Exam myth busting – let’s set the record straight

Rob Thomason

Hello everyone,

Exams have now concluded for another semester and I hope you can enjoy some rest and relaxation in this down time. It’s a waiting game now until results are released and I wish you all the best for when you receive your results on Friday 8 June.

I’m always interested to hear directly from our members, and I follow our social media pages with interest. I read a post recently that suggested to me that there are lot of urban myths and mistruths circulating about our exam marking processes – and I’d like to set the record straight.

We do not fail a set percentage of candidates every semester

The simple truth is this: If you meet or exceed the passing scaled score, you pass. And if each and every candidate met the passing score, then we’d pass everyone.

If our failure rates seem to be at a consistent percentage each semester, it’s purely that a similar number of members have not met the passing score.

We make no apologies for demanding a high standard from our Associate members. Becoming a CPA is a mark of your professional expertise and so we do expect you to demonstrate a high competency in your exam.

We don’t set the pass mark – members do

Pass marks are set by members. When a subject or exam goes through a significant change or update we assemble a specialist panel of CPAs for each subject – and it is this panel who set the pass mark.

It is the responsibility of the panel to understand the subject content, exam questions and the minimum acceptable competency in the subject, to determine a reasonable passing scaled score for that subject. I often hear feedback that this results in “existing members making it harder for new members to pass” and this just isn’t the case. The process ensures that the quality standards are upheld and that a CPA today exemplifies the same standards as a CPA who graduated previously.

Exams are stringently marked by CPAs and industry specialists

Marking exams is something we take very seriously.

Multiple-choice questions are machine marked, as you’d expect with two independent system comparison checks and human intervention where necessary. And if your exam includes extended response questions, then these are marked by an experienced panel of more than 300 CPAs and industry professionals.

Markers are selected based upon their specialist knowledge and prior marking performance with CPA Australia. We provide further in-depth training and all markers are required to successfully qualify for each question prior to the marking to ensure they understand what is expected in a response to that question – and how to allocate marks accordingly.

Each of your extended responses will be marked by an appropriate expert, and based on predetermined criteria and responses to quality control questions seeded into the marking pool, questions are marked again by a second marker. Then if these scores are different, they are marked by a third marker who is in a supervisory role. This means that each question on the exam may be marked up to three times to ensure that the marking has been applied fairly and consistently.

All exams are de-identified and are marked in a secure centre. We have sophisticated systems and quality assurance checks in place at each level of management to monitor the marking process to ensure it is consistent and fair and that the result you receive is an accurate representation of your performance in the exam.

Demystifying the process for special consideration

There’s lots of information on our website about special consideration, but I often hear feedback that members don’t know how to apply and aren’t sure of the process that takes place once you’ve applied. The key facts for you to know about special consideration are:

  1. You must have a valid reason, which are set out on our website.
  2. Your exam scaled score must fall within a pre-determined range which is an extremely narrow band below the passing score. If your scaled score fell well below the passing scaled score, it’s unlikely that you’d be considered for special consideration.
  3. If you have a valid reason and your score falls within the range, then your application is put before our Special Consideration committee. The committee comprises equal numbers of CPAs and CPA Australia senior education staff, all lead by an external chairperson who has the casting vote. All members of the committee are of senior rank and have deep expertise in the field of education. The committee will review the circumstances of each case using the application form and supporting documentation provided, and will also consider any relevant precedence to decide whether the candidate would have passed the exam if not for the extenuating circumstances. If the panel determine that yes, the candidate would have passed, then the result is adjusted to a pass. If not, the result will remain a fail.

Special consideration outcomes are confidential to avoid any chance of a candidate being discriminated by a current or future employer on these grounds. So, you won’t know whether special consideration was granted, nor are details of the committee’s deliberation on your case made available to you.

Know the facts, and share them with others

I discourage you from spreading myths any further – and if you see that your fellow members are misinformed, then please do set them straight.

We are here to support you and we believe that with the right focus and commitment to study, everyone has the ability to succeed in the CPA Program.

I wish you well for your exam results ahead and, as always, I welcome your feedback to egm.education@cpaaustralia.com.au.

Rob Thomason
Group Executive, Member Engagement and Education