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Answers to exam questions

Maplelord managing director Trevor Harrington&#39s recent article in Money Marketing entitled Examine the examiners raises matters which caused him concern. I am sure that both the Chartered Insurance Institute and all those involved in the financial services industry have common goals.

The CII wants to offer and be seen to offer appropriate means of supporting those who want to demonstrate professionalism by gaining qualifications, whether or not these are requirements of regulators.

Over the past decade, the demand for qualifications relating to financial advice has been driven by regulatory change and an enthusiasm from individuals in the sector. Mr Harrington&#39s offer to join in a debate to ensure that all those with an interest can work together to address issues such as recruitment and training is welcome.

Research is being undertaken by CII and Sofa in a number of rela-ted areas, including work by Sofa and Aifa on graduate recruitment.I would be delighted to discuss these matters with him and offer the help of CII and Sofa in a debate involving the wide range of individuals and organisations which would want to take part.

Several points were raised over processes used by the CII in its examinations, particularly the Advanced Financial Planning Certificate. Many of the matters raised are based on misapprehensions and I would like to set out the true position. Our aim is to be as transparent as possible.

The CII is a non-profit-making organisation governed by Royal Charter. Any surplus derived from its activities is used to fund further provision of training and education services to its members and its other customers.

The Advanced Financial Planning Certi ficate, of which G60 forms a part, was introduced in 1992 to meet the requirements of many people who wanted to proceed from FPC to higher qualifications focused on the provision of financial advice.

In the same year, the Society of Financial Advisers was established as a professional body with members who wanted to display their commitment to professionalism and qualifications. All its members are qualified at or above AFPC level. The society and its members have been closely involved with the development of the current AFPC scheme and take a keen interest in content and the standard it represents.

As an examining body, we are accountable not only to our candidates and members but also to employers, regulators and the public in general. This accountability requires that the systems used for the examinations are des igned to ensure the highest standards are applied and evidence of standards is regularly published.

A good example of evidence in the public domain is the publication of full examiners&#39 reports for all AFPC subjects. These are sent free of charge to those entering a particular subject and are available for a small charge to anyone else. They contain an analysis of past papers, set out the points which examiners feel would assist those preparing for examinations and explain a set of model answers which would respond to the questions set in the paper. They also contain general guidance on the way to prepare for an examination and ways to maximise the marks gained.

The reports are the culmination of the examination process and I believe it may help to cover a number of issues if I outline what lies behind them.

Question papers are set by a very rigorous process involving scrutiny of possible questions and the expected points in answers by panels of practitioners and assessment experts. Examiners are trained and appointed and allocated scripts to mark for a particular sitting of a paper. All of those who are involved in the setting and marking of papers such as G60 are active practitioners who are qualified to at least AFPC level and they work with ass essment experts both from inside and outside the CII.

Because of the volume of AFPC scr ipts, teams of exam iners are necessary. A vital req uire ment is that they all mark consistently to ensure that each script is assessed against objective criteria.

As Mr Harrington says, a meeting of all those marking the same paper is called at an early stage after an examination has taken place. The purpose is to exchange information and ensure that any chance of variability is eliminated.

Before the meeting takes place, examiners are asked provisionally to mark a number of scripts, check for any apparent difficulties encountered by candidates and identify if any points have arisen not covered by the original marking scheme agreed by the original panel. The process is a dialogue inten ded to achieve agreed approaches to every aspect of marking. If there is a difference in opinion about mark allocation, this is discussed and consensus reached. As practitioners are involved, the decision reached will reflect years of collective experience and expertise.

After these meetings take place, we also ensure that a random sampling of marked scripts is carried out during and on completion of the period of marking as a check that consistency is maintained.

During the marking process, examiners are asked to refer matters to the senior examiner if they encounter a particular point which they feel needs further consideration. However, we do ask them to limit their discussion of examination matters to those who are also involved in the process so that we preserve the confidentiality of candidates.

