How to Survive Crunch Time

Written by Daniel Slonim: 577335_10152041364225279_473033241_n

Preparing for actuarial exams is a marathon. You fit practicing into your normal daily routine during the months leading up to the exam. But in the last week or two of preparation, I have found it helpful to clear my schedule, buckle in, and spend as much time preparing for the exam as I can fit in a day. This period right before an exam is what I call “Crunch Time.”

Chances are, if you arrive at the one-week or two-week mark feeling worried that you’ll fail, you will be in Crunch Time. If you feel confident, but still want to clinch success, you still will likely undergo this ordeal.

Crunch time is stressful. You spend multiple hours every day taking timed practice exams and quizzes while remaining mindful of the ever-approaching exam day, thus entering a constant race against both the clock and the calendar. You worry that you’ll fail. You feel like you should know the material cold by now and you don’t. You worry about falling behind on your other commitments. You may be short on sleep. I want to give some suggestions about dealing with this stress.

First, realize that Crunch Time is okay. It may be necessary even if you’ve prepared quite thoroughly in the previous months. The professor who coached me through my exams often likes to talk about the importance of being in the right “frame of mind” for whatever kind of math he is doing at the time. Getting yourself in the best frame of mind for an actuarial exam often takes prolonged periods of intense concentration—sometimes days. You cannot keep up that intensity for months at a time; it would drain you and crowd out all other commitments. So even if you have prepared thoroughly over several months, a week of intense concentration where you focus on nothing but exam prep may give you an important boost by allowing you to work when you are in the best frame of mind for the job.

This means you should plan ahead for Crunch Time. Clear your schedule as much as possible. I took Exam FM during the school year, but it was at a time when I had little else due, and I was able to schedule my papers and other projects around Crunch Time. Every day I would go to classes, get homework done quickly, and then spend the rest of the day on practice exams, so that my main focus could be on the exam. Don’t be afraid to ask for a few extensions from professors, especially math professors. They’ll understand if you ask in advance.

Second, let friends and family know you’ll be extraordinarily busy at this time. I took exam MFE while my fiancée was visiting England with her family, so I didn’t have to worry about taking time away from her. You don’t need to tell your family to fly overseas to get away from you, but explain in advance how busy you’ll be so they can give you the space you need.

It is, however, necessary to spend at least some time with friends, even during Crunch Time. When I’m spending most of my day on exam practice, human contact is necessary for maintaining my sanity. Finding someone you can talk to about exam prep is especially helpful. Having a pal congratulate you when you pass a practice exam and listen to you stress when you feel worried lets you feel like you’re not alone.

Third, give yourself permission to take breaks when necessary. It’s okay to get up and walk away. Even in the middle of a practice exam if you need to. Don’t do this often on Adapt, as it can mess up your rating. But if you get halfway through an exam and feel like you are about to break down, it’s all right. It’s also okay to check Facebook or watch a YouTube video between quizzes as long as you know how to avoid being sucked in for longer than you intend. Similarly, listening to music can be a distraction and slow you down, but if it helps you relax more, it might sometimes be worth it. You just have to experiment, learn your own needs, and adapt to them.

Fourth, don’t worry if you spend a long time going over answers to previous exams. I try to take a practice exam every day during Crunch Time, but sometimes I spend so long just understanding all the problems I missed from yesterday’s exam that I run out of time for today’s exam. This can be frustrating, but remind yourself that reviewing previous exams is an even better learning tool than taking new ones. Don’t view it as a practice exam you’ve missed, but as an extra day of review.

I hope these tips can help you feel happier and more fulfilled as you work through Crunch Time. Best of luck!