This is the second article in a 6-article series of 24 actuarial exam strategy that I used to obtain the FCAS credential at 24 years old.
Throughout the article, 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 2.0 with 5-8 of the 24 proven actuarial exam strategy, will be a mix of Strategizing and Studying Execution.
5. Avoid Plug-and-Chug in Actuarial exam preparation
I learned that, once I have the final equation written down with the correct inputs in the actuarial exam.I have zero learning value with punching in the numbers into a calculator to obtain the final answer.
The actuarial exam is not testing me on how well I punch in keys into a calculator. Thus, for the first ~50-75% of my actuarial exam studying time, I try to avoid using my calculator as much as possible.
Instead my exam strategy is to do a quick visual check of my final equation versus what the solution key has. If I’m correct, then great! If I’m wrong, then I have already isolated my fault and am able to fix it immediately.
Thus with this exam strategy I am effectively saving time.
By avoiding my calculator for the first 150-225 hours of actuarial exam preparation or so. Over the hundreds of questions that are attempted in that time, that becomes a material amount of time I am saving this time by avoiding the punching-keys-into-the-calculator step.
This exam strategy allows me to spend more time on learning the concepts.
However, once I’m in the final ~25-50% of my studying time, I start using my calculator again
For all questions, as it is very important to have the calculator steps become second nature for the final exam.
6. New First, Old Second… exam strategy
This exam strategy is more applicable to the fellowship exams where the ever-changing syllabus can encompass a wider array of concepts. For the FCAS exams, I always focused on exams from 2011 and onwards (i.e. when the CAS exam restructuring happened).
For exams prior to 2011, I also did them as well, to diversify my exposure to problems. But didn’t spend as much time re-visiting them afterwards UNLESS it was a concept that I had trouble understanding.
Ultimately, there were some gems hidden in pre-2011 exams that really helped me master concepts currently in the syllabus. I am really glad I spent time there for the FCAS exams. I found it very worthwhile to do so.
7. Overall Grasp vs Deep Knowledge vs Instinctual
For mastering the material, there are 3 levels of knowledge I like to reference.
A. Overall Grasp. I have a good idea of what’s going on and I am able to explain the concepts well, and able to tackle straight-forward questions.
B. Deep Knowledge. I have deep knowledge on the concept, I’m able to explain it perfectly, and able to plan and solve complex questions.
C. Instinctual. Same as B, but it’s instinct-level. It’s second-nature to me. It comes as effortless as breathing. I don’t have to think anymore – I immediately act with 100% precision.
- For the preliminary exams, I always aimed to reach level B. I would do enough questions to give me a deep knowledge of the concept.Also I would be able to tackle questions pretty well after some initial critical thinking.
- However, for the FCAS actuarial exam + CAS actuarial exam 5&6, I found it such a time-crunch to finish the exams. I hardly would have any time to think during the exam.
NEED FOR LEVEL C
I absolutely couldn’t afford to waste time with thinking and needed a new exam strategy. It was indeed needed to reach a deeper level: C’s Instinctual.
After the first few preliminary actuarial exam, I never finished an actuarial exam with anything more than 5-10 minutes to spare. Every exam was a race against the clock. Then, Spring 2018 happened, and I experienced my first failures with actuarial exam: FCAS exams 7&9.
Once I learned what went wrong, I was so furious and ready to rip these two exams apart. I wouldn’t settle for anything less than C-level knowledge. On both exams for any concept that even remotely existed on either syllabus, I wanted to know the actuarial exam concepts very well. Like, I would be able to analytically deconstruct any actuarial exam question into its basic elements and mentally construct a solution within seconds.
No matter how much longer it took to reach level C – I didn’t care. I wanted to obtain my FCAS. I was ready to sacrifice absolutely anything and everything in order to accomplish it.
Although I failed exam 7 in Spring 2018 with a score of 4, working towards true C-level knowledge on it. For Spring 2019 led me to finish the final four-hour sitting in 3 hours 20 minutes. In the remaining 40 minutes, I corrected two small calculation errors, and scored a 7.
For those whole ~3 hours of actuarial exam, I was acting in almost a 100% robotic manner. Pre-programmed algorithms and techniques were essentially followed by my mind. I had perfected in the battlefield during hundreds of hours (strategy #4). It was C-level execution – to answer questions with little thought and 100% precision.
Ultimately, C-level knowledge takes a significant amount of time to reach. Over B-level, but I convinced myself that if I really wanted the FCAS credential that bad, that no price would be high enough to pay. I was not going to let Spring 2018’s failures be in vain.
How do you obtain C-level knowledge?
There probably exists many ways for this. But the way I know best is through the culmination of the actuarial exam strategies outlined within these articles. And practice.
Lots and lots of practice.
8. ActSci 445 & Stat 331
I went to the University of Waterloo. The way these courses were thought when I took them was absolutely disliked by me. It involved massive amounts of theoretical material. But in the end, the scope of the final exam was very narrow. The practice questions provided throughout the classes were actually indicators of the exam’s scope!
For actuarial exam, the source papers and study manuals can sometimes cover material that will never be tested. Either it’s not practical, not important, or not even explicitly mentioned in the syllabus.
For preliminary exams, I always used past exam/practice questions as a reference for what I should be learning. Usually, the syllabus remains fairly consistent.
For fellowship exams, I would further identify what else looks reasonable to put on an exam paper, RELATIVE to what I’ve seen thus far on past exam questions.
This is where exam strategy #4 of practicing on the battlefield effectively enabled me to have an easier time identifying concepts that were never tested before.
Patterns were started spotting. On what is tested versus what’s on the syllabus due to the fact that past exam questions were mainly all I did for studying, over and over again. Thus, it would become easier to identify prospects for future questions.
This exam strategy allowed me to snipe 2 new questions in Fall 2018’s exam 8, which tested new concepts that were never tested before. Similar instances happened with Spring 2019’s exams 7 & 9 as well.
For FCAS actuarial exam, I can’t stress enough how important it is to read the syllabus and ensure every concept on it is known inside out, as much as reasonably possible. If the study manual doesn’t seem wholesome, I would then go back to the source paper and see if there’s anything else that might be missing.
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.