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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Student: Know your exam enemy

"Can you please check that the last three digits of your registration number match the number on your desk?" - Words that ring around the near silent hall in an actuarial exam sitting. On all sides there are people just like you trying to pass the same exam.

The Institute and Faculty explain that there are no quotas for passing, but old pass rates tell us that a certain percentage will fail the exam you are sitting. There is a cut-off score somewhere between 0 and 100 and this is partly informed by the performance of students in that exam. Achieving a better result than the people around you vastly improves your chance of passing it - it’s them or you. They are the enemy!

So what gives you the edge? All things being equal, being better prepared than the next person offers an immediate advantage. Daley Thompson, the legendary decathlete, claimed to train on Christmas Day, saying that this was because he knew that his rivals would not be.

Knowing what the typical study package is like, it shouldn’t be hard to go the extra mile. Isolate and push yourself beyond the norm and you can be sure you go into the exam hall with an edge.

Of course, all things are seldom equal and therein lies the greatest flaw in this approach. The scenario is familiar but the experience of the individual is always different. How you’ve prepared, your aptitude for a particular exam, how you have slept, eaten, how early you turn up to the exam room and all the little idiosyncrasies that give you ‘your exam routine’ - each will dictate how you perform on the day.

I doubt the most successful candidates can transplant their recipe for success onto others, as this is wrapped up in the kind of person that they are. But fellow students should have a lot to offer one and another. In my experience, student actuaries rarely study cooperatively. Most people point to their preference to study alone, as this has sufficed through school and, in most cases, university, or they claim that study styles are too different to make them compatible.

However, there are compelling arguments to work with fellow students taking the same exam as you as much as possible, casting off the shackles of a ‘me or them’ mentality. By discussing topics with other students, misconceptions can be suitably challenged. By definition, you don’t know your misconceptions until they are pointed out, and the Core Reading is not going to challenge your preconception of it. It can’t talk back. People can.

ActEd claims that those who take their tutorials enjoy double the pass rate of those that don’t. You could infer from this that there is likely to be a benefit to shared learning in general.

It is suggested that memory and accuracy of recall is improved through active rather than passive experience. Discussing a part of the notes with another person gives you a mental hook to hang your learning on that is far more effective than simply reading another indistinct piece of bold text. Even if you understand something well, the simple act of explaining it can deepen your own understanding.

By marking other students’ exam papers alongside the examiner’s report you can see where they did things differently (maybe even better). It is not so important if answers are right or wrong. Indeed, often top sportsmen will say that a defeat (read: the wrong answer) has been more valuable in the long run than a victory, as the lessons learnt are often more clear-cut.

The nature of the actuarial exams and the challenge they offer will make those who wish to pass them determined. This is bound to lead to competitiveness between students, no matter how well natured their relationship. To overlook the benefit that students offer each other can only make the struggle more difficult.

Journeys are always more fun when we share them with others and having a shared goal makes the feeling of achievement together at the end all the more sweet.

Matthew Welsh is the incoming student editor and will take over from Stephen Paines in July