Independently Studying for Exams

Shaylan ReardonWhether you come from a nontraditional Actuarial Science school or you just graduated, at some point, you will have to independently study for an actuarial exam without a course, professor, and university resources available to you.  Regardless of when that time comes for you, I want you to know that success is absolutely attainable.

I come from a small engineering school in the Midwest that is in the process of creating an Actuarial Science program—but it has not taken off quite yet.  Even so, I am a junior who has successfully prepared for and passed Exams P, FM, and MFE independently.

So what exactly does that look like?  Well, for me, it meant that I opened up the textbook or exam manual, read it cover to cover, and practiced as much as possible.  I was able to find success and you can too if you follow these three steps:

  1. Get organized and make a plan.
  2. Hold yourself accountable.
  3. Stay motivated.

Now, let me elaborate on each of these a little more…

  1. Get Organized and Make a Plan

The most crucial step in independently preparing for an actuarial exam is being completely clear and intentional in your study plans.  For me, this meant taking the time to sit down with the SOA Syllabus and map out a timeline or make “lesson plans” for myself (just as a professor would if you were taking a course).  I would take into account how many chapters of material I had to cover in my chosen manual, how much time I had before Test Day, and then would proceed to set “due dates” for myself as to when each chapter and its corresponding practice problems would be completed.  I definitely recommend having all of the material learned at least 30 days prior to Test Day.  This ensures a full month to take practice exams, get your ADAPT earned score to a comfortable level, get a grasp on all required formulas, and go back through any material that may be giving you trouble.  Everyone’s strategy may be different, but the most important thing is that you HAVE a strategy and that you plan accordingly.

  1. Hold Yourself Accountable

The biggest difference between learning from a textbook or manual versus a professor is the lack of accountability.  No one is holding your hand, giving you assignments, and making sure that you are keeping up with studying in order to pass biweekly tests.  Instead, independent studying requires that you hold yourself accountable.  For me, this came in the form of setting attainable study goals—both short-term and long-term—and rewarding myself for achieving them.  A “Self-Reward” could be ice cream, a night off of studying, or splurging on something that you’ve been wanting to buy for yourself.  Whatever it is, find a way to endorse your own good behavior.

  1. Stay Motivated

Lastly, do not lose sight of why you are investing the time and energy into this process.  Yes, it is temporarily inconvenient… but for the sake of permanent improvement. When I took Exam P in May, I taped a ton of pictures of summertime and fun with my friends all over my binder as a visual reminder that if I did not put in the necessary work now to pass on my first try, I would have to study all summer long rather than enjoy the time off.  Figure out what it is that motivates you to succeed and remind yourself of that every time you start a study session.

You could have all of the resources in the world available to you or you could be approaching exams with very little exam support; but at the end of the day, the person who will find success is the one who sets him or herself up for success.

Make a plan, hold yourself accountable, and stay focused.  Best of luck!