A rigorous approach to the CA examinations process ensures that the qualification remains held in high regard
There’s a reason the chartered accounting (CA(SA)) qualification is both coveted and esteemed: it’s hard earned. The work that goes into obtaining this qualification is often gruelling – but that’s precisely what ensures that the competencies (knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and behaviours) developed during the qualification process are of an exceptionally high calibre.
This process comprises education (academic qualifications), practical experience (formal training contract and learnership period) and professional assessments components. And it’s the professional assessments completed by candidates – both the Initial Test of Competence (ITC) and Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) – that serve as the profession’s guarantee that its high standards are being upheld.
Mandi Olivier, Senior Executive: Professional Development Pre-qualification, explains that to make sure this is indeed the case, rigorous and robust processes are in place around both the setting and marking of these exams. Two independent committees (the ITC Examco and the APC Examco) are called upon to set the exams, and there are numerous quality controls throughout the process, she says. In this article, we look at the process that is followed for the APC.
The APC Examco is made up of people from the profession, including ex-academics, who have the relevant experience and competence in the technical areas being assessed as well as in examination-setting. The APC case study is set by a sub-group within the APC Examco, all of whom have key and relevant technical expertise, as well as exam-setting experience.
As part of the exam-setting process, the APC Examco meets to review and refine the questions relevant to them, a process that takes place iteratively over a number of months. Once the questions have been approved, the final paper undergoes a review by a group of independent professionals and academics, each paying careful attention to their discipline area (in the case of APC, the case study as a whole). Next, the exam is written, under exam conditions, by people who wrote and passed the APC the previous year. All reviewers are required to give detailed feedback, which is incorporated into the question papers before they are sent to be printed after a final read through.
If setting the APC is thorough, marking is equally comprehensive. ‘The process is extremely robust,’ Olivier comments.
Because the exam is based on a case study comprising various tasks, candidates receive an indicator of competence for each task rather than a mark.
Before marking gets underway, all professional programme providers and training officers are given an opportunity to comment on the exam papers and suggested solutions. Next, teams are appointed, which are managed by an overall umpire who will manage the marking process, reporting to the APC Examco and Initial Professional Development (IPD) Committee. Usually four team leaders and up to two assistant team leaders are appointed per team. Teams are divided into the core disciplines, with markers allocated to teams based on their specific area of expertise.
‘We ask each team to mark around 25 scripts against benchmarked scripts (which have already been marked by the senior mark team). This helps markers understand how “Competent” is defined in each task and how they should evaluate each candidate’s answer,’ says SAICA Project Director Janine Claassens.
‘For each case study, depending on the nature and difficulty of the task, candidates must achieve a minimum combination of outcomes per task before they are assessed as “Competent” overall. This benchmarking of the 25 scripts is conducted by 13 people, and the process is revisited by the APC Examco at each major step before marking continues,’ Claassens informs.
Once the marking process commences, every script is marked twice independently by a team of markers who have been put together in a way that ensures that teams are diverse in a number of different ways. Olivier explains that this is called ‘double-blind marking’ as neither marker sees the results of the other until each has finished their marking of that script. Any differences are reconciled only once they have each completed marking their batch of scripts.
Mark teams are also selected to ensure a diverse group of markers is appointed.
What it all means
There is no doubt that SAICA’s qualification is a world-class one, Olivier avers. ‘Our association is recognised by 14 different professional bodies from around the world. To achieve this recognition, all aspects of the SAICA qualification process regularly undergo a review,’ she points out. This international benchmarking aside, SAICA regularly reviews all exam-related processes with the exam teams, specifically identifying areas for improvement after every exam sitting. ‘We are always looking for ways to improve on what we do. The adoption of our electronic marking tool is a case in point; next, we are investigating the implementation of remote proctoring (invigilation) tools,’ Olivier says.
Zuleka Jasper, a member of the APC Examco, agrees that SAICA’s qualifications match the best in the world. ‘Proof lies in the high regard with which the CA(SA) is held, both in South Africa and abroad. There are a number of international bodies that have arrangements recognising SAICA’s CA(SA) qualification.’
Ultimately, Jasper concludes, the process stands out for its integrity, ensured through a variety of reviews; and the skill, passion, experience and expertise of all people involved. SAICA is constantly working to improve all aspects of the qualification process, and the end result is an outstanding qualification.