Actuarial Exams vs. Nerves and Persistence

Written by Kelsey:

When I dropped out of my science classes to pursue the actuarial profession, I knew I had a rough road ahead. I knew actuarial exams were very difficult, but I enjoy challenges and thought this would be a great opportunity to gauge how far my brain could take me. This was two years ago.

This year, I failed exam P twice. After months of preparation, over 300 hours of study for the first attempt and 150 for the second, I did not make the cut. I felt as though I did not have what it took to be an actuary. At one point, I felt like giving up. Maybe I was not suited to this profession.

That is, until I met someone who went through a similar experience. She had failed the exam 3 times but persevered. Now, she can proudly say that she has passed exam P, and she is incredibly happy that she did not quit.

This gave me hope, and I am now studying for my third sitting. I’ve studied over 500 hours now, and I am beginning to feel confident that I can pass. After speaking with numerous individuals about why they think I have been failing, and it all seems to boil down to one thing: nerves on exam day.

Going into each exam, I felt as though I knew the material well enough to pass. However, everything always seems to break down when I’m in the act of writing the exam. I tend to spend far too much time on one particular question, and am often left with many questions unanswered, all of which I end up guessing on. I also tend to forget formulas due to the pressure of the exam. I imagine am I not the only one who feels this way. Therefore, I would like to share my advice on how to perform on exam day.

Being prepared is key. 300 hours can be enough for some, but many people require far more in order to pass. Preparation is key to building confidence, and confidence is key to passing the exam.

State of mind is also of primary importance. You need to be in a good mental state in order to avoid succumbing to the pressure of the exam. To address this, here are a few things which I feel will help me. First, try not to drink coffee beforehand. It can overstimulate your brain which can in fact exacerbate the issue. Also, try not to study too much in the days leading up to the exam. It is often better to enjoy yourself the day before the exam to relax your mind. Meditation can also help with this process.

I’ve gathered these techniques from speaking with a number of actuarial students further along the exam process, and those were of common themes of the conversations. I am excited to try out these tricks as I attempt the exam for the third time. One more thing: the best advice I’ve ever gotten with regards to these exams is to never quit. Persistence is key, and without it, you are sure to fail.