“Aspiring to become an Actuary is great, but… you need to pass the exams”. That’s how Coach Kester starts on the intro video from Coaching Actuaries, and it’s the first thing I remember when I started the exam process. Actuarial exams are different from any other exam I can think of, it is a long and slow process full of challenges and sacrifice.
Everyone has his own way to prepare, a different pace and interpretation of the material. Maybe there is no “right” or “better” way to study, but it’s important to have a plan based on a timeline towards the dreaded exam day. I am always asking around friends and researching online to get an idea of what other fellow exam candidates are doing to prepare. As an aspiring Actuary I need to benchmark everything: how many hours of study per week, how long before starting to prepare for each exam, how many problems per chapter, how many practices exams, etc.
After some research and personal past experience preparing for exams, this is my personal methodology to prepare, divided into three simple stages: theory, practice and execution.
- Theory: Preparation for the exam starts by studying the manual. Everything needed to pass the exam is there and more (in fact there are bits on the manuals that are superfluous and the author always indicates it, by all means skip them). After carefully reading every chapter and going through the example problems, I usually do the odd problems at the end of every chapter and all of them if it’s a crucial chapter. This stage is the longest and hardest one in my opinion, the sooner the better and it doesn’t matter if one has already taken a class that covers some topics. Going through the manual is a must because it’s geared towards the exam, and everything else is supplementary.
- Practice: After finishing the manual, there is nothing to do but practice as many problems as possible. At least one month to practice is ideal but that might depend on the person, however using Adapt or a similar resource is a must. At the beginning is normal to struggle with every single problem, forget entire chapters and formulas. Personally I start right away doing full tests, but taking breaks, using cheat sheets, and reviewing the manual as I go through. Then little by little formulas start to stick and concepts that seemed very abstract start to make sense. The advantage of doing full tests from the start is that the material is weighted similarly as it is in the real exam. There are always hard and easy parts of the material but learning how to juggle with them is key. Spending too much time on one area has the problem of neglecting another one. An evenly distributed attention to all the material with special focus on the key chapters is a good approach.
- Execution: The exam is of course the icing on the cake. Correct preparation is necessary to pass but unfortunately is not sufficient. Dealing with the nerves and the fear of failing is the most difficult and unpleasant part of the exam process in my opinion, and there is little to do about it except try your best and hope that is enough (easy to say but very hard to do). The number one tip for the exam is to skip hard problems and leave them for last, it’s ok to spend some time trying to figure it out, but if the solution doesn’t come, get to the next problem and don’t panic – there’s a chance to solve them at the end IF there’s enough time. Knowing how to use your calculator can make a huge difference.
Do your research and pick all the methods and tips that suits you, talk to people who have passed exams and ask them all the questions regarding preparation. Choosing the right strategy is the first step towards success, good luck!