Written by Chloe Hung:
Are you someone who loves taking exams? As an actuarial student, that is what you will be doing in the first few years of the journey. You have to take and pass the first five preliminary tests to become an actuary.
And these five tests require a lot of self-discipline and determination.
I believe that determination and persistence are the key factors in helping someone to become a successful actuary. I never understood the importance of these until I experienced it myself. I started taking my first actuarial exam, FM/2, in 2010. Back then I believed that doing as many exam problems as possible would help me pass. I spent a large amount of time studying. I completed the whole ASM and Actex manual and felt like I was ready to pass!
Unfortunately, I failed the exam in my first sitting.
I was devastated. I kept asking why and how is this possible? I was angry and sad at the same time, as it was actually the first time I’d ever failed an exam. Everyone thought that I would pass since I studied so hard. It was a really tough time for me as I felt down and depressed. However, I realized that wallowing in your own self-despair isn’t going to get you anywhere. I had to move on and learn from the mistake.
I learned that doing as many questions as you can before the exam is not really an effective way to pass. I then decided to focus instead on the chapters that I was not very strong at. I had skipped through a few of the chapters that were deemed not so important for the exam previously.
So, I registered and sat for the exam again for the second time. And guess what? I failed again. I was shocked. I didn’t understand what went wrong. I studied much harder than most students in my first sitting, finished all the questions in the ASM and Actex manual, followed a strict study schedule and even focused on the chapters that I was weak at previously. And I still failed!
I was obviously sad, but it also made me even more determined to pass this exam. I was determined to not let failure stop me. I registered for the exam again the day after I received my result and started analyzing what went wrong with the previous exam.
I then realized that my basic foundation for the exam was actually not very strong. We all know something cannot be built based on a weak foundation. I had to change my studying habits. I spent time trying to understand the concepts that were being explained in the study manual. I learned to ask “why” instead of just accepting the answers given and memorizing formulas blindly. This change in my strategy helped me to pass the exam on my third attempt and I was really relieved.
I applied the same strategy when I was sitting for P/1 and it worked. I passed P/1 on my second sitting as I was unprepared for the exam when I first sat for it. This was also another lesson that I learned. We must always plan our time wisely and we cannot expect to pass an actuarial exam with only a few weeks left to study. I tried doing this for P/1 in my first sitting and it was definitely a bad move.
Based on my own experience, I would say that being a successful actuary requires a lot of determination and persistence. Hard work is definitely needed, but careful planning is equally as important.
I had never understood what it really meant to “study smart” until I sat for the actuarial exams. Studying hard does not guarantee a pass in the exams, but studying smart will. Actuarial students shouldn’t be afraid of taking exams because actuaries are trained to always treat risk as an opportunity.
Failing an exam provides students with an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and change their studying habits. It trains us to analyze our mistakes and to come up with solutions for these mistakes. I believe that this is a really important quality that good actuaries should have.
In a nutshell, the strategies to passing actuarial exams are:
- Studying smart not hard
- Analyzing problems and asking questions
- Planning your time wisely and carefully
- Being persistent, determined and disciplined
- Never giving up