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Grading-Examination Grading Process

Multiple-choice exams that are administered via computer-based testing (CBT) are graded using an Item Response Theory procedure. Multiple-choice questions offered via paper/pencil are scored by optical-scanning equipment. As a check, several papers for each paper/pencil examination are scored by hand. Only the answer sheet determines the score. No credit, partial or full, is given for anything written in the multiple-choice examination book, except as indicated in the next paragraph and as described in the Lost Examinations section.

A multiple–choice question found to be defective may be discarded, leaving scores and rankings as they would have been if the defective question had not been asked. In this situation, the individual examination chairperson may examine the examination books of candidates with the highest failing scores to see if credit should be granted for work on the defective question. See the Defective Questions page for more information. For all multiple–choice examinations, no guessing adjustment is made to candidates' scores. Therefore, candidates will maximize their scores by answering every question, even if some of those answers are pure guesses. When there is no guessing adjustment, there is never an advantage to be gained by omitting a question.

Written-answer questions are graded by SOA member committees. Every effort is made to grade the answers according to completely objective standards. The anonymity of the candidates is fully preserved; committee members see only a candidate number when grading a written–answer examination.

The exam papers are separated by question and sent to the graders for evaluation. Depending on the questions, the number of papers and the number of graders, some graders may grade more than one question and some questions may be distributed to two or more graders. Graders use a guide that was drafted by the examination committee, which differs from a model solution as it provides graders with specific direction in how to allocate points, indicates cases where not every item on a list or every discussion point is needed to get full credit and shows alternative answers that may receive credit. Note that the SOA does not release the grading guide or how any individual paper was scored. 

Prior to grading a preliminary pass mark is set. Papers that score well above this mark receive no further grading and have passed the exam. Papers that score well below this mark also receive no further grading but have failed. The remaining, typically one-third to one-half of the papers, will be re-graded independently by a different grader. If there is a discrepancy in the scores, the graders have a face-to-face discussion to resolve any differences. Once this step is completed the scores are considered final and all that remains is the setting of the pass mark.

For more information please see the Guide to SOA Written Exams.

Papers are retained for six months in case questions or problems arise that would warrant special action. After this, the papers are destroyed.