Learn More, Study Less.    An Excerpt from Actuarial Exam Tactics.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” 
—Abraham Lincoln 

Is there a better way to study?

This is the fundamental question addressed in Actaurial Exam Tactics: Learn More, Study Less. This book presents the study strategies that helped Roy Ju become the world's actuary, finishing the SOA's exams, and becoming an FSA, at the age of 20. You might be asking: these strategies worked for Roy, but will they work for the average student. 

This was the question that co-author Mike Jennings asked when first leaning of Roy's strategies. After fifteen months of testing these strategies and accelerating his own exam process (passing 2 preliminary exams, a fellowship exam, the FAP modules, and the FSA modules over this period), Mike knew that he and Roy had to share these strategies with all actuarial students. 

Before we dive into the strategies, let's get to know the authors in this first of many excerpts from this book. 

Mike’s Story 

What most intrigued me about Roy becoming the youngest FSA was not his age—I figured this was achievable for anyone that started the exams early and wasted away their high school and college careers studying. What really caught my attention was how he studied for these exams. 

My assumption that Roy spent all his time studying was quickly dismantled when I learned that he was one of the top-ranked tennis players in the state, played trombone at an all-state level, and volunteered 200 hours of his time all while passing his first three exams in high school. How could someone accomplish so much with the same 24 hours per day as me? Was Roy a natural prodigy, a workaholic or was there a method to his madness? 

As I was entering my junior year at Drake University, Roy was entering as a freshman, and I was determined to learn about his study approach. We became friends throughout the year, and when I started asking about studying, I quickly realized his approach was far from traditional. When I asked him how many practice tests he did before taking MLC (now LTAM) that fall, the answer was zero. I was beyond skeptical that his study methods had any use to the average, run-of-the-mill student like myself. I was doing fine with my own study method and having just passed my third preliminary exam that summer, I decided to ignore his study approach and continue along my way. 

Shortly thereafter, I entered an exam drought. I failed MLC the next year and felt incredibly discouraged while contemplating the thousands of study hours ahead of me on the path to Fellowship. I was still skeptical of Roy’s studying, but I was determined to do my own research into effective study techniques to get back onto a successful exam path. As I researched, I was shocked at the similarities between Roy’s seemingly absurd methods and psychological learning principles. Around this same period, I learned of Roy’s most impressive exam feat to-date. He passed two FSA exams in one sitting while taking seven university courses, working 25-30 hours per week at an actuarial internship, and serving as the President and Vice President of two campus organizations. I knew it 
was time for a second conversation with Roy to uncover the details of his approach.

The result of that conversation (and many follow-ups) transformed the way I studied. After almost two years without passing an exam, I entered the most fruitful period of my exam career. In 15 months, I passed my last two preliminary exams, the FAP modules, the FSA modules, and Exam ERM. I was thrilled with the results of this new strategy, but one question still bothered me—where were these study methods when I started taking the exams? 

As students begin the actuarial exam process, they are cast into uncharted territory with no tools to help them navigate. Sure, there are published study materials outlining what to study, but there is no guide on how to study. One can go through the entire exam process fumbling to reinvent the wheel on which study methods work best. Far too often, 
this leads to students settling for a mediocre study approach that worked for them in the past without any deliberate attempts to further improve that approach. 

The goal of this book is not to serve as the definitive study approach for actuarial exams, but to serve as a compass to point your study efforts in the right direction. You don’t have to settle for the conventional rule of 100 hours of study time per exam hour; you will be surprised at how much study time you can eliminate with a deliberate practice of improving your study skills. Ideally, future students will master this approach and push the entire field forward by creating even more effective methods. Before you dive into studying for your next exam, sharpen the axe and make an effort to improve your approach—you will not be disappointed with the results.


Roy’s Story 

I began my exam journey in high school, though I did not initially intend to become an actuary. My parents wanted me to become a doctor, and I had strong interest in the high-pressure and challenging nature of surgery. However, every career inventory survey I did suggested “actuary” as my top recommended career, so I started to do some research. I was excited by the prospect of applying mathematical principles in a practical setting, so I started taking the exams and the rest was history.

When I began my first exam, I consulted Google to better understand how people were preparing for these exams. I was amazed when I learned how massive a time commitment these exams seemed to be! The study manuals were much thicker than expected when they arrived. I assumed that manuals of this size contained plenty of 
redundant information that wouldn’t be necessary to pass a 30-question exam. As most of you can imagine, every conversation I had to understand which parts of the manual were most important ended in the realization that standard practice was to read through the entire manual from start to finish; most sources did not hint at prioritizing certain sections or concepts. Instead, most individuals tried their best to power through each manual, page by page. Through all of these searches, I also noted the numerous efforts of those who were in the same boat as me, asking themselves how to go about tackling these exams. As I went through these exams, I came to learn that the ideal approach is not just following the crowd and trudging through the exam manuals from front to back. While the manuals were very useful resources for these exams, it dawned upon me that the goal should shift from finishing the manual to understanding the material. As you will find in this book, this seldom requires a linear approach of plowing through the appropriate study manual.

As I reflect upon my exam journey, I can recount numerous circumstances of studying while waiting for my friends to pick me up, studying while watching football, and studying while cooking. As a matter of fact, Sundays were always free days from dedicated study 
because I am an enthusiastic fantasy football competitor. There is no way that I could stay competitive in my league if I wasn’t watching NFL football all Sunday, every Sunday! You will be hard pressed to find anyone that would advise multitasking while studying, but stick with us, and you will learn about how to incorporate short and effective study 
sessions into your daily life. 

People often ask about what drove me to obtain my FSA at such a young age. My motivation came as a result of enjoying the journey and approaching the exams in a way that worked well with my class/work/life balance. This naturally flows from integrating the actuarial exams into my life in a sustainable and unforced fashion. In the chapters ahead, you will learn more about how I approached the exams from a conceptual basis to put more intuition into actuarial calculations. On a final note to my friends at Drake and at high school who “never” saw me study—those who wondered how I got anything 
productive done, given the amount of time I spent hanging out, watching sports, working out, and EATING. And to my parents, who never observed me hiding in the books, I hope that the contents of this book can help you better understand how I balanced exam study with all of my other life commitments.

Stay tuned for information on exam strategies and how you can change the way you study. 

For a free digital copy of Actuarial Exam Tactics visit ACTEX Learning https://www.actexlearning.com/career-and-study-guides