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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Words of wisdom

After lovingly crafting this column for three years, this edition heralds my final hurrah as student editor for the magazine. Let me therefore address the Holy Grail of student life — qualifying as an actuary. Qualifying in April 2009 was a relief, and getting my evenings and weekends back a real pleasure. It took me three-and-a-half years to qualify after I left university with my actuarial science degree and exemptions from CTs 1-8. So here are my top study and exam tips, based on my passes and failures.

Successful studying
Quality not quantity
You may feel as if you should spend every waking hour of your weekends and weekdays studying, but there is no point staring at your notes for 10 hours if you’re only concentrating for a fraction of the time. Much better to study in a focused manner for a realistic amount of time (say three hours) and make plans to do something with the rest of your day so you have something to look forward to.

Core Reading is key
ActEd notes are there to help your understanding but ultimately you will be examined on the material written by the Actuarial Profession.

Practice makes perfect
You can print practice papers from the Profession’s website or use ActEd’s revision booklets. This will give you a good feel for exam question style and the pattern of answers expected.

Blitz the bookwork
Knowing the bookwork inside out means that, in the exam, you can answer those questions easily and focus more on idea generation.

Thinking outside the box
For exams like the fellowship, thinking around the question is important. It may therefore be more productive to focus each study session on just one question, rather than the whole paper, and spend time thinking through the issues.

Secret study
If you’re looking for a quiet place to study in London in addition to the Profession’s library, the Institute of Actuaries has a reciprocal membership arrangement with the libraries at Cass Business School/City University, which means you can access them for free. You just need your ARN — for more information, go to http://bit.ly/4qHbJj

Examination excellence
If you have prepared well, you should have all the knowledge you need to pass. All it boils down to, then, is exam technique. Relax beforehand, so your mind is fresh. I found listening to energetic music extremely inspiring. Take some time to plan your answer, jotting down your main thoughts for each question, rather than start writing immediately after the 15 minutes’ reading time. I found that 45 minutes of planning time (reading time + 30 minutes’ exam time) worked for me. It is worth practising different techniques when you do past papers to find your ideal method — mine was to work through the questions in order when planning my answers, and then answer the questions back to front as the last question would be the one I had just been thinking about and the last few questions were often the ones that had the most marks.

Use some of your reading time to jot down any lists and mnemonics you’ve learned so that you have something to refer to in the exam should your mind go blank. Read the question carefully — make sure you understand what is being asked and that your answer meets it head on rather than the question you wish you were being asked. Write your answers as concise bullet points where possible — it is quicker to structure your answer this way and makes it easier for the examiner to mark.

If you come across a question you’re not sure about, stay calm! Re-read the question and try to break it down into parts. It may help to think about it in a work context, such as how you would go about answering it if a client or manager had asked you. Delve into all that knowledge you have spent your study sessions committing to memory.

Passing the mantle
I hope you have enjoyed my pages and I am sure my successor, Stephen Paines, will do a great job — you may recall Stephen’s article on memory techniques in October (and the more eagle-eyed may have realised that he was also Actuary of the Future). I will still be involved with the magazine as one of the deputy features editors.

In case it works for you too, I will leave you with my favourite motivational saying: “There can be no great success without great commitment.” Over to you, Stephen!____________________________________________________

Have your say

Have you any comments on Jean’s top study and exam tips? What works best for you?
E-mail studentpage@theactuary.org.uk with your suggestions.