Know Yourself Before Taking an Exam

Written by Timothy Goenadibrata:IMG-20140706-00257

I took Exam C last October and failed miserably. Having just passed Exam P, I thought that if I apply the same methods I used for P, I would find success with C. I prepared for both exams at the same time, and I suppose I underestimated the difficulty level of Exam C, and was somewhat overconfident.

I passed P last September (2013). Exam C was just 11 days after Exam P. At that time, I was a little insecure because I finally saw the loopholes in my preparation for Exam C just days before the exam. I was at a loss and didn’t know what to do, and it was too late to subscribe to Adapt. I didn’t even use any practice exams at all like I did for Exam P.

After failing Exam C, I realized I needed to change my preparation for subsequent exams. The main reason I failed was because I completely lacked preparation, and I never would have guessed that Exam C was much tougher than P. Furthermore, I registered myself for the exam when I was only about 30-40% ready in terms of material coverage, which only made things worse. I learned not to bite off more than I could chew, and just focus one exam at one time.

I told myself not to give up. I happened to see the exam calendar for the rest of the year that showed the last exam I could prepare for was FM, which was in December – which gave me slightly over 2 months to prepare. Having learned my lesson, I quickly learned the concepts of financial mathematics. One positive aspect was that the amount of time to cover the exam syllabus was similar to Exam P, which made me believe I could overcome FM. In December 2013, I passed Exam FM.

Having learned from my failure with Exam C , I registered myself for the exam once I had covered the whole syllabus so that I could focus 100% on practicing papers from over the years.

In total, I passed 4 exams in about the span of 9 months. I passed P in Sept 2013, FM in December 2013, MFE in March 2014 and C in June 2014. It was not an easy feat.

How did I overcome Exam C for the second seating? One reason is because I remembered some of the concepts of Exam C from my prior attempt – but I didn’t remember everything. Some of the ways I understood concepts were flawed. I even tried to correct those concepts by practicing more questions. In the end, SOA exams test our understanding – not just how much we know. I registered myself for Exam C in late April, about 2 months before the exam. I had managed to cover the syllabus by mid-April, and at the time I had started practicing some practice exams as well. I subscribed to Adapt in late May 2014.

I had the fear of failing like last October, so I told myself to subscribe to Adapt again. Some candidates had failed C last February even with Adapt around, but I didn’t blame Adapt for that. I guess the problem was the failure of those people who might have relied on Adapt too much. Adapt is most useful when we make full use of it provided we also understand the actuarial concepts. I made sure that I understood the questions asked.

In the end, I had an earned level of 10 for Exam C. However, I didn’t become complacent. I still made sure that I understood the concepts I was weak at. I tried various new question types by customizing the Adapt questions to at least prepare myself. The SOA might twist the questions again to screen which candidates are really qualified to pass the exam.

During the real exam, I encountered some questions that didn’t appear in Adapt — mostly in the way the question was asked. At first I was quite shocked by those ‘unusual’ questions. However, I focused to finish the easier questions then to return to the questions that I didn’t manage to find the answers to originally. In the end, I managed to overcome those ‘unusual’ questions by understanding what underlying concepts were really tested in the questions.

As I said in the title, know yourself before even registering for the exam. Know how much you need to prepare. Perhaps set some targets on how many chapters of exam material to finish in a day. After registration is the best time to sharpen concepts.