Why MLC Short answer problems are good for you

I have visited with many students preparing for the Spring 2014 MLC exam. Every one of them seems to have this fear of the short answer style problems. My question is quite simple: Why? Ok – I can hear some of the reasons.

  • Every exam thus far has been multiple choice.
  • It is always good to see the “correct” answer as one of the answer options.
  • We have just started to figure out how to answer the multiple-choice part …

Sure these responses make sense. After all, if you have made it to MLC, you have achieved success with multiple choice type problems. However, I believe that the short answer problems are a better format to increase your odds at passing. Here’s why.

The assumption is that you have studied and you know the material. The downside to the multiple-choice format is that you could perform every part of the solution correctly except for one step. That one wayward step produces a wrong answer.

Also, the SOA being as smart as they are, have identified your mistake and put that wrong answer as one of the answer options. Thus, even though you answered 95% of the problem correctly, you got the problem wrong.

Now, consider the short answer format. Under the short answer format, if you answer 95% of the question correctly AND SHOW YOUR WORK, then, you’ll receive 95% credit for the answer. Thus, you can achieve 95% credit rather than 0% credit. Again, the assumption is that you are prepared. If you are prepared, you can get significant credit ON EVERY PROBLEM just by writing what you know. Make sure you write the formulas; don’t just use them.

This is the key to understanding the new shift in short answer questions. The key is not to measure whether you got the final answer as to whether you will pass or not. The key is to show enough work on every problem to get significant credit on every problem. My guess is that it is very possible, and perhaps probable, that you can pass the short answer part of the exam without getting the correct final answer on ANY of the problems.

Notice, 100% credit is only 5% more credit than 95% credit. However, students fail not because they did not go from 95% to 100%. They fail because they leave some questions completely blank or they fail to document formulas or show their work.

Short answer format for life contingencies is nothing new. Sure, it is new compared to 2013. However, the SOA has had short answer format previously for life contingencies. In fact, I passed life contingencies in the early 1990’s using a similar format: part multiple choice and part short answer. Thus, I have been there and done that. Also, I have passed the FSA level exams that were entirely short answer.

However, my biggest learning experience was when I graded short answer exams for the SOA. As a grader, being “on the other side of the fence”, is a real learning experience. You see first hand how many points are lost by not following simple principles. You sensed that they knew more than they wrote but just left out steps. You can’t get credit for missing steps. Thus, relax and show your steps. You will be fine. Oh, remember, the assumption is that you are prepared for the exam.

If you are studying for the Spring 2014 MLC exam and have concerns regarding the short answer format, feel free to share them in the comments below. I will try to answer them.