The Actuarial Examination Process: A Psychological Perspective

Written by Josh Beauchamp: Photo_1

As aspiring actuaries, the majority of us fully understand the amount of hard work, dedication and focus that is demanded by the several examinations we are required to pass in order to meet the industry’s requirements.

While many actuarial students have a solid mathematical background, it is often easy to overlook several other factors that have an impact on one’s ability to be successful on examination day. The purpose of this entry is to describe the several psychological aspects of writing these exams, such as: stress, anxiety and doubt, as well as strategies and solutions that allow one to conquer them. This will allow the result of one’s examinations to rely solely on their knowledge and understanding of the material. The mind is our most powerful tool, and it only makes sense to master it in all aspects.

While studying for an examination, it is important to consider any factor that has an effect on one’s ability to pass. Surprisingly, there are more factors than simply knowing the material that can alter the outcome. As I am sure many have heard before, confidence is extremely key with regards to anything in life, and this does indeed include actuarial examinations. How is it that one is able to build confidence? Outside of the obvious, which is focused and dedicated study, one may be surprised to learn that there are other techniques that can be used to build this essential mindset.

An important part of studying is to familiarize yourself with a time that you dedicate the bulk of your studying towards. For example, schedule your examination as soon as possible. Once you know the time of your examination, devote your studying time to whatever point of the day this may be. For example, if your examination is at 2:00PM, dedicate this time to going over the material, or preferably, if available, complete a practice exam. This allows your brain to get into a routine, and you will be used to thinking critically at this time. Believe it or not, your brain does not work the exact same way at each point in the day, so it is important to train yourself to think when you need it most.

As indicated earlier, it is preferable to have practice exams available. This again allows your brain to become used to something that it has not been exposed to before, and add to one’s routine. These exams are very similar to the real ones, and as you continue to try them, you will notice that your scores will improve. This is due to several factors. One, of course, is you are becoming clearer on the involved material. Another factor that some may not consider, is that you are actually getting better at the testing process itself. The importance of routine and repetition cannot be stressed enough when it comes to one’s examination success.

While one may spend countless hours studying, it is actually possible for this to work against you if you over do it. This is known as ‘over-studying’. Some signs of over-studying include confusion between topics, as well as even a loss of ability to complete questions that you had once been able to do. If you find this to be happening, the solution is simple: take a break. Do something that you enjoy, perhaps even for a full day, to get your mind off your studies. The next day, or whenever you decide to continue, you will notice that your mind is much clearer, and you will be ready to continue.

The most important part is, of course, exam day. Assuming you have done the proper amount of studying, along with the suggestions presented above, you can confidently say that you have tried your hardest and done everything you can. Try to not be intimidated and let doubt or fear take over, because this is simply illogical.

To reduce physical symptoms of anxiety prior to writing the examination, try to focus on your breathing. Take a deep breath, focus on it, and tell yourself “I know everything”. This actually ‘deactivates’ the natural ‘flight or fight’ response that humans have in stressful or dangerous situations. Once this is done, you will be able to fully focus on the task at hand.

While actuarial examinations can be daunting, it is important to realize that you are not alone in how you feel. The fact of the matter is, they are stressful. Thankfully, there are many precautions one can take to minimize these negative feelings and thoughts. Being prepared academically and psychologically will allow you to operate at your full potential. If you have made it this far, and you are starting or in the middle of preparing for your examinations, you know you have what it takes to pass. Always remember this simple fact, keep confident, and never doubt yourself. Good luck, fellow future actuaries!