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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

The six stresses of an actuarial student

With exams over once again, the time for reflection is nigh. While actuarial students the world over try their hardest to forget in a frenzy of partying and holidays, niggling thoughts remain at the back of each actuarial student’s mind. In July and December, my thoughts turn naturally to actuarial exam results. Around these times every year, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries publish the list of candidates who have been successful in the previous sitting. The list gets posted on the internet on a scheduled night. No matter how many actuarial exams I have sat in the past, there are feelings I just cannot overcome.

There are about five or six stages of emotions and, whether one has passed or failed the exam, the cycle of feelings experienced is almost always the same. The only difference is the length and depth of each stage.

Stage 1: Pre-exam stress
If you are preparing for an exam and you are struggling for motivation, it might become stressful as the day approaches. It is even more severe when you do not have a balanced life and are struggling to juggle work and study. Worse still is the nightmare of not comprehending the material you are studying. Funnily enough, the days in the run-up to the exam will seem shorter and accelerate faster than usual.

Stage 2: Stress during the exam
This stage takes place in the exam room and it is usually owing to extreme time pressure. Also, if you do not know where the emphasis of a question lies, you begin to panic. If candidates were allowed time to take the exam at their own pace, the tension would not be as great, but in the exam you are required to score one mark every 108 seconds to achieve 100% in a three-hour paper.

Stage 3: Post-exam stress
This stage is my personal worst and the most difficult for me to handle. I remember one year when I could not recall a formula in the exam. The strange thing was that soon after finishing the exam, it all came back clearly. I began counting my losses... and almost got run over as I walked out of the exam centre. Due to my vulnerability at this stage, I try to avoid post-exam discussions.

Stage 4: Pre-result stress
In most cases pre-result stress may be due to pressure from friends and colleagues expecting you to do well and to remain on track with your career progression. At this stage the days in the run-up to the results will seem longer and slower than usual.

Stage 5: Result stress
After anxious moments, the Actuarial Profession website finally yields to the hundredth attempt to refresh the page. The results are published at last. From an initial scan of the names, you can see that yours is either there or not.

If you are one of the fortunate candidates, the excitement mounts. You begin to think in terms of present value of future earnings. Passing the exams after having failed a few times is a greater achievement than if you have sailed through them first time — triumph tastes all the sweeter after you have tasted disappointment. If your name does not appear on the list, you begin to think there may have been a mistake. Soon after, it hits you — you failed.

Stage 6: Post-result stress
If you have failed, you first experience denial — you stick your head in the sand and cannot believe it is happening. Your feelings sink and you first blame others, then yourself, before reaching the bottom of the pit — despair and confusion. You then think of the burden of preparing to retake exams.

In conclusion, just because I understand the process, it does not mean I can stop it from happening. However, we can all make the stress less intense or get through the tough stages more quickly. Knowing there is an end in sight can make the path smoother.


Bigknown Shiriyapenga works for Jacques Malan Consultants and Actuaries in South Africa

Results for the CT-stage exams will be available on the Profession’s website from 8pm UK time on 2 July