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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Fail to prepare...

Preparation is everything, says Joseph Mills, whether for exams, flying planes or training to go up against the Brownlees in a triathlon



I’m still remodelling my study pattern, day by day

I gaze out of the window, across the night sky and down to see the rainclouds sinking deeper as my flight ascends. ‘Ding’ the sound that precedes the unbuckling of safety belts, unlatching of trays and the cabin crew busying about, preparing refreshments. Dozens, like myself, are tempted by the blueberry muffin. Truly reckless behaviour at 11pm. With the seatbelt sign off, I whip out the newly purchased, overpriced magazines I’ve picked up in the departures lounge, logical behaviour to help pass the time aboard. 

The magazines I have chosen relate to my new fad for triathlons. I have convinced myself that if I train like the Brownlees I can be like the Brownlees. “I’m going to be a lean, mean, triathlon machine,” I tell myself. The article that grabs my attention is titled: “Prepare your mind on race day,” quite apt for where I am; flying to Edinburgh to attend the Student Consultative Forum with the IFoA and student reps from around the UK. People I haven’t met before, strangers… clever strangers… they’re going to sniff me out… realise how little I know…I’ll be chased out of the city, back up the steps of the airbus... Chill Millsy, chill. I knew I bought this magazine for a reason and this article was it – to calm my nerves and prepare for what to expect.

The essence of the article was that fundamentally there should be nothing new on race day. In my piloting years, for example, we lived by the six P’s: ‘Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance’. (If you are wondering where the 6th ‘P’ is, just insert a Profanity to emphasise the point.) Aviators would not remove the chocks of the aircraft and roll across the apron to the runway without first analysing the weather, flight plan, safety of the aircraft, legislation, limitations of the flight and much more. Without that preparation it’s highly likely you’ll end up in a cloud, running out of fuel, over military airspace, interrupting a well-deserved afternoon tea from the pilots on base and before you know it there’s a typhoon on your wingtip urging you to get out of the way. 

Which makes sense of why I have a ritual I stick to on exam day. I wake up, eat a large breakfast, shower and then most importantly: change into the right clothes. An assortment of lounge/gym wear is what works best. Hood up, hunched over and ready for business. 

On exam day, you would, undoubtedly, mistake me for a thug, like so many others who choose to cross the road when they see me walking along the pavement towards the exam centre. On the stroll from the train station, what goes through my mind is much akin to Anthony Joshua entering Wembley, speakers blaring out a boxing anthem as he makes his way through the crowds and steps into the ring.

I’m pumped and ready to pummel nine rounds of questions out of this CT and throw a right hook round the chin in the 10th, walk away and leave it quivering on the floor fearing to ever have me ball-point-penning its pages again. My mind and body needs to be in the same state it has been as when I have been revising.

I really should take heed of my own advice too. Speaking to other students who recently stumbled out the exam centre, not one commented “I think I passed that”. Yet some did say: “There was nothing more I could have done, so if I fail then that’s it… I’m done with this actuarial lark!” That’s prior preparation. In the previous sitting, I know I was definitely NOT in that category. 

It’s still a learning curve. I’m still remodelling my study pattern, day by day, slowly removing the residuals as my experience increases. The actuarial profession isn’t solely about whether you can crunch the numbers. It is also about the depth, breadth and intensity of learning required to really demonstrate the levels an actuary should be working at throughout their career. 

There is no yellow brick road to FIA, nor should there be, and the process of identifying your own weaknesses and correcting them are all part of what the profession requires from its members.

Joseph Mills is joint student editor