A Skeleton for P, FM, and MFE

Written by Tyler Heasley: Tyler Heasley

If I had to pinpoint a few things that have brought me to my actuarial career, these easily take the cake:

  1. Networking
  2. Communication skills
  3. Effective studying

If you’re currently looking for employment, do yourself an enormous favor and pick up Knock ’em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide by Martin Yate. I attribute a good deal of my current success to (1) networking and (2) the communication skills I learned in that book—particularly with regards to resumes, cover letters, and job interview questions—as well as from personal experience.

For (3), I have a few thoughts. What follows pertains to exams P, FM, and MFE, since these are the exams I passed and for which I learned what a pass requires.

  1. Create a study schedule. Take into account the number of pages and practice problems per chapter as well as any amount of time suggested by the author of the manual you are using. (My personal advice: Use Actex for P; ASM for FM and MFE.) Select an end date for studying that is at least one month before the exam. Plan on working through up to five practice problems, with the idea that the bulk of your practice happens on Adapt when you get to that point. Don’t spend too much time on any one chapter.
    1. For FM, don’t spend too much time in your manual on annuities. You will need to know annuities, but don’t get too far off schedule with that or any other topic.
    2. For MFE, don’t even read the manual. Read through the examples and go straight to the practice problems, stopping only to read if something just doesn’t make sense. This becomes especially important when you get to Ito’s Lemma. I never sought to understand Ito’s Lemma and consequently never had a problem with it. If you have interest in option pricing, then read the manual.
  2. Take off Sundays. Taking time away from your studies one day out of the week is a huge refresher that will keep you keen and ready. Just as your muscles need rest between workouts, your mind will be stronger when you revisit the books after resting.
  3. Note all formulas on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper. Draw lines to partition each chapter, and use one sheet (or multiple sheets) for one group of chapters. For instance, all annuity chapters might go together. Write on only one side of the paper for ease of reference.
  4. Make flash cards of these notes. Having already written the formulas on sheets, this should be a good refresher. Number each card in one corner using the chapter number of your manual for ease of reference.
  5. Purchase an Adapt subscription lasting through to exam day. Coaching Actuaries has not asked me to say this. I just don’t know of any better product out there.
  6. Number each flash card using the section numbers on Adapt’s section view. This is for an even easier reference when you need to study up on something you performed poorly on in a practice exam.
  7. Study all flash cards. You don’t need to do this right away, but it needs to happen sometime. Make two stacks: one for cards you get right, one for cards you get wrong. Eventually, everything needs to end up in the right stack.
  8. Take practice exams and custom quizzes on Adapt. After each exam, identify the topics you need to work on. Find those topics in your ordered stack of flash cards and make a stack of cards of that subset of topics. Study the cards until you know them. Then, take custom quizzes until you understand the concepts well enough to proceed. Repeat until exam day.

Someone told me recently, “I’ve always believed we make plans so we have something we can change.” You may want for your study to be perfect, but that’s unrealistic. Focus instead on having a solid working skeleton. Adapt as needed, but stay on course and fight the good fight. You will come out on top when you identify what works best for you.

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.