Running on Empty

Written by Jessica Hoffman: JessicaHoffman

While most taking their first actuarial exam do so during their studies in college there are those of us who decide to take on the challenge while already in another career. I do have sympathy for those students juggling both college exams and the actuary exams; but working full-time presents on-going struggles as well. After graduating with a degree in Mathematics in 2011, I began my career in the insurance/financial industry where I felt the best fit within the realm of data analysis. I began to miss working with my subject matter, and decided to take the first step on the long road to gaining fellowship as an actuary. I will say that going in I greatly underestimated the difficulty and commitment it takes to pass, coupled with overconfidence from my high standing in college. It is always good to take advice from someone who has been there before, and here are my three pieces of advice for first timers:

Set a schedule

During my first exam attempt, I was juggling working full time, training for a marathon, volunteering, trying to maintain relationships/a social life…and then adding in studying for Exam P on top of it. To fit this in, I more often than not found myself beginning my studying at midnight, and working on less than 5 hours of sleep a day. I was a classic example of what not to do.  In turn, this made me stressed, burnt out, and not being able to focus and make effective use of the study time I did have. The result of these 3 months of madness was that I set a PR in my race (woo!) and failed my first attempt at P with a 5 (womp). Initially, my mind wanted to go to the place of “I’m just not cut out for this” and “maybe I should choose a different career path,” but deep down I knew this wasn’t the case.  Realistically, while I put in the necessary study hours, they were more often than not empty hours with little focus. I knew I needed to be more efficient with my study time. That’s when I purchased Adapt, and the whole process became easier. Adapt really showed me the areas I was struggling with, and also pointed out the topics I had mastered and didn’t need to focus as much time on. Watching my Earned Level rise gave me new found confidence each time.  I was only at an Earned Level of 5 when I sat for P the second time in July, but it was enough to see the magic word “Congratulations!” at the end of my exam.

Don’t assume a difficult topic won’t be on the exam

When I was taking practice exams, if I would come across a difficult question…namely multivariate transformations or order statistics…I was always tempted to skip these under the pretense that “surely this won’t be on the exam.” Take the time to master the difficult concepts; if anything it will give you more confidence to tackle any question thrown at you when you sit for your exam. You can never be certain that you won’t get a particular topic (guess what two items showed up on mine…).

Know the concepts

I’ve seen this reiterated so many times in different blogs and it is the best advice in my opinion for passing the exams. You likely won’t see a question identical to a practice problem you’ve done, and without understanding the concepts you will get stuck on the exam. Practice, practice practice…but also understand the WHY and not just the HOW.

Next up I’ll be taking FM, and I’ve already purchased the Video Lessons Bundle. I’ve never studied financial mathematics before; and Coach Kester does an excellent job of breaking down the concepts and following up with examples. I already feel good about my next sitting! Passing P was only the first step of many, but it reassured me that this is the correct path for me and it doesn’t have to a pain-staking-I-won’t-be-sleeping-for-the-next-8-years process.