Four Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting to Study for Actuarial Exams…

By Eric Blancke
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4.  Your study approach from university can serve as a foundation, but it may need an overhaul…

Don’t get me wrong, university exams are tough, but actuarial exams will push your intellectual limits.  Why?  University exams are often bound by more constraints than actuarial exams.  First, there is only so much material that can be covered in a college semester.  Most of the time, an actuarial exam’s syllabus is so comprehensive that it cannot be feasibly covered in a one semester college course.  Second, university exams are often constrained to a one-to-two hour length.  Actuarial exams have no such constraints.  In fact, the average upper level exam is four hours in length.

If your study habits served you well for university exams, they’ll serve as an excellent foundation for your actuarial exam pursuits.  That being said, they’ll probably need some refining.  Since the breadth of material on an actuarial exam is much more extensive than that of a one semester college course, you’ll need to be constantly refreshing your mind, focusing on many different areas of the exam syllabus at the same time.  In addition, due to the exhausting length of these exams, you’ll need to find ways to increase your endurance, making sure you can handle being pummeled by questions relentlessly for hours.

3.  You should feel like you’ve “been there, done that” by exam day…

If you studied for Exam P using the ASM study manual, you should be familiar with its author Dr. Ostaszewski, who coined the “Been there, done that!” principle.  Come exam day, every problem that is thrown at you while you’re in the testing ring should be met with complete resolve.  You won’t scratch your head thinking about what approach to take to solve each problem or what formulas to use; you’ll just know.  With each subsequent question you encounter, you’ll confidently say to yourself, “Been there, done that!”

How do you get to this level of comfort?  Well, your exam preparations should be so extensive and exhaustive that you will have seen any and all types of problems that could possibly be thrown at you on exam day.  Not only that, but you will have practiced each and every one of those types of problems like clockwork.  Some might think the “Been there, done that!” principle is overkill.  Some might think it’s downright ridiculous.  But if you approach the actuarial exams with this mentality, you’ll pass on your first attempt, no matter how tough the exam is.

2.  You should be prepared for transitions…

During the course of your actuarial career, you will inevitably be subject to changes to the examination requirements of the CAS. Maybe a slew of new materials will be added to an exam’s syllabus.  Or maybe a completely new exam will be introduced. Honestly, the permutations are endless.

Finding ways to mitigate the stress caused by these transitions is key.  Remember that you are not in this boat alone.  The classmates or coworkers in your cohort will be experiencing these actuarial growing pains with you.  Find ease in discussing these changing requirements with your cohort and brainstorming ways to conquer them.

1.  Your friends and family probably won’t understand…

Unless your friends and family have sat for actuarial exams, they probably won’t understand the commitment and journey this process truly is.  You’re about to dedicate years of your life to studying and working simultaneously.  Oh, and you should try to have a personal life, too.  The journey is oftentimes daunting, but your friends and family most likely won’t see it that way.  To them, you’re smart and a good test taker.  They won’t be able to comprehend that despite your natural abilities, you’ll still need hundreds of hours of time to prepare for each and every exam.  They will especially find it tough to grasp that despite your most valiant efforts to prepare for each exam, sometimes you will still fail.  Can you blame your friends and family for thinking like this?  No, absolutely not.  Unless they’ve encountered these exams firsthand, they’ll never truly comprehend the sacrifice needed to become a credentialed actuary.

So, if your friends and family don’t understand, how will you cope?  You must cherish your actuarial friends.  They’re on the front line with you, fighting the good fight.  They’ve seen what you’ve seen.  They’ve felt what you’ve felt.  And, most importantly, they know that while the process can at times be formidable, it is a highly gratifying and worthwhile achievement.

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