The Secret to Successful Exam Preparation

Written by Alex DiVerde: 403558_2842779168588_826946626_n

One of the hardest things about studying to become an actuary is finding time to study for the exams. Depending on the school that you go to, much of the material on the exams you are taught in classes. Others, like myself, may be responsible for learning the material on their own. No matter what program you are part of; you will have to make time to study for your exams on your own. If it were easy enough that we did not have to, well, being an actuary would not be the number 1 rated job for the last five years.

It is daunting the first time you look at a manual, and all you see is 600-1500 pages of words, numbers, and symbols. I remember times that I sat down, looked at my manual, and thought there is no way that I will understand any of this. It takes time to get past that point, but through perseverance, you will conquer the exams.

My first suggestion is to spend the least amount of time flipping through whatever study materials you have as a whole. Flipping through the MLC manual to see the topics covered leaves you with a feeling of confusion and numbness in the brain. Any subject at this point in our academic careers is complex enough to discourage any student.

There is a secret to being successful in your study habits. I will preface this statement with a disclaimer that by no means do I have all the answers. I struggle just as much as any other student, and there are many times in which I wanted say, “To heck with it, I want another major”. The secret to passing your actuarial exams is not your intelligence. You have to understand the concepts, but smarts do not make you successful. The secret is perseverance. Don’t shake your head and discount my advice, regardless of how many times you have heard this. Perseverance is what separates successful students from those who try, get discouraged, and fail. Plenty of my friends who are much smarter than I and start studying at the same time stumble and give up along the way. I could bore you with another tortoise and the hare reference, but I don’t want to waste your time.

The first step towards setting yourself up for success is to HAVE A PLAN. This is one of the hardest things for me to do because creating a plan makes the task look more daunting. However, the more I get in the habit of setting up a study schedule, the easier it is to study. Some people need a strict day-by-day schedule. Others need only a couple checkpoints. Everyone is different, but this is what I recommend for a starting point. First, map out your start date and when you take your exam. DO NOT take the 300 hours of recommended study time for each exam and divide that by the number of days. That type of study plan is unrealistic, and is a plan destined for failure. The next step is to set a date 7, 15, 30, or 60 days out where you want to complete whatever materials you are studying. From this date, you need to transition into taking practice exams. You need to spend the last part of your studying taking as many practice exams as you can handle. That is what is going to prepare you to pass the exam.

Once you have that date picked out, start to split up your study materials into four or five chunks. Distribute these among the remaining days. This is the basic framework for successful exam preparation that I would suggest for everyone. Anything beyond here is up to your own style. Some do like the section-by-section breakdown, others can’t stand it. Everyone needs checkpoints along the way, but some need more structure. Now that you have the framework, you need to write a huge disclaimer on the schedule that it is just a goal. The kryptonite of those who are unsuccessful is the realization they are behind on studying which turns what is bad into much worse. The dates you decide are not set in stone, and are only meant to give you a framework so that you know where you are.

Perseverance is what allows you to stick to a study schedule and prepare successfully for an exam. The tunnel is long and dark at times, but you don’t ever want to stop pushing forward or else you will be stuck in the dark. Buckle down, study hard, and give yourself a break once in a while. With a little grit and consistency, you will succeed.