This is the fourth article in a 6-article series of 24 studying strategies. I had used it to obtain the FCAS credential at 24 years old.
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 4.0 with #13-16 of the 24 strategies, will continue 3.0’s focus on Surviving the Grind.
13. Repetition is Key.
Thinking back to the actuarial exams I’ve taken. ALL the most difficult concepts I encountered stopped being challenging once I had solved enough past exam/practice questions on it.
I don’t believe that these concepts were difficult due to them being impossibly complex topics. They were difficult because I hadn’t done as many questions yet to help me become comfortable with them.
Going back to the battlefield analogy, it is critical to have been exposed to enough questions on each concept. In order to be able to comfortably tackle whatever else comes my way. This is especially critical on FCAS exams, where I found that there’s not as much time to think about a question, as sometimes there can be barely enough time to just write out the answer.
Thus, once I’m in the final stages of my studying, I start rigorously avoiding topics which I’ve already mastered or am very comfortable with executing, and focus solely on my weak areas.
Ultimately, it’s not uncommon for me to not do questions on a mastered concept for multiple days prior to the exam day. It’s a waste of time. As I don’t need to beat the dead horse, and would benefit from focusing my efforts elsewhere.
14. Studying Music.
This is a very important one.
I aim very hard to conserve as much mental energy throughout the studying journey. The higher my mental energy is, the more focused and productive I can remain while studying.
It wasn’t until my third exam that I discovered the power of light studying music. I’ve found anything that’s not soft music (e.g. rap, hip-hop, EDM, etc.) will wear down my mental energy faster. As I believe my mind has to spend additional energy processing the numerous sounds/lyrics. It doesn’t work for me.
Music really does help with the concentration, and helps preserve mental energy. My personal favorites are:
- Classical music.
- Movie soundtracks from Inception and Interstellar.
- Inspirational music on Youtube (“Baxylz” has an amazing 10-hour compilation).
If I’m feeling very mentally tired and wish to take it a step further, I listen to binaural beats. I understand that it’s a mix of different sound waves that’s supposed to help put me in a state of super-focus? I’m not sure if there’s been 100% scientific evidence backing it, but it sure is calming and relaxing!
I’ll admit that this eventually can become boring. But, as with all goals, it seems to go all back to the main question:
“How bad do I really want it?“
I believe studying without a schedule is similar to sailing from Europe to North America without a compass. How can I expect to reach New York in 3 months, if I don’t have any idea where I’m going?
What I love about studying schedules is that, if properly constructed and adhered to on a daily basis. I believe that it can effectively maximize chances of a pass on the exams.
If I work backwards from the end goal, and carefully plan out all the intermediary study sessions I need to complete in order to be able to master all the concepts, I should have a clear path on how to get from A to B.
When I failed my first actuarial exams, FCAS exams 7&9 in Spring 2018, it was because my studying schedule was not optimally constructed. I didn’t know how to tackle FCAS exams, and as such, my schedule led me down an inadequate execution, which then concluded with me failing both.
Accountability for Failure
As soon as I took accountability for why I failed them, which meant accepting that my own inadequate preparation and/or execution was the reason I failed, the sooner I could start working on improving myself.
One year later, I passed them both with scores of 7 and 7 for the Spring 2019 sitting, because I had optimally constructed a studying schedule meant for FCAS exams, and never missed a single studying session.
Without a studying schedule, I’d be at a loss on how to study.
How do I know how much I’ve studied thus far? How much left to go? Am I behind where I need to be? Should I be diverting my focus elsewhere, or is the current direction the correct one?
Studying schedules are key.
16. Answering Algorithm.
Near the end of my studying schedule, once I’ve switched to printing out exam questions (instead of reading them off the laptop), I would then always aim to circle/cross/highlight as many items as possible in the question.
FCAS Exam 9, Question 2 from the Spring 2018 sitting is shown below as an example.
This question was one of the questions with the most information I ever had to process.
It flooded me with a large amount of information (one page’s worth!), and ultimately expected me to perform 3 separate, LONG calculations in order to construct the final answer. As well, the information for these 3 distinct calculations were spread out randomly throughout the question! It was only at my last exam sitting in Spring 2019 that I realized I had a question-answering algorithm that I fell back on when faced with such complex questions.
It is as follows:
- First, I immediately skip to the end of the question and read the last line/paragraph, to understand what’s being asked of me. The goal is to first identify what section of the syllabus is being addressed – what’s the scope of the question?
- Having this scope section in mind, I then read through the question, trying to link as many actuarial concepts/words from the question, back to what I understand from my studying of the identified syllabus section.
- As I read through the question, I underline important words, circle key sentences, and if I’m given a value, I circle it and link it with its corresponding variable.
- Once the paper looks like above, I then attempt to identify what is the correct equation, from the identified syllabus section, that I need to use that will utilize all (or the majority) of the provided variables.
For illustrating number 3 above, in the first bullet point of the picture, I wrote “L” for $75 million, as that’s the term notation used within the syllabus equations. I found that using the same notation from the readings helped wrap my head around the provided information.
How did this Algorithm help?
This algorithm allowed me to essentially deconstruct long, complex questions into their base elements, and from there, I’m able to construct my answer accordingly.
This was a very key strategy I adopted for the FCAS exams, which ultimately led to scores of 7’s on each one. I believe nearly all the pages on my final three FCAS exams looked very similar to the one above.
Without it, I definitely would have struggled processing all the given information within the limited time period – it really can be overwhelming.
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.
This article has been published here by Rishabh Surana.