True Grit

Fred BrautigamIt was a November morning in 2014 when, just before heading to my favorite Prometric site, I told my new girlfriend: “I’m dedicating this exam performance to you.” We had just started dating, but already she knew just how hard I had studied for MFE. That morning, I pretended I was a heroic medieval knight in a royal tournament, dedicating my upcoming victory to the loveliest maiden on the kingdom’s court.

I got a 3.

That same day, I took up Coaching Actuaries’ offer to speak with a Coach. I spoke to someone named Edwin. I recognized his name from forum posts. We spoke for about 20 minutes, and he said, “It sounds like you know your stuff.”

I agreed. I knew my stuff. I had been studying for about 5 months.

I previously had passed Exam P and FM, scoring a 7 on both. In between, on my first attempt at FM, I got a 3. Having failed an exam already, I wasn’t too beat up. I thought, “I should be cut a bit of slack. I am a non-traditional career changer who works full-time in education. Heck, I didn’t even go to school for this stuff: I majored in English.” It made me feel better.

Four months later, I received a 4. Four months after that, I received a 5.

This can’t be happening. What if I never pass? And, even if I do, how do I explain my failures to people?

I wasn’t in a good place. I had never been one of those people in danger of being “weeded out.” One time, my senior year in high school, I had been denied admission to a college I had applied to, but that was after they wrote me a letter asking me to apply.

Yup—I’ve always had a very sunny corner in the garden, shaking my head and thinking, “Well, this place isn’t for everyone.”

Was I no longer a flower? Had I become a weed?

It wasn’t a good feeling. My plan was to have passed MFE on my first sitting, then find work as an actuary. That would at least be postponed by a year, and I was getting exhausted of studying. I hadn’t had a break in almost three years, and all the study sessions at 4AM were piling up.

I wasn’t sure I could keep going. That new girlfriend wasn’t new anymore, and after I had failed twice, I kept my third sitting from her because I didn’t want to feel the pressure of failing yet again, then having to hear the disappointment I thought I heard in her voice. Or my dad’s. Or my mom’s. Or my sister’s. Or my study buddy’s, who had passed on her first attempt.

Things were bad: I failed three times. This test had gotten to my head. For the first time, I really questioned my ability to become an actuary.

Then I didn’t.

I came to a decision. Because the SOA doesn’t limit exam attempts, whether or not I ever became an actuary, I would pass MFE, even if it I did it when I was 92. I would set a record for failed attempts and be proud of that record. That’s how determined I was.

And then, I passed.   

Now, a few months later, after having joined Coaching Actuaries, I may be someone you speak to if you don’t pass MFE. I’ll give you all my insights, share what I’ve learned, and encourage you to keep at it.

Oh, and if you ask me how I did on my exam?

I’ll respond with the truth, “I got an 8.”


Fred Brautigam is a part-time Actuarial Content Specialist at Coaching Actuaries. He can be reached at