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You knew that certification exams were part of the actuary occupation when you chose the career, but now that you’re getting closer to the time to take these difficult tests, it’s normal to feel a little nervous. The best thing you can do to soothe your anxiety and ensure a passing score on your exams is to prepare thoroughly. As a student, you’re already balancing college-level classes, the search for an internship, extracurricular involvement and any number of other responsibilities. You should work smarter, not just harder, to succeed on your exams. That means carefully planning which courses you will take when and studying extensively with the right materials so that you can learn all of the concepts and applications you need to know for the test.

Plan Your Course Schedule Wisely

The courses you take as an actuarial science major prepare you for, at minimum, the first two exams. You should start taking your college-level calculus courses right away, along with coursework in probability and statistics as well as financial mathematics. Completing these classes will kick off your preparation for the Probability and Financial Mathematics exams, either of which you can choose to take first. Students sometimes take the first of these two actuarial exams as early as the summer after their freshman year of college, which allows them to already have one exam passed by the time they begin applying for their first actuary internship. However, this is only an option if students start off their education taking these courses.

Putting off these crucial classes can put you behind in your exam preparation without even realizing the mistake you are making. It is important for actuary science majors to work closely with their advisors to make sure that they are taking the classes they need at correct times. This diligence will not only help students make sure to satisfy their course prerequisites but also help them avoid situations that could prevent them from being prepared to take their first exams on time.

Your other courses, especially those in math, science and statistics, also matter. While each school is different, your actuarial science degree program may prepare you for work beyond the first two exams, such as the Models for Life Contingencies Exam.

Use the Right Study Materials

Perhaps the best way to start off your actuarial exam preparation is by finding out what topics specifically you need to study. You can start by acquiring the exam syllabus from the Society of Actuaries. This document provides basic information such as the number and format of questions. Students should pay particular attention to the Learning Objectives, since these are the skills they must demonstrate to pass the exam.

The syllabus also includes a list of suggested resources that students can use to study. Some students use traditional textbook-style study guides, while others spend more money on expensive online exam prep courses. Neither option is right or wrong, though some students may feel that one particular option fits their learning style or their budget better. Most students who pass the actuary exam use a blend of strategies, including reading, notetaking and solving many practice problems. Creating a study packet is one often-recommended strategy that can help students digest the material and keep focused on the most important goals.

As your exam date approaches, make sure that you are doing practice exams, not just a couple of problems here and there, to prepare. To make your study sessions as close to the real exam as possible, time yourself and work continually, without breaks or distractions.  

How Should You Prepare for Actuary Certification Exams?

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Allow Yourself Plenty of Time to Prepare

Did you know that, for each exam, you should spend one hundred hours of study for every hour of exam time? That means you should study for no less than 300 hours for both of the first two actuarial exams, which are each three hours long, and 300 to 400 hours for the remaining preliminary exams.

One of the biggest mistakes an actuarial science student can make is to skimp on their study time. While 300 hours is a lot, that is the amount of time – spread out over several months – that it takes the typical student to acquire the thorough understanding of the exam content that he or she can earn a passing score during the timed test. The college coursework you take prior to the exam counts for only about one-third of that study time. You need to complete the remaining 200 hours on your own time.

Some students study a little every single day, while others study for longer blocks of time a few days per week. One form that is not recommended is waiting until the last couple of months (or less) before the exam and then trying to cram for the test. When it comes to the actuarial exams, you can’t just wait until the last minute and try to memorize the most important points. You need to have a deep knowledge of everything on the exam syllabus and be able to correctly complete the problems you are given within the test timeframe.

This massive amount of studying is necessary because the exams are so challenging. Generally, only 30 to 40 percent of test-takers on a passing score on any of the preliminary actuarial exams.

Additional Resources

When Should You Start Taking Your Actuary Certification Exams?

How Important Are Certification Exams for Actuarial Science Majors?

When Should You Start Applying for an Actuary Internship?