How to pass after you’ve failed your first actuarial exam
If you didn’t already know, I specialize in helping aspiring actuaries that have failed their exam to pass it the next time.
I’ve been in your position of failing exams, and at the time I never knew what I was doing wrong.
I didn’t really have anyone to ask. I didn’t really want to tell anyone either. Failing can make you feel pretty disappointed. It’s not something I really liked to talk about.
If you’re in the same situation, I get that. So I want to share with you what you should do when you’re one of those aspiring actuaries that studied hard but still didn’t pass the exam.
The most important thing to do before you start studying is try to narrow down the reasons why it was that you failed. Many students (myself included when I was writing actuarial exams) don’t really do this self-reflection.
As for myself, I sorta just kept doing the same thing over and over again. Each time getting a little closer and closer to passing.
So now, before you do anything else, take some time to think about how you studied for your last exam. These exams are tough and there are lots of moving pieces.
That’s why I’m all about creating a proper study strategy that almost eliminates all the common reasons for exam failure.
Anyway, let’s figure out where things may have went wrong.
There are three main studying tasks that you should complete whenever you’re studying for your exam. I’ll break them all down here.
Most likely, there was at least one of them that you didn’t do or didn’t do well enough during your study period. You’ll probably be able to identify it pretty easily right after reading this.
A Complete Understanding of Topics on the Syllabus
I know this may sound obvious to some but many students don’t have the level of understanding of the syllabus that they need in order to pass. For actuarial exams, it’s not good enough to have a vague or general idea of any topic on the syllabus. You need to be able to understand the math behind each concept so that you can apply the concepts in a variety of different situations.
Often times, exam writers will skip sections on the syllabus since they are too difficult to understand or because they have run out of time to work through the explanations and practice questions associated with them.
Preliminary exams are designed to test a wide variety of different topics on the syllabus. Studying with the hopes of certain topics not showing up on the exam is a bad idea and rarely works as hoped for.
If this sounds like something you did on your last exam, you need to make sure that you dedicate lots of time to understanding difficult topics. “Review time” should be built right into your study schedule.
For students in my Study Strategy Consulting Program, I typically dedicate 2-3 weeks of their study period specifically to going through topics that they don’t understand and doing whatever they can to gain a better understanding of the topics.
Hundreds of Practice Problems
Doing lots of practice problems is the best thing to do to prepare for Exam P and FM. And you actually have to do the questions, not just read the solutions.
I know that just reading through questions and then solutions is way easier, but the best way to be prepared on exam day is to have experience doing all sorts of different questions. (For Exam P, get our Top 10 Question Sources List)
It’s important that you not only understand the solutions, but also that you know how actually come up with the answer yourself after reading the question.
So if you think this was one of the things may not have done so well at during studying for your exam last time, make sure to do practice problems properly next time around.
My consulting students have 2 – 3 weeks dedicated to just doing non-timed practice problems. They do a question and then look at the answer right away.
There is no pressure to get the question done within a certain amount of time. The important thing is just to understand how to get the right solution, even if they need to use formula sheets or their study guide as a reference.
Throughout those 2 – 3 weeks, I aim for them to each do 250-300 practice questions total. This builds up a lot of knowledge and insight into a wide variety of different topics and types of questions.
Timed Exams Under Exam Conditions
Without practicing under exam conditions, the real exam can feel totally overwhelming. You feel a lot of pressure to go fast, you can’t refer to your formula sheet or your study guide and you have to do questions for three hours straight.
You need to get some practice under these exam conditions during your study time. Preferably, 1.5 – 2 weeks should be dedicated specifically to doing these practice exams. You should do at least one practice exam per day during those weeks.
It can be difficult to replicate exam type conditions at home. First you need 30 questions all lined up (TIA practice exams and/or ADAPT are great for this), you need complete silence, and you need to have the self-discipline to sit and do practice questions for three hours without going on the internet, getting up to eat, or anything else.
That’s why many people don’t actually get a chance to practice under exam-like conditions. But you need to!
Getting yourself accustomed to the pressure of writing the exam under tight timelines will benefit you immensely once you sit down to write the actual exam. It’ll be more like a “been-there-done-that” kind of feeling, rather than a 3-hour panic attack.
If you didn’t do this while you were studying last time, it is definitely something that you should incorporate into your study strategy next time you write. You’ll be glad you did.
I work with exam writers that worked hard to pass their exam last time but failed.
This time, they want to combine their hard work with an effective study strategy to maximize their chances of success next time.
Are you in that boat? See if the Study Strategy Consulting Program is right for you. (If you only have a couple months left, I recommend the Silver Membership. If you have more, go with the Ultimate!)