Failure and Effort

Written by Stephanie Borowiec: 10354593_10153428362877080_554147021691968040_n

I sat for my first actuarial exam in early 2012. I knew actuarial exams were difficult, but I took a probability course and thought the course alone would be enough to get me through the exam. The week before my exam I decided to start studying by reviewing the SOA problems on the syllabus. Needless to say, I failed. I didn’t end up passing P until the summer of 2013, after a month of non-stop studying.

I made a similar mistake for FM, thinking a college course I took was enough to pass. It wasn’t. So there I was, graduating college with just P under my belt. I felt like a failure. I definitely didn’t think I was good enough to pursue a career in actuarial science. Somehow, though, I got a full-time job in the actuarial field, even though I had no prior experience and only one exam passed. A month after I started, I took FM (after purchasing a 30 day Adapt subscription) and passed. I vowed going forward I would always use Coaching Actuaries as one of my study tools.

MFE was next. I bought the pass guarantee bundle from Coaching Actuaries. I started to study in January for the March sitting. This was the first exam where I began studying so far in advance (I started studying less than a month before for the others). For other people, this would not be considered “so far in advance” at all. But for me, I typically study about 4-5 hours after work and about 16 hours during the weekend, in addition to study time granted by my employer, so I suppose I’m more of a crammer.

I started doing practice exams about 20 days before the actual exam (again, this never happened for the first two exams) and completed 13 PEs before exam day. My earned level was really low – not even close to the recommended earned level – so I was really nervous going into the exam. However, the low earned level was mainly because I refused to guess on practice exams and end up leaving 5 – 10 questions blank every time.

On exam day, I clicked submit with the worst feeling in my stomach. Part of this was probably due to the fact I never had a good result the first time taking an exam. To my surprise, the screen began with “Congratulations.” I was ecstatic. Passing MFE on my first try gave me renewed confidence in myself.

I know now why I struggled with the first two exams. It wasn’t because I was stupid (looking back, I was the only one who thought that, everyone else was quite supportive), it was because I lacked knowledge of the actuarial exam process. If I had known then what I know now, I probably could’ve passed the first two exams on my first try, too. So, here’s what I wish I knew:

  • Actuarial Exams are not a joke. Make sure to study the suggested 100 hours per exam. A class you barely paid attention in does not count toward those hours.
  • Make sure to have a regular study schedule. Studying 5 hours one week and 30 hours the next isn’t the best idea.
  • Practice Exams are KEY. I like Adapt because it gives a good variety and gives you percentages on how you’re doing in each area. When people suggest leaving a month before the exam solely for practice exams, they mean it.
  • Use actuarial forums. If not for help, use them for motivation. Some threads can be quite helpful when it comes to exam preparation.

It’s really easy to get down on yourself after failing an exam a couple of times. But chances are, it has nothing to do with your intelligence. I’m pretty sure every single person who sits for these preliminary exams (assuming they’re good at math) could pass them. The people who don’t pass are the people who don’t put in the effort. Every single time I failed, I deserved to fail because I didn’t prepare enough. However, I persisted and put in more effort the next time.  If you don’t pass, figure out what you need to change and try again. Good luck!