The Nine Months MLC War

Written by Songtao Wan: “Veni, vidi, vici”  By Julius Caesarmy photo (1)


Three seasons ago, on the first day when six Hawkeyes (University of Iowa students) sat in the classroom of Life Contingency, they were told by Professor Shymalkumar, “MLC is going to be a hard exam, I hope you can pass the first time, good luck.” We all knew what good luck meant if it was told by Prof. Shymalkumar.


Summer of 2013 was no different from any summer before. Some of us got  internships across the nation, some studied to pass MFE in the summer, and I personally just enjoyed my summer and did nothing, which caused me a high mortality rate at the beginning of this three-month long journey.


The famous Russian writer Gorky wrote in The Song of the Stormy Petrel, “Let the tempest come strike harder!” And that was our rhythm. We had our textbooks to read and some of us purchased the ASM Manual. Both of these were  brick-like books and we had mid-terms by Prof. Shiu every two weeks. It was an actuarial war, in the jungle of Cashflows and Mortality tables. A group of tough boys encouraged each other, supported each other, and inspired each other to hold on. I cannot remember exactly how many nights I was on the edge of giving up, but my buddies pulled me back even through tricky questions like hard premium calculations and complicated terms as gain by source. It was a war that forged our brotherhood, a band of brothers. A war meant sacrifice. We spent hundreds of hours in the library and study rooms, reading, learning, debating and calculating. We left our comfortable weekend bar lives behind and left our dear friends and ladies alone. Greatness needs to be achieved by sacrifice, we wrote on the blackboard one night. A war needs weapons: manuals and books were our armors, pencils were our swords and calculators were our impenetrable shields. But all these weapons cannot make the difference between a group of peasants and a team of champions, between some normal people and some ace-actuaries. Two more things we needed: tactics and training. For our tactics, most of us eager to go into the industry and be top actuaries, we decided to make our preliminary exams serve our careers better. In our study group, when we were fried by the calculations and analysis, we stopped to share stories and knowledge from our internships. My friend Greg might point out how important the reserve and benefit calculations would be based on his experience in the reinsurance area. Jacob would tell us it’s critical to understand universal life with asset share – not only for solving potentially hard questions, but because it’s involved in a lot of legal issues. I found the cost of insurance to be very interesting when I studied the research on selected term product mortality hosted by the SOA and RGA. After that, we did some reading on the topics we felt were interesting. That inspired us to learn more and study the material harder since we realized how important and how close the material is tied to the industry. With suitable tactics and the arrival of the month prior to the exam, we realized to be a good actuarial warrior, we need good basic and extend training, that is, as we chose, to use Adapt from Coaching Actuaries. A mock exam for us is as useful as boot camp for the Marines. With a one-month package, we received a fair amount of training, become faster at answering questions, more accurate, more thoughtful, more creative and more deadly to poor Life Contingency questions. We made Adapt into a competition by betting on who could achieve the highest difficulty level at the end of our studies. Jacob won the competition with his hard work by achieving an earned level of 8.5. Well equipped, well planned and well trained, we marched to the battlefield on November 5th, 2013.  It will be a day that shall never be forgotten by my friends and me.


I have to tell you, I am a poor play writer. This end came so natural and so swift, with no tragic or dramatic element. We sat in the exam room at the University of Iowa, all smiles the first minute we opened the exam. Like an unbreakable line of ancient Rome Legion, we well- formed our lines and attacked each question in our own ways from what we learned through our training with Coaching Actuaries. Before we realized it, the three hours and fifteen minutes of the so-called hardest, most important preliminary exam was behind us and we had triumphed.

Special Thanks to:

All my friends, Prof. Shiu, Prof. Shymalkumar, All the Coaches at Coaching Actuaries

And All the Actuaries before us