2nd Time Around

Written by Jeff: 

For people that value elite analytical skills, passing an actuarial exam is a terrific feeling. It is a clear assertion to the world that you have the technical chops and downright grit to pass an intensely difficult challenge. Skill-wise, passing an actuarial exam is less like proving you can understand a math book and more like proving you can write the math book.

JeffWhen you first start out on the actuarial path, it can be a humbling realization to accept the fact that an A in any college course is nowhere near enough to pass these exams. After taking that first dive into actuarial mathematics, you are fairly certain to face an adjustment period as you come to terms with the thorny complexity in which problems are posed and the sheer volume of material at your doorstep. However, once you have that first pass under your belt, you are in an ideal position to learn from yourself, sharpen your sword and approach the next exam with a renewed sense of purpose and with a clearer grip on what it takes. This refinement of study habits is about assessing your own personal pass function P(t). What did it take you to get from zero to pass? Often, this analysis is about acknowledging strengths and weaknesses. Every actuary has different skills and areas of expertise, and that is a darn good thing, else the world would look too predictable and our skills probably wouldn’t be in such high demand in the first place. The idea here is that the more you can learn from your first exam experience and implement that knowledge into the form of a refined study plan, the better off you will be in the long run.

So in the interest of trying to save you some time and maybe even a little heartache, here are a few of my “refinements”, hope they help.

1. Word to the Orga-nized = This is a big deal and one of the most critical aspects to successful studying. Make sure you have plenty of resources at your fingertips as you work through the material. Sometimes, hearing a concept explained from more than one source helps it to sink in, think of it as “triangulating” the content. As you are learning the material, be sure to take careful notes that you are constantly adding to and refining. Finally, have plenty of “actuarial tools” handy: approved calculators, favored writing utensils and paper, ideal web resources like Wolfram Alpha ready and of course a study space that is quiet and free from distractions.

2. Focus Grasshopper = Since studying for an actuarial exam can be a long slog, it is critical that you can abide by your long term plan. Life has an amazing way of repeatedly throwing monkey wrenches into your study schedule so you have to be able to recommit yourself every time you are derailed. It is also important that when you are studying, it is time well-spent. This means limiting distractions and maintaining focus for hours at a time on challenging content.

3. What’s the Formula? = Formulas are at the heart of actuarial exams, and if you don’t know the formulas inside and out, you have no reasonable shot of passing. For the more mathematical minded, deriving formulas from basic principles is a great way to build your 2nd nature. The end goal is to be able to recall all relevant formulas on exam day without hesitation and from intuition.

4. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems = Once you have a “reasonable” grip on the theory of a particular exam, try to set aside a month+ to work on as many problems as you can muster. Each new problem you encounter will likely challenge you, but also inch you closer to passing. Try to make this process an eat/sleep/drink type of mentality, within healthy limits of course. For example, in both exams I have taken to date, I was dreaming of problems as I neared exam day, kind of a fun sign I wish happened more often, I am great at math in my dreams.

5. Training for Fight Day = As you near the exam day, let’s say at least a few weeks beforehand, you should start to morph your studying into a race to take as many practice exams as you can reasonably accommodate. Bear in mind this is different than just doing practice problems because with a practice exam you are taking a distribution of all the types of problems you might encounter and you are attempting the same number of problems in the same amount of time as the actual exam. You might want to simulate the exam even further in any way you can, for example by not using a formula sheet, using regular number two pencils like those given at the exam center and taking the practice exam at the same time the real exam is scheduled. The point here is to do as much as you can to recreate the actual conditions of the exam so you are as thoroughly prepared as possible.

Now this is where Adapt really shines, they have a great bank of problems for each exam and a computerized testing system that is very close to the real deal, not to mention the Earned Level system which gives you a “real-time” score of your readiness. Adapt is a wonderful tool, and a hint at the future of education software, as the exams it gives are tailored to you and evolve in lockstep with your performance. Using Adapt, you are constantly being challenged without being blown out of the water or on the flip side, bored. Studies have shown time and again that the most productive learning happens when you are just slightly out of your comfort zone. The bottom line, if you want to succeed, Adapt is a tremendous tool to help, but lest we forget, the hard work is still up to you!

Jeff is happy to report that he is 1/1 in scoring at least 100% of the Financial Mathematics passing threshold.