for the candidate who did not pass the make-up despite originally saying they would only grade the first exam received (either the original if found or the make-up if not). But could I expect the CAS to do that given the problems with this exam were so wide-spread?

     As it turns out, I could. Monday morning, I had two surveys waiting in my inbox from managers asking for details about the experience, and I later learned that the CAS had immediately solicited help from many CAS members and your Candidate Liaison Committee to gather information about what we all went through. Then the CAS announced the next day that not only would we have a re-take available, but both exams would be graded for everyone. Another follow-up with more details about the re-take came on Wednesday. I felt a huge weight fall off my chest. Is it the perfect resolution? No. But I must say it’s about as fair a solution as there could be, and here’s why:

  • Candidates will have the option to take the exam either 5/30 or 5/31. That gives those of us who scheduled vacations right after the exam a solid two weeks of study, and three weeks for everyone else. They’re even trying to offer a rain date for those who cannot sit on either of these days.
  • There’s no downside to taking the make-up since both exams will be graded. Sure, those in the United States may have to study a bit over Memorial Day Weekend, but let’s be real – this likely isn’t the first time you’ve had to work/study over a holiday and likely won’t be the last.
  • You can choose your proctor or have one assigned to you, meaning that you probably won’t be taking it in the comfort and privacy of your own home/library/hotel. Those of us who had to pay for a rented space will not incur additional costs (unless you now have to travel to get to your proctor). Our in-person proctor can respond to or at least acknowledge any problem immediately, and if there are any technical issues during the re-take, we should have a more consistent response for all candidates.
  • The test will still be five hours long, and we will still have the benefits that come with using Excel. We’ll even have free access to a TrueAbility practice session to make sure that our computers and networks in the new locations are sufficient for the exam.

     It would be easy to let my frustration cloud my judgment of the CAS response and to only dwell on how this solution doesn’t perfectly fit my situation. After all, I will not get back the years of my life or the hair that I lost on Friday. And to be honest, PSI probably has a few minutes of unflattering audio from the first time my exam crashed and I didn’t know I was still connected to my proctor. However, I try to be forward-moving, to live in the present. Instead of re-living last week’s events, I need to start preparing for the re-take. Instead of letting frustration build towards the CAS, I realize that there’s only so much influence you can have over third party systems, that they did their due diligence in researching vendors (see the timeline), and remember that the CAS includes all of our friends, colleagues, mentors, and managers who are working diligently to secure testing facilities for us and who will volunteer extra hours of their lives to grade the second set of exams. I choose an attitude of gratitude, and expect that once this situation has resolved itself, we will come together as a community to discuss the future of TBE and reach consensus on practical steps to move forward from here.

     For those of us who are planning to do the re-take, registration has opened on the CAS website. You must formally register by Monday, May 14th at 8:00am EDT, even if you already responded to the survey indicating your intent to do the re-take. While the CAS is working towards a solution to let candidates know if their initial exam was received, that may not come before the registration deadline. Since both exams will be graded, it is only to your benefit to attempt the re-take if you are able. The CAS just requests that if your situation changes (possibly by learning that your entire first attempt was submitted correctly) and you decide to not do the re-take that you let them know as soon as possible for the most efficient deployment of exam resources.

     Thank you to all of those who responded to requests for information about your testing experience – because of our feedback, we’ve improved my situation greatly, and hopefully yours, too. As I’ve been reading comments shared by other representatives on the Candidate Liaison Committee, I’ve seen a number of issues, considerations, and suggestions for improvement that were different from those that came from myself and the people I’ve talked to. It’s clear that in order to correct this course and make it the best experience possible, we all need to participate in the conversation. If you haven’t had the opportunity to express your thoughts about this TBE sitting (or anything else you feel particularly strongly about) to the CAS, I encourage you to fill out the Candidate Liaison Committee feedback form to let us know, and we will make sure that your concerns are voiced.