What to expect from Exam S – Part I

The CAS announces a new Exam S to replace Exam LC, ST, and the VEE Statistics requirements for the ACAS designation starting Fall 2015.

If you have not passed either LC or ST yet, you are required to take new Exam S even if you have received the VEE Statistics credit.

Take a look at:  http://www.casact.org/admissions/syllabus/index.cfm?fa=exam_grades#transition for full Exam S transition details.

The official and latest information about Exam S is available here:


Here are a few highlights if you are new to CAS and Exam S:

Exam S is a four-hour multiple-choice exam. It resembles preliminary exams P, FM, MFE and C, but they are different in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look at how they differ:

Exam Format

Preliminary: Computer-based exams hosted by Prometric.

Exam S: Traditional Scantron exams offered in limited number of exam centers. It feels similar to an exam back in school.

What it means: I assume most of us familiar with both situations. Prepare your own pencils for Exam S, however, just in case.

Guessing Penalty

Preliminary: No.

Exam S: Yes. There is a 0.25 point penalty for every wrong answer; there is no point penalty for unanswered questions.

Example: If student A gets Q1 correct, Q2 wrong, and leaves Q3 unanswered, he will get 1 point (1+0+0) for preliminary exams, but only 0.75 point (1-0.25+0) for Exam S as the students gets a 0.25 point penalty for answering Q2 wrong.

What it means:

Guessing does not give you advantage over leaving the question unanswered unless you can eliminate at least one answer choice.

CAS exam reports also reflect this penalty, so a 35.0/50 passing score does not essentially mean you need a 70% to pass; you need more than that to hedge against questions that you potentially did not answer correctly.

Answer Choice Format

Preliminary: Most are in exact values; a few are provided in ranges.

Exam S: All answer choices are provided in ranges

What it means: For preliminary exams, you know you definitely did something wrong when your answer did not match any of the answer choices. For Exam S, you are less likely to detect your mistakes, but you still can. You should remind yourself something is not right when your answer is greater than one interval away from the smallest or largest answer choice.

Reading Period

Preliminary: Yes. Self-paced. Designed to read and acknowledge rules and instructions. No exam questions are on the screen. You are allowed to use your calculators and write on paper.

Exam S: Yes. 15 minutes. You are allowed to read acknowledge terms and to check the entire exam booklet. You are not allowed to touch your calculators or pencils.

What it means:

You lose the opportunity to recall important formulas and write them down on scratch paper as you could in the preliminary exams, but you are allowed to walk through all exam questions to get an idea of topics’ difficulty and plan your personal strategy.

Pivot Questions

Preliminary: Maybe

Exam S: No

What it means: You might have heard students discussing how a question is ambiguous and that they hope that that it ends up being a pivot question that does count towards a final score. It is more possible that you found a flawed question; but since you are unable to request an explanation from exam center, and the CAS is the sole force to decide whether they would count that question, void it, or accept multiple answer choices afterwards, do your best to interpret all questions.

Exam Questions’ Order

Preliminary: Questions from the whole syllabus appear randomly.

Exam S: Questions are in order according to the syllabus.

What it means: You are allowed to tackle similar questions at one time in Exam S. In my opinion, the random order of topics in the preliminary exams’ is more challenging.

Exam Result Reporting

Preliminary: 0-10. A 6 stands for 100-110% of a passing score; a 0 stands for 50% or less, while a 10 stands for achieving 140%+ of passing score.

Exam S: You will still receive a 0-5 score if you fail; you will not receive a numerical score if you pass.

What it means: The CAS website provides a detailed explanation on why it won’t provide a grade when you pass: http://www.casact.org/help/index.cfm?fa=Webfaq2

(Under “Why doesn’t the CAS provide a grade when you pass?”) I think the explanation is comprehensive. You may still calculate your own score by obtaining your scrap paper and exam booklet and comparing your results with official answers.

Obtaining Scrap Paper and Exam Booklet

Preliminary: Not allowed.

Exam S: Allowed. Prepare a self-addressed envelope stamped to your exam center. It will mail to you in around a week. The CAS recommends $2.87+ postage; I recommend $3.22+ for 2lbs media mail.

More details here (Under “Conduct of Examinations”):


What it means: Why not? If you are interested in finding out your results sooner than eight weeks, receiving your booklet and scrap paper allows you to compare your result with the official results. These materials are also precious to “my road to FCAS” memory, aren’t they?