A Change In Prospective; A Change in Perspective

Written by Devin Swincher:me

Hello fellow prospective and current actuaries, I’d like to share my story. It started almost a year and a half ago, the summer between my junior and my senior year. I was looking into what I should do with my Mathematics major. I came across the job title “Actuary”. Like most people, I had never even heard of an actuary. I did a little research and the salary initially motivated me along with the high accolades that many job ranking sites gave this profession. 

As everyone who wants to become an actuary finds out, there are several tests that one must take if they want to pursue an actuarial position. “I’m good at tests and especially math tests”, I thought. This was on June 19th 2012 and the test that I would sign up for would be in late September 2012. I had thought that, being the mathematical savant I consider myself to be, that 3 months was plenty of time to learn the material and pass the test. (Note: it would have been if I had spent my time more wisely, but more on that in a minute).

Fast forward to about the beginning of September, and I had only studied for P/1 for about 80 hours. I had no prior learning of Probability and Statistics, so this amount I studied for was underwhelming. As I usually did with math tests, I crammed for this test with absolute certainty that it would pan out. “I mean, at the very least I’ll get a 6 and it’s on to FM.”

The end of September came and here was the test. The test ate me alive. I guessed on 14 questions and felt that the 3 hours allowed was not enough time, at all! “How could I ever become an actuary?” So, I did the one thing with my pride being damaged… I gave up. And I switched my focus to being a teacher. This is the end of the story, right? After all, I studied for about 120 hours total for this test (far more than any test I had ever studied for). 

Back in September 2013, having given up my actuarial dream, I started teaching high school. All the respect in the world to teachers, because I couldn’t do this job. There is a lot more to it than teaching, and I will leave it at that. After 3 months, I quit my job with no alternative in sight. “Could I try being an actuary again?”

Starting November 20th 2013, I registered for my P/1 exam for January 13th 2014 and I began studying for this exam again. In fact, one could say that failure motivated me to over-study. I used SOA 153; YouTube videos; Actuarial Outpost Forums. You name it, I used it. Given that I had studied so much before (at least I thought), the one thing that I felt I lacked was confidence coming into this exam. I realized that I didn’t need to learn the material as much as I needed to just work problems. I probably worked 300 problems last time I took the test, this time I took 33 tests on Adapt alone. So, I probably worked 1500 distinct problems. 

I just recently took the test and I passed. Moreover, I made my first pass through the test in just an hour and a half. Taking exams at my current earned level on Adapt made the actual test very underwhelming. Having failed the first time, it made me appreciate it even more. I reflected on all the hard work they put in, and it was such a satisfying feeling for it to all pay off.

The last thing I want to say is that I don’t want this post to be all about me. I want there to be a moral to this story, and I believe it is this: While you don’t necessarily need to put in 500+ hours (sometimes 14 hours a day), nor get an earned level of 10 to pass, what you do need to do is put in the time that this test demands and not take it lightly. After all, only an average of 38% pass this exam for a reason. Your studies may take a little bit away from your social life, but it is more than worth it when you see “Congratulations.” It’s a great feeling. I hope that my testament makes you appreciate the first time you pass, because you could get a lowly 2 as I did, no matter how smart you are. It’s a difficult test, but putting in the work makes P/1 more than passable.

Good luck fellow prospective actuaries.