I’m excited to share the studying strategies that I’ve used to pass 7 actuarial exams on the first attempt before graduation. This is what allowed me to achieve exam feats such as:
Exam C – 7 weeks of studying during internship (score of 7)
Exam MFE – 4 weeks of studying during internship (score of 7)
Exams S&5 – taken within days of each other (scores of 7 on both)
Let’s get to it!
1. DON’T USE YOUR CALCULATOR.
Is the exam testing you on how well you punch in numbers into your calculator, or on the concepts? You already know how to use a calculator, yes? Then why are you spending valuable study time punching in numbers into a calculator when you can just check your final formula against what’s in the solutions?
This is a massive time saver for me. I save time by not using my calculator, and instead just do a visual comparison of the terms in my final formula vs what’s in the manual. If I got it wrong, then I already know where it went wrong . If I had used a calculator and got it wrong, I still have to search for the incorrect term by doing the same visual comparison from the first process – thus spending more time overall.
If I got it right, a visual comparison of the terms for me is still slightly faster than punching in the numbers into the calculator. There is also no risk of incorrectly inputting the numbers and being misled to think you got it wrong and then spending extra time checking your work.
2. DON’T MEMORIZE THE FORMULAS UNTIL THE END.
As you will be doing a huge number of practice questions throughout your studying time, you will eventually start remembering formulas just from the sheer number of times you have to use them for questions. Thus, you save time not memorizing the formulas until the end as by then you will eventually come to remember the majority of them from just doing the practice problems alone (2 birds 1 stone!).
3. IT’S LIKE DRIVING A CAR.
What helps you learn drive a car the fastest – spending more time reading the driver’s manual, or actually going outside and driving?
I found that doing more questions and less reading has helped me tremendously as I learn a lot more from actually doing the process and doing my own independent comprehension versus reading about it in a theoretical framework which doesn’t spur my mind as it is having its hand held throughout the process and not being challenged on the concepts.
This is what allowed me to pass Exam 6 (arguably the hardest CAS exam) with essentially just 4 weeks of studying (198 hours) – I didn’t read the material and just went straight to the questions. Even though the first 50 hours were gruesome as I didn’t know what was going on, I found that the more questions I did, the more patterns I started noticing in all the concepts, and that’s where my learning became exponential!
4. MAKE A LIST OF QUESTIONS FOR THE DAY.
Make a list of all the questions you want to get through in the day. This will help keep you accountable to your daily progress, as well as provide a sweet gratification feeling as you cross the questions out, one-by-one, as you run through them.
Also, strong motivation is very closely linked to having a vision (i.e. goal) of what you’re aiming for. This helps keep your motivation up over time! Passing the exams is not one big win, but a series of small wins spread out over countless days – they all add up!!
5. TAKE STRATEGIC BREAKS!
As soon as I would have to reread the same question/sentence more than once, I’d stop and take a 10-to-15 minute break to mentally recharge – otherwise, I’d be heading into a mental burnout for the rest of the day which I always found (and still find) very hard to recover from. I also found that if I don’t take breaks, my mind will slowly start wandering off onto my phone, and it all goes downhill from there.
My rough rule of thumb is a 10 minute break per 20 minutes of intense reading and a 10 minute break per 50 minutes of practice problems.
6. AVOID RARE AND COMPLEX TOPICS.
Let’s face it – there’s a good chance that you’re going to run short on studying time. For my last 5 exams, I always chose a few topics that I would not learn because they were rarely tested AND would take too long to master. I would then use this additional time to master topics that were often tested, or even were rarely tested but fast to learn. Identify the rarely tested and time-consuming topics and avoid those!
7. DON’T THOROUGHLY READ THE MATERIAL.
I made this mistake with MLC back in 2014. It is too time-consuming, mentally-draining, and for the GREAT MAJORITY of the time goes into FAR more detail than you are needed to know.
Why spend so much time reading into details that you’re going to quickly forget when you don’t know the overall picture well? Now, I only thoroughly read the material in the week leading up to the exam for topics that I need additional clarity on.
8. THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS.
Just like any advice in life, exam success isn’t going to follow like an on/off switch after reading this article. It will require a lot of time, effort, sacrifices, and enduring the challenging times. But the feeling of success will be second to none, I can promise you that 100%!!
In regards to actual study time breakdown, I found the following time breakdowns worked great for me with the preliminary exams:
5% – Write down all main formulas of each section.
You will be referencing these formulas A LOT and it will be easier and faster to have them consolidated in one place rather than flipping pages back and forth multiple times just to reach them. Also, I found writing them down helps me notice similarities between them and helps the eventual memorization process.
70% – Do all odd practice problems.
As I find that the majority of people learn better by doing rather than reading, I recommend doing the actual questions and learning as you go along. I found this to work exceptionally well for both the junior and senior level exams.
The trick is to not take too long in this part as the longer you take, the longer it will have been since you finished the first few chapters, the more you will have forgotten about them, and the longer it will take for you to relearn those concepts.
15% – Practice Exams
Once done with all the material, working through 4-6 practice exams is ideal to get a solid understanding of overall exam questions and solidify your knowledge. Don’t worry if the first 2 practice exams are rocky because you don’t remember material from the earlier chapters – that’s ok as you will quickly relearn them.
5% – Challenging topics
Reviewing topics for which you need a refresher on the details.
5% – Memorization
Memorize the remaining formulas that you can’t immediately recall! As well as any remaining important details.
That is all I have for now. I hope that helped and perhaps I’ll be able to add more once I get through the next 3 FCAS exams. Would love to hear your thoughts!