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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

The first exam

The life of a student actuary is split into three parts: studying for exams, taking exams, and waiting for exam results. Most of us have been through this cycle several times already and we are used to it. However, for those taking their first actuarial exams this session, the process can seem a bit intimidating simply because it is unfamiliar.If you haven’t taken an actuarial exam before, don’t panic. Without realising it you have been preparing yourself for these exams for several years already. You have already taken dozens of exams and spent thousands of hours studying and revising. All of this is useful preparation for the exams you will be taking over the next few weeks. Obviously, it makes sense to try and use this past experience as much as possible, so try to prepare for the actuarial exams in the same way as you’ve prepared for all other exams in the past. If you like learning key results off by heart then do so. If you learn best by making your own notes using a complicated system of coloured pens and highlighters then keep doing it. Now is not the time to be experimenting with exam technique.

Funny how time slips awayUnfortunately, one part of your exams you have little control over is the amount of study time you have. Gone are the long weeks of study leave you had at school and university. Revision now has to be fitted in around work, just as you have fitted in studying the ActEd notes over the past few months. This lack of time makes the days leading up to the exam all the more important, and so I recommend having both the exam day itself and the day before it off work. Having a short but complete break from your day job before each exam helps to put you in the right frame of mind. It doesn’t make sense to endanger your performance for the sake of an extra day or two at work.

The day todayAnother thing about these exams that will be different is the exam day itself. In the past all of your exams were in a building you walked past every day with people you knew reasonably well. This time you will be in a building you probably haven’t seen before and with people you’ve never even met. I think it was this unfamiliarity that bothered me most during my first exams.To avoid such concerns, try to find out exactly where the exam is before the day of the exam itself. If this isn’t practical then be sure to leave plenty of time on the day to find the exam building. Running around trying to find a building you’ve never visited before is not the best way to prepare for your first actuarial exam. Once you’ve found the building the exam room will be well signposted, so you will be able to find it no matter how confusing the building layout.

Lift off As you get closer to the exam room you will spot other people who are there for the same reason as you are. You will recognise them from their slightly worried look and the pages of A4 notes they are staring at. Now is the time for last-minute cramming or, if you’re like me, now is the time to try and distract yourself from the task ahead. If you see somebody you recognise from work or a training course then say hello. If you don’t see somebody you recognise say hello anyway. With luck they are also trying to distract themselves and will be grateful of the chance to talk to you. If they’re not, take the hint and leave them in peace.Unless you’ve turned up ridiculously early, it won’t be long before you are let into the exam room. Now you are back on familiar ground – for the next three hours it is just you and the exam paper. Be sure to read the instructions on the front of the paper (even though you know what they say already) and listen to the announcements (even though the person reading them is so quiet you can’t hear them). Then it’s time to open the exam paper and see whether the work you’ve done these past few months has paid off.

John Paul Houghton works for Police Mutual Assurance SocietyOnce you’ve been doing exams for as long as some of us (!) you begin to forget what the first time was like. Yes, you’ve done exams many times before but never actuarial exams. They’re mysterious and intimidating. You know that you can pass exams but can you pass these ones? Why are they so difficult? I’m still not sure I know the answer to that last question but that’s another whole article waiting to happen. This month’s article offers some words of encouragement for students sitting their first exams this time around.I hope that you are all aware that the exam history area of the profession’s website has been launched. This allows you to see exams that you have been granted exemption from, passed, and even failed (along with your fail grade). I know this because I have at least one exam in each of these categories! Students who have a choice under the transitional arrangements (see last month’s student page) need to make a decision about how they wish to carry forward exam passes and these must be updated on the site. Even if you don’t have a choice to make, do log in to check that all your details are correct. To log in, your username is your ARN and password is your date of birth in the format dd/mm/yyyy (unless of course you’ve changed it!).Rather than wishing you all a happy Easter of revision, I wish you a very healthy dose of good luck for the April exams.Hannah