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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

“I need counselling!”

When it comes to actuarial exams, people fall into one of two camps. There are those who pass each one at their first attempt, progressing in swan-like fashion, seemingly gliding through while keeping all the hard work and desperate paddling below the waterline and out of sight. There’s a word I use for these people. It has nine letters, begins with an ‘a’ and ends with ‘es’. That’s right — actuaries.

For the rest of us, people who have experienced the bitter taste of failure, the whole exam experience is far less satisfying, especially since most actuarial students won’t have failed a single exam in their life (unless you count driving tests) before starting their career.

When results are published on the website, the desperate search for your name, the feeling that it must be on there somewhere and maybe they’ve just made a mistake, quickly turns to the realisation that a large proportion of the time you’ve spent over a period of months has essentially been wasted, and you’re going to have to do it all over again. You feel down, almost depressed, and you might even feel like you need counselling.

Exam counselling
Fortunately, the UK Actuarial Profession offers a service to cover this exact scenario. By using the exam counselling sessions, you will be given access to one of the subject’s examiners who will run through your paper with you. They’ll even provide you with the marking schedule, a rare case of a counsellor who will freely admit that they do have all the answers written down on a piece of paper in front of them — so no need to ‘find your own answers within yourself’ here.

Exam technique
In my experience, the counsellors are very friendly and do everything they can to encourage you, let you know how close you were to passing (it’s often a very narrow line) and give you lots of tips about what the examiners are looking for when marking scripts. The key idea they usually try to get across is that if you are close enough to passing that you feel you need the counselling service to explain why you failed, then usually knowledge of the subject isn’t the problem, it’s more exam technique.

A student may have the required knowledge and understanding to pass the exam, both in terms of the syllabus and the practical issues learned through work, but the tricky bit is demonstrating this knowledge effectively in a three-hour paper. The counsellor will give you plenty of tips on how to do this more effectively next time.

Overall, then, if you’re feeling down after another FA and you’re wondering what kind of counselling you need, then my advice would be as follows. If you think that you failed your exam because of your relationship with your father or a traumatic childhood experience involving a small wonky desk, then you might want to consider a therapist or psychological counsellor. If you think it’s more likely that it was because you struggled to manage time in the exam hall, or misinterpreted the level of detail required by specific keywords in questions, then the Profession’s exam counselling service would be the better choice.

You probably won’t ‘find yourself’ but you should find yourself more likely to pass the exam next time.


Rob Giddings works for the Government Actuary’s Department and, since writing this article, has qualified as an actuary

More information about the Profession’s Exam Counselling Service can be found at www.actuaries.org.uk/students/pages/exam-counselling-service