Passing on the First Attempt

Written by Warren D’Souza:

I’m about to begin my sophomore year of college, and have passed both P and FM so far. I never thought I’d be able to study so effectively that I could pass two actuarial exams in my first year of WarrenPiccollege, on top of all my commitments and extracurriculars and everything else that kept me busy. And as my freshman year began, just the thought of even studying for an actuarial exam terrified me.

I first used Adapt for Exam FM in February 2013. Despite having taken a course on the exam material in the previous semester, I was still incredibly nervous having no experience with a professional exam. I studied out of my study manual for several weeks and learned the material pretty well, but I really was not feeling like I was prepared for the exam itself. I had no way of judging how difficult the practice questions were or in knowing where I stand in terms of preparation. A few upperclassmen in our Actuarial Science Club recommended Adapt to me as an ideal way to practice for the exam.

One of the first things that convinced me to buy a subscription (15 days for FM, though in retrospect I probably should have bought more) was that the CA website kept everything in perspective and rational – nowhere did they promise a guaranteed pass, but rather emphasized the importance of regular studying. I was still skeptical about Adapt itself simply because I hadn’t used it before, but I decided that the price of a subscription would be a worthwhile cost if it allowed me to pass on the first attempt and not have to pay to retake it later.

On exam day for FM, I was still incredibly nervous for taking my first actuarial exam, but ended up finding the exam noticeably easier than some practice exams I had done with Adapt. I passed FM with a comfortable 7. In July I bought an Adapt subscription again for exam P (30 days instead of 15) and basically waltzed through the exam with ease, and I am confident that I may have achieved a 9 or 10. I will definitely be using Adapt for the rest of my preliminary exams.

I found that Adapt helped me develop proper study methods, which is just as important as learning the material for the exam itself. The automatic timer for the exams and quizzes kept me accountable to learning how to solve problems efficiently and replicate the exam when I studied. Too often when I did practice problems out of my textbook, I would allow myself liberties like extra time or a peek at the text notes that led to ineffective studying. Adapt forced me to follow the proper exam preparation model. I found that creating my own quizzes helped me regularly test myself to see if I truly understood the material, instead of simply rereading text explanations and hoping they stuck in my head.

My studying strategies have greatly improved between the 2 exams I took with Adapt. For FM I only had 15 days of Adapt, and took about 4 practice exams and a few quizzes. For Exam P I developed more of a system, taking full practice exams on weekends and on weekdays whenever I could. I took quizzes on subjects that I kept getting wrong on exams (thank you Adapt for highlighting sections I scored low on!) and went through EVERY problem on my tests, even the ones I got right in case I could learn a more efficient way to do things. By the time I sat for Exam P, I had hundreds of problems under my belt and nothing on the exam surprised me. This is the key to passing an actuarial exam: studying so many problems that you can look at a problem on exam day and tell yourself “Haha, I’ve done this problem a bunch of times by now”.

My first suggestion is not to cheat yourself. You should be trying to take full practice exams in one sitting whenever possible, so that you’re in your comfort zone during the exam. That being said, spreading out your studying isn’t a bad idea either. I have done several practice exams where I completed half on one day and half on the next (checking the solution set right away and not having it contribute to my earned level). It doesn’t replicate exam conditions necessarily, but it let me focus on just a handful of problems per day so I could truly master them. Pay attention to the level of each question when you read solutions so that you can learn to identify a question’s difficulty even without attempting to solve it (a useful skill to manage time on the exams). Take your earned level with a grain of salt – while they are a good indicator of where you stand in preparation, do not assume that a level of 4 means you will fail, or a level of 8 means you’re guaranteed a pass. Like I learned from Adapt, there is no guaranteed pass. Only hard work and good discipline can get you through, but Adapt gives you the resources to train yourself that way.