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Student: Earning your stripes

Demonstrating what you’re made of takes a lot more than three hours of work in an exam hall, warns Matthew Welsh

1 AUGUST 2012 | MATTHEW WELSH
Time of reckoning

It’s Thursday. It’s 8pm. There is only one thing on your mind.

You have been here before, but this time it’s different. It could be the last time you’re going to do this. You log onto a familiar website and click a link on the lefthand side. You’re looking for your name. You scroll down and there it is.

Depending on your frame of mind, you may:

  • Sigh with relief.
  • Shout out loud.
  • Sit totally still.

Because, drum roll please, you find out that you have passed your last actuarial exam. Awash with a sense of your own brilliance, you start to reflect on your new, higher status within the profession.

Drinks all round and the rest of the night is a dizzy blur…

The hangover

It’s the morning after the night before and you start to wonder why your certificate is not in the post. After all, the letter saying you’d failed CT5 came through fast enough. Well, I’ve got bad news for you. You’re not done yet.

You’ll receive a letter shortly to acknowledge your achievement. But it will ask for more from you. You’re supposed to now send in your learning log. No, not an educated piece of timber, but rather evidence of your work-based experience.

The learning logs and essays that you have no doubt been studiously preparing are now required. They will be sent off to the Profession to ensure that you meet all the practical requirements to be an actuary.

Unfinished business


Being the conscientious person that you are, you will be well on your way to completing your log. However, if, like me, you hadn’t prepared everything well in advance then there will still be some legwork to do. You may find that while you are typing out one or other of those essays you end up questioning the reasoning behind the learning log. It would be interesting to note whether anyone has ever been denied entry into the profession because of a perceived lack of quality in their work-based skills. Moreover, I can imagine that it would be really quite difficult to pass a later exam without any practical experience in your field of expertise.
So, what’s the point of insisting on learning logs and why should they be taken with anything more than a pinch of salt?

With great power

Hopefully, the answer to that question is fairly obvious. Terms like ‘well-rounded’ education are much bandied about, but, from a regulatory perspective, what you can be held liable for increases significantly on being ushered into the status of Fellow. Therefore, it is imperative from the Profession’s point of view that you aren’t going to be shown up for not knowing the ropes. While qualification is often cited as the ‘end of the beginning’, the fact is that your career will have only just begun.

Time to grow

Much like contestants in the X Factor, who often need to ‘grow’ before they can take a song and ‘make it their own’, so we are told we must earn our stripes with at least three years at the coal face. That’s not totally unreasonable, and I doubt it is a coincidence that it takes about six sittings as a minimum to pass the exams. And, for most people, evidencing the work that they have done will be fairly straightforward, assuming that their company has some form of performance review process in place.

So, although those who have just finished their exams will no doubt be chomping at the bit to change their Facebook name to include three additional letters rather than completing their log, I think that there could hardly be a better time to pause and reflect on what they have achieved so far.

With continuing professional development requirements awaiting, producing this sort of work evidence may help get the newly ex-student in the mood for a lifetime of reflection on both their responsibility and their capability to practice.
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