Are you writing your first FSA exam, but not sure which study materials you really need? I passed my first FSA exam about 1.5 years ago now, so in this post I’m going to outline exactly what I used to pass and how it helped me. I wrote the Life Pricing exam (Life and Annuities track) but this information applies for any track.

How FSA Exams Work

First, here’s a quick overview of how FSA exams work.

Before you start studying, you’re going to have to choose the SOA exam track that you’re going to pursue. You’ve likely already determined this, but if not you can get more information about each of the tracks here under “FSA Requirements”. Most people choose the track that they’re either most interested in or the one most relevant to the work they’re already doing.

Personally, I went with the track that was most closely related to my work at the time. I was working in a life insurance company, primarily with annuity products, so I pursued the Life and Annuities track.

Once you’ve decided on your track, you need to decide on which exam you’re going to write. I recommend sticking with the order suggested by the SOA but you don’t need to. If you feel that due to your work experience one specific exam would be easier than the others then you could start with that one.

The syllabus for each exam can be found here. Each one contains a list of all the readings that you could be tested on. Depending on which one you write, there may be anywhere from about 30 to 100 different readings that you need to know. Some of the readings will be online, others will be from the SOA Study Notes or specific textbooks.

One major difference between the preliminary exams and the FSA exams is that you’ll probably want to read the SOA syllabus readings. Most of the time people rely on study manuals or online seminars for preliminary exams which is enough. That is not true for FSA exams. I’ll explain more about this below.

Now I’m going to go through the study materials that you should purchase (in my opinion) if you want the best chance of passing.  I used all these to pass my first FSA exam.

SOA Study Notes

Like I mentioned above, I highly recommend that you actually read through all the readings on the syllabus.  So the first thing you’re going to want to purchase is the SOA Study Notes. When you look at the syllabus for your exam, you’ll see some readings labelled XXX-###-##. Those are all individual study notes.

The SOA doesn’t provide electronic versions of these study notes (for some reason) so you have to get them delivered. When they arrive, you’ll just get a huge pile of paper shrink wrapped, so you’ll need a big binder to put them all in.

If you’re looking to save money, you may want to ask someone else (that has written recently) for their old Study Notes. Some notes may have been added, removed or changed since their sitting. You could use the Exam Analysis Cheat Sheet (below) to determine any added/removed readings since their sitting. As long as it’s not a significant number of them, then you’ll probably be OK using the older notes. Your online seminar (below) will fill in the gaps.

You can get your study notes here.

Recommended Textbooks

The SOA provides this list of all the textbooks that are tested on your exam. If you can afford them, buy them so that you can read the readings from those textbooks. If you’re looking to save money you can borrow the textbooks from a colleague or you could choose not to purchase the ones that aren’t significantly tested on the exam. After looking at the syllabus, you may find that one or two of the textbooks only have one reading associated with them. Again, in that case the online seminar (below) should be enough to fill in the gaps for any textbooks you’re missing.

I’ve found Amazon to often be the cheapest and most convenient place to order. They’ve also always been really good for easy returns if needed too.


Online Seminars/Study Manual

Depending on which exam you’re writing, there are several online seminars and/or study manuals that you could purchase. An online seminar will provide a detailed summary of each reading. Since there are 1000+ pages on the syllabus for most exams the detailed summaries will help you determine which content within each reading is most important and how it may be tested.

The online seminars and study manuals, in my experience, are also really helpful in providing a recommended order for the readings.  The order of the readings on the syllabus is not the most optimal way to go through them.

Many of the readings, especially the SOA Study Notes, are fairly complex and detailed as they’re meant to be used as official documents for actuaries working in the industry. I found the online seminars to be really helpful in breaking down confusing parts in the readings. They also brought certain parts to my attention that I didn’t focus on enough or understand well enough.

Obviously, I can’t do an in depth review of all of the online seminars and study manuals since I haven’t used most of them, but do your research before purchasing any.  There are lots of reviews online.

Exam Analysis Cheat Sheet

Like most people, I went into studying with the intention to know everything on the syllabus, in detail. But with thousands of pages, it’s almost impossible to do that. About a month before the exam, I realized that wouldn’t be possible so I set out to determine which readings I should really be focusing my time on.

I wanted to know which readings were most frequently tested and I wanted to be able to see how different readings had been tested in the past. So I created the “Exam Analysis Cheat Sheet” for myself, which made it really easy to see trends in which readings the SOA tests most often.

I could also very quickly determine all past exam questions that had tested a certain reading and understand how the reading was typically tested. Was it a list? Only a certain topic? Was it usually a calculation question?

That helped me so much that I went on to create them for all the FSA exams. You can get yours here.

If you have any questions about anything here or about your first FSA exam, feel free to contact me at and I’ll get back to you asap.

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

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