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How many actuarial exams are there?
To become an actuary in the U.S. or Canada, you need to pass 7 or 10 exams depending on the designation you pursue. FCAS and FSA designations require that you pass 10 exams and the CERA designation requires you pass 7 exams.
What does this mean exactly?
Well, there are 2 primary directions you can go in your actuarial career. You’ll either become a life and health insurance actuary, in which case you’ll take exams administered by the Society of Actuaries (SOA). The alternative is to become a property and casualty insurance actuary and in that case you’ll take exams offered by the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS).
Update: It is possible to become a property and casualty actuary through the Society of Actuaries, but that option is fairly new and very few people do it.
Life and Health Insurance Path
Let’s start with the life and health insurance path. These exams are administered by the Society of Actuaries (SOA). There are two designations that you can choose to obtain under this path. First is to become a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (FSA) and the second option is to become a Chartered Enterprise Risk Actuary (CERA).
An FSA designation is for someone that is interested in a typical actuarial pricing or valuation role, working in an insurance company. A CERA designation is for anyone that wants to specialize in identifying sources of risk and how to manage it. Actuaries with a CERA designation can still work in an insurance company, but they are also valued in other non-insurance industries too.
Fellow of the Society of Actuaries
If you decide to become an FSA, there you’ll have 10 exams to complete. Here is a list of the exams:
Plus 3 fellowship exams
I haven’t included the names of the fellowship exams because the specific ones that you’ll write depend on which fellowship exam track you choose. Each track offers a different specialization, such as life insurance and annuities, group insurance, or retirement benefits. Don’t worry, you won’t need to choose your track until much later in your career so it’s not something to worry about now.
Certified Enterprise Risk Actuary
The alternative to becoming an FSA is to become a CERA. An actuary with this designation will have a very strong risk background. There are just 7 exams that you’d need to pass in order to obtain this, which is the lowest number of exams of all the different designations I’ve mentioned.
Many of the exams needed to obtain the CERA designation are the same as those needed to obtain the FSA designation. In fact, you can obtain the CERA designation on your way to becoming an FSA.
Here are the CERA exam requirements:
ERM Exam (a fellowship level exam)
Property and Casualty Path
Lastly, lets talk about going the property and casualty route through the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). This type of actuary deals primarily with house insurance, vehicle insurance and reinsurance.
Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society
There are 10 exams you’d need to write in order to obtain the Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (FCAS) designation. Fortunately, the first 3 exams here are the same as the first 3 exams required for the other two designations, so you don’t need to decide which exam path to take until after your third exam.
Here are the FCAS exam requirements:
Other Non-Exam Requirements
In addition to exams, there are some other requirements that you need to meet in order to become a fully qualified actuary under any of these methods. These include several online modules, a one-day in-person professionalism course, VEE credits (can be obtained through school courses, or more exams), a presentation, and a certain number of years of experience working in an actuarial position.
Once you’re done writing exams and are fully qualified as an FSA, FCAS or CERA, there are ongoing personal development credits that you need to earn annually, as well as annual fees (dues) that need to be paid to the society that you’re a part of.
All these qualifications require thousands of dollars (many of which will be paid by an employer once hired in an actuarial position) and thousands of hours of studying. It’s a big commitment, but it can be a very rewarding, challenging and fun career.
It’s OK if you’re not sure which designation you want to pursue right now. You don’t have to decide until you want to start studying for your 4th exam.
And, since you only need to pass 1-3 exams before getting your first full-time actuarial job, you can decide on the best path for you later on. By that time, you’ll have more knowledge of the career path and hopefully some experience too.
To get a break down of the steps you need to take in order to become an actuary, read through this article on the 8 steps to becoming an actuary. If you want to take your first exam soon, you should also sign up for my Exam P and FM study tips here.