Written by Stephen Kane:
It would be great if a teacher could read the mind of a student and pinpoint exactly where their thinking went awry and it would be even better if we had computer software that could do that. Unfortunately, there is no such thing and the best teacher we have is within ourselves. I will aim to help the struggling student with this article. You may be wondering about what gives me credibility on this subject. Well, very recently I was a struggling student but after having a “click” moment and putting in some hard work, I flew by exams MFE and C and it is safe to say I’m no longer struggling.
First of all, let’s try to reach into the essence of what the preliminary exams ask of us and attempt to identify exactly what the exam creators want a successful candidate to be good at. The key component to each preliminary exam, the thing that they all have in common at their core, is logic and argumentation. We are expected to be detectives. We find greater truths from lesser ones and if along the way we never admit a falsehood to be true then we will either stop short of a conclusion or we will reach precisely the answer the exam creators wanted us to find! By studying we learn how to argue and connect the facts together, we prove our ability to do this by passing the preliminary exams, and then we learn how to apply our abilities to the real world where such thinking is a valuable asset.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way let’s discuss how the willful but inexperienced and perhaps unguided student can go about learning how to succeed with these exams. I’ll assume that you already know that buying an ASM manual and subscribing to Adapt is a good recipe for success but you might not really know how you’re supposed to use them. Maybe you know that you should read the manual and reach an earned level of 6 or 7 over about 300 hours of study but some students do these things and still fail, hence the low pass rate for each exam. What does this mean for them? A student in this position may feel like they might not have what it takes, like they just aren’t smart enough. Chances are they’re practicing a lot but not practicing properly.
I’ll first discuss something that’s very easy to fix but may be hindering many students who are unaware of their problem: Learn how to handle cumbersome calculations by using the storage function on your multi-view (or BA-2 Plus if you’re a masochist). You will find that what was once a complete mess on your paper is now just a tidy collection of workings. If you ever feel a ping of stress while you’re doing a question because of how big and messy the calculation is, it means you’re not doing this properly.
Now I’d like to talk about how you’re supposed to be using the abundance of examples that are available. For each example that you study you want to figure out why the solution is the way it is. You want to see why the theory makes the solution to each particular question an inevitable consequence of its premises.
Thinking about skipping over that topic that you have trouble with, crossing your fingers, and hoping it doesn’t show up on the exam? Don’t do it. Having to guess on what’s considered a medium difficulty question because you didn’t take the time to learn the topic is inexcusable. When you’re forced to drop a point on your exam you want to do it on only the most challenging of problems.
Few people are gifted enough to read over the general theory and immediately be able to solve every level 9-10 problem in Adapt and there is no shame in needing to study for the full 300 or maybe even 400 or more hours before you feel like you’ve mastered the material. If you’ve scheduled properly then after acquisition of what you deem to be mastery of the material you will write your exam and if you get humbled then be happy if you pass and improve your technique for the next exam. Once your study technique is strong then passing an exam becomes a matter of putting in the time.