How to Pass Actuarial Exams

We all know that actuarial exams are hard. The pass rates vary from 50% on the preliminary/lower level actuarial exams, to 30% on the higher level CAS exams. I’ve written a short guide providing advice on how to pass actuarial exams, and also my own experiences with studying for actuarial exams.


Actuarial Exam Guides

For the preliminary exams, there are a variety of guides produced by third parties to aid you in your studying. The main providers for preliminary actuarial exams are Actex and ASM. Personally, I started out with Actex for Exams P/FM/MLC, then switched over to ASM for Exam MFE/C. The main reason for this switch was because the Actex manual for Exam MFE was poorly written, and therefore after my switch I stuck with ASM.
For upper level CAS Exams, the main provider used to be All10 however Actex is also starting to provide actuarial study guides for the upper level CAS Exams now. The Infinite Actuary is another provider of exam material but I haven’t used their material personally yet.

Study Time

Each actuarial exam requires a strong time commitment. Some people talk of 400 hours of study time per actuarial exam, some say 900 hours. However, what matters isn’t how many hours you put in but how prepared you are for the material on the exam. If you study 80 hours and are fully ready, then by all means that’s enough. If you put in 1000 hours and aren’t already yet, then better study more (or find out what you’re doing inefficiently so you can optimize your study time). It is better to study too much than not enough. If you fail an actuarial exam with 300 hours of studying when you could’ve passed with 400 hours, you’ll need at least 300 hours for the next time you study for the actuarial exam and you’ll have also wasted a sitting (exam session). Therefore it is better to over-prepare than under-prepare. Also, passing an actuarial exam gives you exam momentum, which helps your mood and motivation when studying for the next actuarial exam.

Study Schedule

Your study schedule will usually vary depending on if you’re working or still in school. But one of the most important factors on how to pass actuarial exams, is how much study time you put in. Naturally the more study time the better, with the note that efficient and productive studying is best.
When I was in school, I studied for normal coursework most of the time, with at least one full devoted study day to actuarial exams.
When I’m working in the actuarial field, I usually try to study after work (eg: 7pm-10pm) and on weekends. Companies generally offer paid study time if you’re in an actuarial role. I treat each paid study day off as I would a weekend. In terms of passing actuarial exams, the weekday night studying is extremely important! I find that on a weekend with a fully day free, I may only study 6 hours… but on a weekday after work I can still study 3-4 hours. Your brain uses energy and focus when studying, so those 3-4 hour blocks after work is critical for passing actuarial exams. Use those weekdays after work!

Week before the Exam

Find out where your exam centre is and what time your exam starts!
By the time there’s one week before your exam, you should have already learned all the material in the exam. The final week should be spent on reviewing concepts and formulas, as well as doing practice problems. To pass an actuarial exam, treat practice problems as diagnostics. If you do many practice problems, you’ll increase your speed. But if you don’t review the solution carefully on each question and just move on, you won’t actually learn anything from the practice problems and therefore are literally wasting the practice problem sets.
Make sure you sleep well, especially the night before. If the exam is early, try to condition your body to sleeping early every day so you’ll be able to sleep better the night before your actuarial exam.

Day of the Actuarial Exam

Generally aim to arrive at least 30 minutes before the exam for the computer-based testing (CBT)exams. For written actuarial exams, I usually arrive just on time because more sleep is helpful and because it takes time to sign in all the candidates. However I recommend arriving early for all exams, giving extra buffer room if you have to travel from afar. Generally many candidates run out of time during the exam, so arriving on time is critical for passing actuarial exams.

Final Thoughts on How to Pass Actuarial Exams

I hope you like this guide on how to pass actuarial exams. The most important thing is to be consistent with your studying, use the best exam guide available to you, and get lots of sleep the night before your actuarial exam.
Good luck, study well, and hope you pass!

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