Preparing Like an Athlete

Written by Anthony Reinhard: oac prelims SO 8

Passing an actuarial exam can seem like an exhausting task, especially at the very beginning. It helped me to compare exam preparation to something that I already had experience in: athletics. I’ve been running track for the last nine years and our biggest competition is always the last one. It is crucial that your body and mind are both at peak performance level for the big day. As an athlete or exam candidate, the best way to reach your optimum performance level is focused, regimented preparation in every area that you will be challenged.

Athletes go to practice every day. Exam candidates should do the same. Make time in your routine to study every day at the same place and time for a few hours. In my experience, scheduling your day around your study sessions is far more effective than scheduling studying around your day. I’m not saying that you can’t be flexible with your study time, but flexibility can ruin your routine. If it rains and a baseball team is unable to practice, they go indoors and practice what they can. Similarly, if you’re pressed for time or energy over the course of the day, studying for your exam may be difficult. However, if you let yourself take a day off today, it will be even easier to take a day off the next time that studying is inconvenient. Maintain your rhythm and practice what you can. Don’t let yourself get off track, even if you promise to do twice the work tomorrow. Those promises are difficult to keep with this level of material.

In actuarial exams and athletics you spend many more hours in preparation than in competition. While the quantity of practice hours is indisputably important, I have found that the quality of each practice hour is more significant. That being said, you should consciously prepare yourself to study each day. When it is time to begin your practice session you should be rested, nourished, and wholly focused on the task at hand. I do not recommend bringing anything to your study session that an athlete would not bring to practice (i.e. phone, music, TV, friends, other work, food, etc.). Separating yourself from anything that could serve as a distraction is the best way to simulate the actual exam environment.

Once you’ve created the perfect atmosphere for practice, practice like an athlete. Athletes in every sport are challenged to use their skills creatively on a regular basis, depending on their opposition. As an exam candidate, your opposition takes the form of practice problems. Before my first exam, a lot of people told me the best thing I could do is to practice as many problem types as I can. This is definitely the best advice I received, but it isn’t always easy to follow through with. The general tendency of exam candidates and athletes is to play to our strengths and avoid unfamiliar challenges. If I’m a basketball player and I don’t dribble well with my left hand and a defender forces me to dribble with that hand, I’m going to struggle to score a basket. An FM/2 candidate that doesn’t understand the Put-Call Parity or a P/1 candidate that doesn’t know the Covariance Formula will be disadvantaged in the same way. To be a complete exam candidate/athlete, you have to be well rounded. This means spending extra time so that you’ve built up your skill set in every possible area.

Athletes require coaching. Some may argue that an exam candidate does not, but no one has ever passed an actuarial exam without first taking a class or reading a manual. Most candidates have several coaches that can include professors, textbooks, peers, and obviously Coaching Actuaries. Sometimes as an athlete you like to think you know more than your coach or you have a better understanding of what you need than he/she does. By and large, I have found this to be untrue. Your coach has probably been in your shoes before and is offering their help to make you better. Your coaches for exams are the same, you may question their methods or processes at times, but you should trust that they know how to prepare you.