Weddings and Actuarial Exams

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I just had the privilege of “Giving away” my only daughter in marriage this weekend. It was a wonderful experience. It also required a lot of work preparing which explains why it’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog. My daughter was engaged for a little more than a year. A lot of planning and work was devoted making sure everything was ready on the big day. You plan for what you know and also try to prepare for what you may not know (what happens if the music doesn’t work!). It is one thing to prepare for the event, it is another to prepare for the emotions. Like many big events, the nerves calmed once the wedding actually started. When all was said and done, it was an amazing day. My daughter’s comment afterward was “I can’t believe it took us so long to just prepare for one day”. This made me think of preparing for other big events, such as taking actuarial exams. Here are 4 common principles I see:

1. Overprepared on the “right stuff”

There is likely extra effort put on key parts. For the wedding, that may include making sure the correct clothing is ready, the vows are well thought out, the invitations are sent to the correct people, etc. Over preparing on the important items is rarely regretted. It provides insurance that key elements are correct. For actuarial exams, this may include attempting extra practice problems on key concepts, reviewing past exams one extra time, and taking extra inventory of important formulas needed. This is over preparing on the right stuff and is rarely regretted.

2. Spreading too thin

All weddings have limited time and budget. So, choices have to be made. The risk is expanding too far and spreading yourself too thin. This may include inviting too many people, having too many people stand up, having too much food. The result is being over budgeted or not enough time to spend on the essentials because too many non-essentials are added. I’m not going to make the mistake of defining essentials and non-essentials for a wedding, but I’m sure you could make a list. For the exams, it is easy to try to cover too much material, memorize too many formulas. Sure, knowing more formulas is better than fewer formulas, all else being equal. However, usually, it is not “all else being equal”. My experience was that “partially” learning formulas never was helpful during an exam. Usually the heat and pressure of the exam was such that I wasn’t able to remember formulas unless they were well understood. So, the time I had spent partially learning formulas was a waste of time. Again, the concept of spreading myself too thin.

3. Keeping the End in Mind

Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” had habit 2: Begin with the end in mind. This is a good principle for preparing for weddings and exams. When choosing what to prepare for, realize that time spent on tasks that don’t add value on the big day are wasted. I know I spent many wasted hours preparing for actuarial exams that was wasted. It’s not that questions weren’t asked for that material. Nobody can predict what will be asked. But it is concepts that I only partially studied that I wasn’t able to recall is what was wasted.

4. Learn and improve

So, when preparing for long term projects like wedding planning or actuarial exams, keep the end in mind. For weddings, hopefully it will go well enough that both say “I do” and have fond memories. But, it will only happen once (hopefully). There are many actuarial exams. So, after completing an exam, take inventory on your studying. What can you learn and improve for next time? I did that after every exam and made small improvements each time. I think I finally got the process perfected by the time I finished my last exam. But, I was still glad I was done with the exams and didn’t have to use my “perfected plan” again!

If you would like more strategies for preparing for actuarial exams, I just created a new 2015 edition of “Passing Actuarial Exams”. You may learn more here!