Why 50% of test takers fail their actuarial exams.

An important question for actuarial test-takers, and one of the hardest to answer is: how do I prepare for my exam?

Even if you’ve spent months studying, you may still question whether you are fully capable of passing. When approaching exam day, you may feel like asking yourself “am I feeling lucky?”

Well, the good news is that actuaries don’t leave anything up to luck.

Fortunately, there are ways to improve your chances at passing the exam. It all starts with understanding how people are failing the exam.

From a recent YouTube video by Gabe Necoechea. Gabe is a PhD. in Mathematics who helps people pass their early actuarial exams. He has gained some insights and has shared them below. 

Reason #1: Time

Before taking on the tiring task of study for an exam, test-takers are not assessing their time availability.

You may want to consider the following before you make the commitment to take the exam. 

  • Is there enough quality time in your daily life for an effective study schedule?
  • Can you put aside enough quantity of quality time to study for your exam?

As an actuarial candidate, you will need to have enough quality time where you are focused and energized. 30 minutes at night may not be the same as 30 minutes in the afternoon. It is important to gauge the productivity of your time to increase effectiveness.

Once you know what your quality of time looks like, consider your quantity of quality. An important part of your learning will come from consistently interacting with the material, so that you keep moving forward. Candidates who do not value a quantity of quality will often waste time relearning things that they have forgotten.          

Actuarial careers consistently rank high in terms of both career satisfaction and employability. If you make a commitment to take an actuarial exam, it's likely to improve your life and the lives of those important to you. You should be clear with yourself and with others that this undertaking will require a certain amount of sacrifice so that you can find enough productive time to make it happen - that might mean waking up earlier, foregoing some socialization in evenings/weekends, etc.

Reason #2: Using the Wrong Resources (Textbooks vs Study Manuals)

Often, test-takers choose the wrong resource for their goal. Consider the following:

  • If I follow the material flow, can I easily determine topics to study for the exam?
  • Will this provide me with a conceptual understanding, as well as practice skills?

Textbooks can be a good resource for in a classroom context with instructor intuition, or as technical reference. Although a textbook may be highly organized and plenty of information, it may not be the right resource if it requires more time/effort to obtain an exam-level understanding.

Alternatively, Study Manuals are written with a time-sensitive goal in mind. Manual authors follow the exam syllabus to include a balance between text and conceptual understandings, clear explanations, and tons of practice content with solutions.

Some Study Manuals, such as ACTEX, ASM and others, may also include additional study materials such as practice databases, exam-style flashcards, formula and review sheets, and even video instruction.

Reason #3: Reading Without Practicing or Vice Versa

Another mistake that Test-takers make is dedicating too much time to either practicing or reading. You can consider the following:

  • How do I build a confident exam taking strategy?
  • What percent of my time should I dedicate to reading vs practicing?

While you may not need a perfect 50/50 balance between reading and practicing, you’ll need to focus on both for optimal success. Reading the material develops your knowledge base, but it can create a false sense of mastery if you’re never being tested on it. Many candidates read because they want to accumulate a high level of wisdom. However, according to Gabe Necoechea, “it is more important to be correct than to be profound”.

On the other hand, while practice is very beneficial for exercising your problem-solving skills, but it can become memorization if you do not understand the “why” of a problem.

One change in the structure of a problem and you’ll become lost. So maybe practice doesn’t make perfect in this case. Instead, try active reading.

Active reading is the process of practicing while you are reading a new section of information. You can try rewriting things in your own notation or deriving a formula from a previous formula. An example of an active reading strategy is to read the first sentence of the worked example, and then try to take the next step in calculating the example and continuing this alternating process of reading and calculating as necessary.

Reason #4: Favoring Difficult Topics Over Foundational Topics

When test-takers study for their exam, they tend to think mastering the most difficult topics equates to mastering the exam. To pass an exam, it is better to know all the foundational topics, some hard topics, but not to be perfect at them all. Consider the following:

  • How will I decide which topics need more practice?
  • What will be my goal for mastering foundational vs difficult topics?

Difficult topics seem to be the intuitive focus of studying because they attract a lot of attention. What you need is a solid capability across a broad array of topics, and that broad array of topics usually builds on just a few fundamental concepts. Once foundational topics are learned, if a hard one is too hard, it might be skippable in terms of just passing the exam.

Hopefully reflecting on the 4 reasons why most test-takers fail can improve your test preparation and lead you to a better exam sitting overall!

Watch our YouTube Video to find out more details.