Knowing how to prepare for actuarial exams is critical. For most beginners knowing what to do and what not do can be a challenge. In a my January blog, I described the experience I went through when I was preparing to take exam FM in December of 2014. By the way I failed! I was able to figure out pretty quickly what didn’t work for me that time and by doing so I was able to take and pass the exam a few weeks ago. The purpose of this blog is to discuss four important questions that drove my passing of the exam the following sitting. I’m using my answers to the same four questions as I prepare for exam P. The four sets of questions that you have to ask yourself are described below.
The Why questions
Why do you want to become an actuary? Why are you studying? Why use a particular manual and not the other? Why is a particular section of the syllabus more important than another? So on and so forth. You will develop a lot of motivation as a result of answering these questions. Whether your answer is landing a job with better pay or the exam is one of the requirements in order for you to graduate from your program like myself, you need to get an answer that will give you some sort of drive to keep going.
The What questions
What product are you going to study from? What do you focus on? What is going to keep you going when the going gets tough? The answers to these type of questions vary a lot from person to person. Some people like to read text, hence a manual works for them very well. Other people like online courses like the one offered by Coaching Actuaries and others prefer in-person learning such as a live seminar. This is by far the most important of the four questions. I personally attended a traditional classroom when preparing for the FM exam, then when learned about the Adapt software, I bought a subscription and took a lot of practice exams (more than I would care to mention). Out of everything else I did to prepare for the exam, taking practice exams helped me the most. That made the real exam seem much easier.
The When questions
When to start preparing? When to have the manual read by? When do start practice exams? The period you allow yourself to thoroughly prepare should be very reasonable and realistic. This is the place where most beginners become grossly overconfident and end up underestimating the amount of time they can personally and reasonably spend preparing for an exam. This may also be made complicated by the fact that exams vary in difficulty level. Again, the answer to these set of questions depends on your personal strengths and abilities as well as other outside commitments. A clear schedule may help put everything into perspective when trying to figure out when to start. They key is to start early and expect that there may be some days where preparations might be interrupted by unexpected occurrences. You need to account for that. Personally, I always factor in some lazy days and emergencies in my schedule. After all, if nothing of the sort happens then that means some additional days to review the material even more.
The Where questions
Where are you going to spend most of your study time? This is the part that varies greatly between many test takers. Some people prefer to study in a library and yet others prefer noisy places like a coffee shop. I personally prefer studying in my room when there is no else home. Research has shown that where you choose to study affects how much you learn and how much you are able to retain. Unlike other exams, actuarial exams require a deep understanding of the material. As a result, it is important to choose a venue where you are able to stay focused for an extended period of time. The bottom line is to choose a place that works for your study needs. There is nothing wrong in trying out different study areas in an attempt to figure out what works for you.