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Paying it forward – with the IFoA exams team

Tanwi KulkarniAfter passing her last written exam Canadian based IFoA Fellow Tanwi Kulkarni started missing the feeling of being in touch with her books and learning resources.

In this blog, Tanwi reflects on why she decided to experience the other side of the table and volunteer to take on both Guinea Pig 1 and Marker roles. 

Why did I get involved?

I started volunteering with IFoA in September 2018 after passing my last Fellowship Exam. Alongside being an actuary, I love the field of teaching and have always wanted to contribute to this field. What better way could there be than to volunteer with the exams team, while working in a full-time role!

Each result day was an anxious wait for me, and the sheer joy of passing another exam translated into increased momentum to continue the journey ahead. I plunged myself voraciously into preparing for the next milestone. After my last written exam, ironically, I started missing the feeling of being in touch with my books and learning resources. So, I decided to experience the other side of the table and was thrilled to take up both GP1 and Marker (formerly known as Assistant Examiner) roles.  I renewed my connection with exams.

Another motivating factor was that as a student, I did not always spend enough time to build a deep level understanding of various topics. Both experiences gave me a second shot at achieving this, with the added dimension of my practical experience.

My journey as Guinea Pig 1

I had just tasted the success of passing my last exam in the summer of 2018, when I was offered the role of Guinea Pig 1 for subject CM1. I grabbed it with both hands and began my journey of evaluating the draft exam papers, as I was always drawn towards financial and life insurance mathematics. As a qualified actuary, I can affirm the widespread application of these fundamental modules in the workplace.

The objective was to assess the exam questions in terms of difficulty level, wording etc. We had to prepare ourselves by going through the core reading and then attempt the exam paper under strict conditions as a student. Sifting through the material was quite exciting as I was happy to be one of the first ones to see it. I quietly smiled at myself, remembering my university days 10 years ago.

The most challenging part was maintaining “exam conditions” in all honesty, in the comfort of my home, with easy access to the answers. I stuck to my golden rule of spending 1.8 minutes per mark, which had proven successful for me in the past. If I could not finish attempting a question (a common phenomenon nowadays!), I made sure to fully explain the reasons. I dug through my memory to recollect the times when I was truly well prepared and tried to put together detailed feedback. This experience was surely a test of my mental tenacity after being out of touch with written exams. Some of my accumulated practical experience was helpful to fill the gaps.

The fact that I had worked in India during my student days enabled me to provide fairly accurate feedback on the ability of non – UK based students at answering the questions. I was truly happy to see the value of my analysis in the final decisions made for upcoming sessions.


As a Marker (formerly known as Assistant Examiner), I was originally part of the team of CS1 markers. I thoroughly enjoyed brushing up on my probability and statistical calculation skills in the marking process. The appreciation from senior examiners fueled me with the determination to make a bigger contribution to this process. I was very grateful that my request to mark the SP series was accepted and I started marking the Finance & Investment and Life Insurance modules. It gave me great satisfaction to refresh my memory of two of my favourite modules coupled with a much broader outlook.

I learnt a lot from the students who put their perspectives on paper.  It put my understanding and judgement to test. I am particularly thankful to the time and effort of the senior examiners to analyze each question in detail over the 3 hour marking meetings. These sessions provided me with a lot of clarity while awarding the correct number of marks.

It was an enlightening experience to see the entire exam marking process in detail. As a student, I would often get impatient about results. I particularly liked the fact that I was given the opportunity to first mark practice scripts before moving on to live marking, which gave me confidence in my decisions. The fate of students who had spent months or years studying for these exams depended on my accuracy, which gave me an added sense of responsibility.

Being on the marking team helped me appreciate the rigour that examiners go through to deliver the results! I was subjected to strict deadlines and had to multi – task efficiently to meet them. This made me much more empathetic and appreciative of the role played by volunteer examiners, working tirelessly to give students their verdict. I am also thankful to my employer who provided me with volunteering time off to focus entirely on this crucial task. On results day, I was quietly content, knowing that I had contributed to the happiness of students that had passed and offered some indirect constructive feedback to the not so lucky ones. But hey – I have had my fair share of success and disappointment too, so my sole aim is to be a fair marker.

The journey continues

I am happy to have been instrumental in helping others take another step in the direction of qualifying as an Actuary. As cliched as it may sound, volunteering does give us an inner satisfaction of making an impact, equivalent to giving back to society. I have always admired the variety of work done by volunteers beyond their daily call of duty. I hope to continue doing my bit to support the profession and would encourage everyone to do the same. It does not matter what role you play, as long as you are involved in some way.

Get involved

Find out how you can get involved – view both the Educational opportunities paid roles and view the current volunteer opportunities to find a role that fits with your professional interests.

If you would like to be notified when a particular opportunity arises, or you would like to get involved but are not sure how to take the first step, please contact us, we are here to help.  Contact Debbie Atkins, Head of Engagement.