This is the third article in a 6-article series of 24 studying strategies for actuarial exam I used to obtain the FCAS credential at 24 years old. The link for the previous articles of the series is given at the end, in case you missed it.
Throughout the articles, whenever I mention quantities, please note that they are most likely arbitrarily-chosen. It is impossible to generalize quantities for all the exams given due to their own complexities and different syllabi. However, sometimes I needed a quantity to reference in order to help illustrate my point, and as such, they are arbitarily-chosen.
This article, volume 3.0 with #9-12 of the 24 strategies, will focus on Surviving the Grind.
I am a large advocate of creating and adhering to an exam schedule.
Prior to beginning the studying journey, I would always work backwards from the exam date and fit in all the large sections/blocks I know I need to get through in order to pass. I then revise this schedule multiple times, and re-visit it every few days. This ensures my direction is still the most optimal.
Every time I would look at this schedule, I would become motivated by noticing that, for example, if I put in 25 hours over the next 4 days, I’ll be done section B. I need to put in 60 hours over the next 2 weeks to complete sections B and C. Etc.
This effectively holds me accountable. As when I study less than 25 hours in the next 4 days, I am forced to postpone my studying schedule, and I immediately see the impact on my overall journey. Also I could analyse how crunched I’m becoming for time, weeks/months prior to the exam.
For exams 7&9 in Spring 2019, I started feeling time-crunched a literal 10 weeks prior to the exam. My schedule was tightly packed and I knew I wanted to pass them comfortably. Not putting in the studying time on any given day meant jeopardizing my dream to pass this actuarial exam.
This transparent accountability motivates me to not miss any studying sessions. All it takes is just ONE missed studying session, to effectively decide my fate between PASS or FAIL.
Thus, I find it very important to have studying milestones spread out along the studying process, of where I’ll be able to reach during my exam studying (i.e. finish section D by the end of September), IF I adhere to my studying schedule.
It motivates the grind. Accountability is key.
10. Calculated Breaks in your actuarial exam journey
Pre-planned breaks are amazing, and necessary.
There was not a single exam for which I stopped my exercise routine. My studying never affected my weightlifting and running schedules. I know I need exercise in order to mentally recharge myself. Without them, I am very prone to burning out.
It really does help me get back to studying, feeling refreshed and ready to grind it out.
Furthemore, although my last few weeks before the exam will incorporate 14-hour study days, I usually adhere to 10-12 hour study days. I use the few remaining hours to watch a movie at night: a low mental energy activity.
If I don’t do the movie, I have nothing to look forward to while studying. That makes the journey all-the-harder.
Actuarial exams are a marathon, not a sprint
My main principle was to have just enough calculated breaks prior to the exam month. This way I can maintain my energy and not burn out near the end.
However, once it was 2-3 weeks before the exam, I would immediately cut off anything from my outside-of-work life that’s not sleep, food, or exercise. I’d then be able to study 14-hour days for the remaining time, and not burn out, as I start using all my remaining energy in a calculated fashion such that I will not crash until after the exam.
Ultimately, calculated breaks helps maintain my energy levels throughout the grind. This helps ease the pain and ensures I conserve enough energy in order to not burn out in the vital days leading up to my actuarial exam.
If it’s a complex equation with lots of repetitive calculations (i.e. using the same formula, 5 different times with different numbers each time, such as calculating individual IBNR’s for 5 accident years), then it’s best to just spot-check one of the accident years, instead of calculating all of them.
It’s the same equation, with the same mechanics, but just different inputs every time. I am not obtaining any value from re-punching different numbers into the calculator. I should focus on learning and executing concepts, not punching numbers into a calculator.
This is a simplistic example of how spot-checking can save time. Throughout my studying, I aim to avoid/minimize as many tasks/activities that don’t directly contribute to learning concepts, such as punching in numbers into a calculator.
12. Delay Memorization for Actuarial Exams
This is especially prevalent for written-answer actuarial exams, where the exam becomes a large mix of qualitative and quantitative questions.
I always leave memorizing qualitative details until the end for four reasons.
- Memorizing details prior to the end requires dedicating additional time throughout the studying process to re-visit and maintain the qualitative knowledge.
- Until I learn the underlying quantitative concepts, I’m going to have a hard time appreciating the qualitative details. They can seem more abstract and challenging to learn than their respective quantitative concepts.
- As my general studying strategy continuously exposes me to past exam questions, I am continuously exposed to the qualitative details numerous times to the point where I have them memorized solely due to having seen them numerous times. This lowers the amount of time spent memorizing at the end as I don’t have to memorize as much anymore.
- If I start taking notes on qualitative concepts at the beginning of the exam, I won’t have been exposed to enough past exams to notice trends in what’s the testing style for qualitative concepts (i.e. lists, descriptions, context, level of specificity, etc.). Taking notes at the end helps me do it within the testing lens that is applicable for the exam – i.e. I take more refined notes on concepts that seem fair game and consistent with what’s generally been tested on in the past.
This is a massive time saver, as well as makes the grind easier as I can focus on solely learning quantitative concepts, and leave the qualitative concepts for memorizing a few days prior to the exam.
This blog has been written by Carlo Lahura, FCAS. I thank him for writing such a great blog and giving us permission to post it here. I urge you to visit his Linkedin profile and share your views/ideas/comments/feedback with him. Thanks for reading.
And, this article has been published here by Shivang Gumber.