Pass your first actuarial exam on the first try!

Bill Marella, CEO, ACTEX Learning interviews Shay Leno, actuarial student about taking and passing his first exam. 

Bill Marella: Hi everybody! My name is Bill Marella. I'm the CEO of ACTEX Learning and today's topic is passing your first Actuarial exam. I'm very excited today because I'm joined by Shea Leno, an Actuarial student at Clemson University. Welcome Shay! 

Shay Leno: Thank you. Thanks for having me!

BM: Before we get started why don't you introduce yourself to our viewers?

SL: So as Bill mentioned I'm a Mathematics and Actuarial student at Clemson University. I will be going into my sophomore year and this past June I just sat for my first Actuarial exam–exam FM–and I was able to pass.

BM: And what do you like to do when you're not studying for Actuarial exams?

SL: Mostly go outside and play sports with friends. Sports have always been a big part of my life: golf, basketball, pretty much anything. 

BM: So, you sat for FM. Why did you select exam FM as your first?

SL: Basically it's just by circumstance. The way that Clemson has their curriculum set up they teach Exam P in the fall and they Exam FM in the spring. So the way I had it work out is I had all the prerequisites my freshman year so I was able to take that class for Exam FM in the spring.

BM: For our viewers, it really doesn't matter if you take FM or P first. Employers don't care. They matched Shay's schedule, or you could select the exam that you think you might be able to pass a little easier just to hopefully get that behind you. So then you're studying throughout the semester, the semester ends, how many weeks before your actual exam sitting?

SL: So I had about a five-week period between when my classes ended and when I sat for the exam. During the beginning of that five weeks I actually sat down and wrote a detailed schedule of how I would study each day, and so during the first few weeks I would study a certain topic, do some practice problems on GOAL, and sort of work from there. Then towards the end of it I would focus mostly on the practice exams, that way it just got me a feel for what the exam was going to be like sort of the time constraint and all of that.

BM: And what do you feel helped you prepare the most and gave you the most confidence going into it?

SL: The materials I used that were the most helpful to me were my class notes. Those are huge. I would just go back and review them. Then in addition to that I would use formula and review sheets that I created, and I also had access to study manuals which were very helpful when I was working through practice problems. Whenever I'd find something tricky or get a question wrong I would go back to the manual and sort of deepen my understanding of that concept.

BM: So were you confident going into the exam?

SL: I was pretty confident going in. I had taken a bunch of practice exams and done well on them. I had a GOAL score of 72. I thought I had a good understanding of the material, but then as I sat for the exam the first few questions didn't really go my way. My confidence started to dip a little, but by the end I was able to get it back and I ended up passing. 

BM: Is there anything that you would do differently based on this first exam experience that you had?

SL: One thing that I would definitely do differently next time is focus on the most difficult problems. Going through practice sessions and practice exams, there's going to be some problems that are sort of fundamental. Those aren't the questions that you really want to focus on, because during the exam there's going to be no easy questions. You want to really focus on the most difficult, the most challenging questions. Also, I would leave more time for practice exams. I took about five or six before my exam, but I still don't think that was enough. That is truly the most important thing that you can do for your studying because it really gets you in that exam mindset. 

BM: Very good advice. So, it's exam day. Any strategies that you might want to share related to the day of the exam?

SL: I'd say one of the biggest ones was just to skip any difficult problems, or problems where your answers didn't match the answer choices, or problems you couldn't really figure out or didn't know where to start. Just skip those, make a note of it, and save time in the end to come back to them. On the flip side of that, if you get an answer that does match one of the answers, just fill that in and consider it correct. Keep on moving, because you're not going to have time to redo every single problem. That goes back to the time management thing which is key. In addition to that, as you're reading through problems, you really want to look for keywords and think in your mind how to solve the problem as you're reading it. That way you're not reading the problem and sitting there for a minute trying to figure out how to solve it. You're reading it and solving it at the same time.

BM: So was there anything unexpected on exam day you think is worth mentioning?

SL: I'd say in terms of the exam it was overall more difficult than I expected. Like I mentioned earlier, there's going to be no easy questions on the exam. Don't expect any freebies. In terms of the exam environment, it was basically as expected. It's going to be dead silent in there and you're going to be in your own little confined space. 

BM: Well Shay, that's all the time we have today. This is hopefully very helpful to your peers and I just want to thank you again for agreeing to do this interview!

SL: Of course! Thanks again for having me!

To watch the interview, watch the ACTEX YouTube Video below.