The example of a question outlined by Mr Harrington is a very good illustration of where discussion about the treatment of answers might have been necessary.

The question concerned featured in the October 1998 G60 Pensions examination as “How can an individual obtain such a forecast?”in relation to entitlement to state benefits.

This was part of a larger question and carried two marks out of 200 available. The answer required was to “Fill out a BR19 and send it to the DSS.” This was published in the examiner&#39s report for that paper.

Clearly, the DSS needed to be mentioned to pr
ovide a complete response as the forecast could not be obt ained elsewhere. The marking schedule agreed by all examiners allocated one mark for the mention of the form and one mark for mention of the DSS.

Positive marking is used in the marking of all examination scripts so no marks are deducted for incorrect or irrelevant content in a script. The marking system is precise in enforcing standards but flexible and adaptable to ensure candidates are not penalised for providing a correct answer in an unexpected or novel format.

Marking schemes must ensure that correct elements of answers will attain marks. As an example, candidates are rewarded in calculations for displaying the correct method even if an incorrect figure is used by mistake.

As long as handwriting is legible, no marks are lost if it is not neat. Examiners are required to mark every page of a candidate&#39s paper.

A key requirement in any examination is that candidates should have sufficient time to read each question, think about and provide the answer required. Qualified volunteers sit each paper under close security before it is finalised, to ensure that candidates can complete all questions in the time allowed. Sadly, candidates often devote disproportionate amounts of time to answers. In the examiner&#39s reports, the need to be aware of this type of problem is stressed.

The best advice to candidates is to spend time in accordance with the allocation of marks indicated on the paper against each part of every question.

For example, if only two marks are allocated, there are only one or two points required and it is not necessary to write two or three paragraphs. If 15 marks are allocated, more points are being sought and a couple of lines would not be sufficient as an answer.

Unless we specifically ask for answers in a particular format notes and “bullet points” are quite acceptable, as indicated in our published examiner&#39s reports.

The question papers used in the exam room are collected at the end of the session as a security measure. CII examinations are held all over the world and in a number of time zones. By collecting papers, the possibility of faxing or passing on information to candidates elsewhere is minimised.

Copies of the papers can be requested immediately the exam sittings have been completed and the examiner&#39s report for the paper is published later.

All scripts are kept for a period of nine months but at the end of that period only a sample is retained on the basis that any query will have been raised by that stage.

A facility is available for those who ask for reconsideration of their scripts and this results in a brief report on areas where marks had not been gained as well as those areas where no problems appear to exist.

However, scripts are not returned to candidates and this is currently common practice with professional examining bodies.

The CII does not operate a policy of setting in advance a quota for candidates who will pass its examinations. Rather, it works to a pass mark which will not be altered unless there are compelling reasons to do so.

An example of where the need to consider an adjustment will arise is if all candidates were to experience difficulty with one aspect of a paper set.

Examiners are asked to report any such problem because in any system human error can occur and it would be unfair not to make allowance if such a situation occurred. Any comments by candidates are also considered at this stage. Without such an approach, those sitting a particular paper would be disadvantaged if a pass mark were applied regardless of this type of factor. The sampling of scripts by examiners and assessment experts mentioned before is also des igned to highlight such problems so there are checks at all stages of the process.

We have looked into the possibility of letting candidates use word processors to complete examinations but have encountered a number of factors which would need to be addressed. Security is an aspect which needs to be guaranteed in any exam environment but purely on a practical basis there are difficulties to avoid.

Some candidates are unwilling or unable to use word processors and standby arrangements for power supply are needed while the sheer volume of noise of a room full of people merrily tapping away with a varying number of fingers could be a real problem.

I hope the above information will reassure those of your readers who read the article by Mr Hetherington. The CII is committed to ensuring that all its examinations are developed, delivered and marked fairly and to the highest standards. Suggestions for improvement are always welcome.

If anyone has matters they would like to discuss or comments to make I would be happy to be contacted either on my email tony.tudor@CII.co.uk or telephone 020 7417 4423.

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