If you’re writing an actuarial exam for the first time, you want to know what to expect (as much as possible). So likely you’re wondering exactly how the exam will be formatted.

Are the questions grouped into topics? Do they increase in difficulty? What’s the CBT layout like?

If you’ve been having similar questions, keep reading because I answer them all in this post!

What types of questions are on the exam?

If you’ve already started studying, you probably know that both Exam P and FM are multiple choice exams. There are 30 questions on Exam P and 35 questions on Exam FM.

Each question offers 5 different multiple choice answers. Only one is correct.

For CBT exams, you’ll be able to click a “bubble” for the answer that you believe is correct. On paper and pencil exams, you’ll have to fill in a scantron answer card with your choices within the 3 hour exam time.

Are you penalized for picking the wrong answer?

No, there are no negative consequences for picking the wrong answer. Therefore, you should answer every question even if you’re not 100% confident in the answer.

You can very simply change your answer at any time within the 3 hour exam window if you feel that you answered it incorrectly the first time.

Are the questions grouped into topics?

Questions are randomly chosen from the topics on the syllabus in proportion to the percentages stated on the syllabus.

But on exam day, you will not know which topic the question is testing. The questions will be arranged randomly with no obvious pattern.

Do the questions increase in difficulty?

Like I talked about in the answer above, there is absolutely no pattern to the questions. The difficulty of the questions is not considered when creating the order of the questions. It’s completely random.

So, if you’re having trouble on the first few questions don’t get discouraged. There will likely be easier ones as you continue on.

What’s the CBT layout like?

Each page in the exam just has one question on it. From any screen, you’ll be able to press BACK, NEXT, MARK, TABLES or REVIEW (note these may not be the exact button words, but they’re similar). You don’t necessarily have to answer the question to be able to press any of these buttons. That means you can continue on without selecting an answer if you wish.

By pressing NEXT, you’ll go to the next question. Similarly by pressing BACK you’ll go to the previous question.

The MARK button will allow you to set an indicator on this question. You may choose to use the indicator to represent whatever you wish.

It could mean, for you, that it’s a difficult question and you’re going to leave it to the end. Or, maybe it means that it’s an easy question but you’re not getting the right answer.

How you’ll use the MARK button is something to consider before exam day.

The TABLES button is currently only on Exam P. It will allow you to see any formulas or tables that are available for the exam. You can check the syllabus for the current tables and formulas that you’ll be provided on the exam.

Lastly, the REVIEW button will give you an overview of all the questions. It’ll display which questions you’ve answered and which you’ve marked. It also allows you to click any question to easily navigate to it.

What do you use to write on?

All your answers will be submitted electronically. However, the test center will give you a 52-page notebook with white blank paper in it. It’s not lined.

This notebook is purely for your own benefit. The SOA does not look in it for answers. All your answers must be submitted electronically for CBT exams or on the scantron answer card for paper and pencil exams)

The 52 pages leaves lots of room to do one question per page in the notebook, with extra space for second or third attempts at any question.

If you need another workbook, you’ll have to raise your hand and they’ll give you another one BUT they’ll take the old one. That means you’ll no longer have access to all your previous work.

The CBT center provides two HB # 2 pencils. You can’t use your own. But if you need more pencils you can raise your hand and they’ll take yours and give you two new ones.

The only eraser you’ll get is the one at the end of the pencil (usually they don’t work well at all).

Note that for paper and pencil exams, you’ll bring your own pencils, but a similar notebook will be provided for you to write in. All multiple choice answers must be selected on your scantron answer card within the 3 hour exam time. The SOA will not refer to your scratch paper for answers.

When do you get your results?

If you’re doing a CBT exam then you’ll get your results on exam day, right after you finish the exam and complete the questionnaire about your experience at the exam center and your perspective on the exam.

Whether you pass or fail, you’ll receive an unofficial results paper stamped with the SOA logo (to show it’s real). The official results will be released about 2.5 months later (refer to this schedule for exact dates).

About 99.999999% of the time, the unofficial result that you receive on exam day is the same as the official result you receive 2.5 months later but there have been 1 or 2 cases where this hasn’t been the case. You can feel extremely confident that your exam day result is correct and you should proceed with your studying (for the same exam or next exam) assuming that it’s accurate.

For paper and pencil exams, you’ll receive your official result about 2.5 months later, according to this schedule.

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Get an actuarial job even in today's competitive market!

Get all my best tips on how to become a TOP actuarial candidate so that you can get your actuarial dream job.

Just add your email below.