People always ask how many hours they should put in to pass. While the time to get a guaranteed pass rate varies based on the student at hand and how one can understand the material, the rule of thumb is 100 hours for each hour of the exam. I think the amount of time required is entirely a personal decision. I like to tell people you need to put in as many hours as it takes to pass the exams. Everyone, including myself, is different, and every exam is different. You need to put in enough time to know the material come exam day.
The best advice, though, is to start early. You’ve probably heard this point before, but it really can’t be overstated. You must start early. While working at an internship last summer, I was told in regards to assignments that in order to finish on time, you have to start on time. Similarly, when determining when to start, work backwards. How many passes through the material do you want to do? How long will each pass take? How much time do you want to have at the end to dedicate to old exams? What about memorizing flashcards? And don’t forget about family/ work commitments. Figure out what you want to put in, and work backwards from the exam date.
In recent years, technology has made it possible to have online seminars. Online seminars condense the entire syllabus into 40 or so hours of podcast-style videos, breaking the syllabus into multiple sections. Online seminars give all the benefits of classroom style lectures with the added bonuses of being able to view them multiple times, on your own time, and from any location. For a second pass, I would definitely recommend going though an online seminar to get a flavor for how everything fits together. Coaching Actuaries makes it most effective to study – while the manuals are a good starting point, Adapt is the way to go after you finish the manual. This is what helped me pass SOA Exam 1.
Now, there are some people who can memorize a stack of flashcards and tell you every sub-point on each of them; I am not one of those people. So rather than study for this exam by trying to memorize an arm’s length of flashcards, I needed an alternative solution: I made my own question sheets. I would write a generic question or theme on the top of a letter-sized sheet and wrote out all lists, formulas and points related to that theme. I found this helpful as it not only forced me to write out all the lists, but it also forced me to cross reference different pieces together. I went through the syllabus and came up with 13 different categories, and then read through all the old exams and bucketed the questions into the various categories. Then when it was time for me to go through the old exam questions, rather than go through them in the order of the exams, I focused on all questions pertaining to each category separately. How have they asked questions from this category in the past? Such study techniques have helped raise the bar to better studying; you just have to invest the time to get results.