Tuesday, September 11, 2007

April Exam: Harder Than October?

Over the years, stories about the Customs Broker Exam have circulated within the international trade community to the point that people cannot tell whether the stories are fact or fiction. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to verify the validity of these stories. We thought it would be nice to share a common exam rumor that we have heard over the years and provide some useful statistics that may help clarify this story. We'll start with a comment that was posted to this blog in August.

Comment: The October exam is always easier than the April exam.

If the October exam were always easier than the April exam, no one would take the April exam. Let's take a look at some statistics based on previous exams. We've posted the exam pass rates on two different charts below. Chart 1 shows the pass rates for each exam for the last 20 years, starting in 1987. In 20 years, there were 12 years in which the October exam had a higher pass rate than the April exam. This equates to a pass rate being higher on the October exam 60% of the time. Chart 2 shows the pass rates for the last five years. In five years, there were three years where the October exam pass rate was higher than the April exam. Again, we have a higher pass rate on the October exam 60% of the time. A percentage of 60% is not significant enough to substantiate a claim that the October exam is always easier than the April exam. One could also state that the October exam is more difficult than the April exam 40% of the time.

Pass Rate Data: Chart 1
Pass Rate Data: Chart 2

But that doesn't tell the whole story. If you look at the average pass rate over that span, you'll find the following statistics:

April: Average pass rate - 22.7%

October: Average pass rate - 25.75%

Thus, we can see that over the past 20 years, the variance between April and October's average pass rates is just 3% - a negligible variance.

Another important consideration is the ever-changing structure of the test. When evaluating the difficulty of a test and comparing the pass rates, it is important to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Changes made in the structure of the exam may account for changes in the degree of difficulty and therefore affect the pass the rate.

Let's take a look at some historical information about how the structure of the exam has changed over the years:

April 1987 - April 1997 Changes
100 Multiple Choice Questions
4.5 Hours
References: HTSUS and Customs Regulations

October 1997 Changes
85 Multiple Choice Questions

April 1998 Changes
80 Multiple Choice Questions
4 Hours

April 2005 Changes

References: HTSUS, Customs Regulations, CATAIR and Directives
Exam Questions Arranged by Subject

April 2006 Changes

References: Other documents added

As you can see from this list, the number of questions, structure, references and time allowed have all changed in the last 20 years. While the multiple-choice format has stayed the same, the references allowed and number of questions have changed significantly. All of these changes could potentially affect the pass rate. Thus, comparing the results of an exam given in 1987 to the pass rate of an exam given in 2006 might not provide the most accurate conclusions.

So, with that in mind, let's look at the average pass rates since April 1998 - the last major structural change to the exam.

April: Average pass rate - 19.0%

October: Average pass rate - 19.9%

So, when examining the statistics, we can see that the facts do not substantiate the claim that the April exam is always more difficult. In fact, when taken over the last 9 years, the average pass rates between the two months is almost identical.

Have you heard a good story about the Customs Broker Exam? We invite you to share some of the stories you've heard and comment on others that have been posted.

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