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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Study culture

Finding time to study while working can be difficult. You finally have some money in your pocket after the ‘poor student’ years, work is demanding and study is just plain harder than it was at university. So how do you face up to study, given the attractive alternatives of your friends (who may not be studying), the pub, or the reality of another M&A transaction?
As a colleague or manager, you want people to pass their exams as soon as possible (unless you enjoy watching your colleagues squirm twice a year). Why won’t they just get on and study, pass the exams and make your life easier?

Creating a culture of study
Changing cultures is not easy and certainly not scientific, and this latter aspect makes it unfamiliar territory for us actuaries. It is not objective nor is it measurable. After all, we can’t just tweak an assumption, apply an approximation, or assess the culture at a date when things looked good.
Hundreds of management books address the question of changing culture. In practice, it requires some common sense, enthusiastic people and some understanding of what makes people tick to provide the right environment for work and study. We tried a number of measures in our team to influence the actions of students and actuaries to help create the right environment for students to manage their study:
1 Engagement Bring the students on board and ask them what can be done to make their lives easier. Some of these requests will be easy and cheap to implement, although some, such as four months off before each exam, might prove difficult.
2 Connected mentors Create a small dedicated group of actuaries and nearly qualified actuaries to act as mentors on an individual basis. They will not necessarily be your most successful students often a mentor who has failed (and subsequently passed) their exams is best placed to help out a struggling student. Ensure that mentors meet on a regular basis to share hints and tips, discuss difficult cases and ensure a consistent policy. Recognition of the mentor role by company management is also important so that the mentor is allowed time to create a productive team.
3 Involvement Involve everyone in the team as they can all help. Primarily the awareness of the whole team of the challenge of combining work and study will help to manage student’s workloads, especially in the run up to the exam period. Senior staff can help to manage client deadlines and perhaps get involved by marking past papers. Other development professionals can assist the student in working out how they study best, what environment works well, and help the student to manage their own study plans.
4 Studying together For many people, studying together works. Make sure all the students know who is taking which exam and when. Provide them with facilities, such as offices or break-out areas, refreshments and healthy snacks, to allow them to study together an hour of study before work can be highly productive. Peer pressure and a degree of competition can help.
5 Competitive edge Set up tables saying who has attended tutorials, completed which assignments and mock exams, or whatever has been agreed within the team as the best tools to enhance the chance of passing. This might spark one or two ‘type A’ personalities (see box below) into action.
6 Leadership Identify the leaders among the student group if they are studying, others will too.
7 Celebrate Perhaps most important of all is to make sure success is celebrated by everyone.

In our team we have seen an increase in the profile of study and exam pass rates for the exams over recent sittings, including seven out of eight qualifiers at the most recent sitting.