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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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The end is nigh

Jessica Elkin prepares for the end of the world – well, of her actuary exams, anyway…


04 APRIL 2013 | JESSICA ELKIN
Student April
Illustration: Phill Wrigglesworth

It’s nearly here. Doomsday. Armageddon. Ragnarök. The examination period.

Back in November, I wrote about developing good study habits. So, presumably, by now you are completely au fait with the material and have a healthy bundle of past exam papers under your belt. You eat nutritious meals and go to bed early.

But if you’re not, take a chill pill, because these handy revision tips will help you to excel. Rest assured that they are practised expertly by yours truly.

Make a thorough study timetable. Detail every day’s study in painstaking detail. Spend plenty of extra time making it look pretty – this will help you to follow it.

Keep plenty of drinks on hand. If you finish one quickly it’s probably because you’re dehydrated and need another.

Have lots of breaks. Get another drink and maybe a snack while you’re at it.  Maybe see what’s on TV. Now that you’ve started watching something, you should see it through to the end, else you’ll be too distracted by the lack of closure to concentrate.

When you sit down to study, make sure you lay everything out neatly – otherwise your mind will be as disordered as your desk. This includes putting tutorial notes in order and filing old bank statements.

Is that your phone ringing? No, you imagined it. Maybe just double check.

Open up to the start of a chapter. Read, understand. Start to make notes. This is studying!  You’re so pleased with yourself.

Probably time for a break.

If that doesn’t work for you ...

All right, I’m just as bad at them. The reality is, the most effective way to study is just to do it. Yes, make a schedule, and do have plenty of breaks. But follow the schedule, and don’t relax the break time. Turn off your internet so as to avoid Youtube. Get one of your scariest friends to loom over you judgmentally every so often. But don’t be hard on yourself. Everyone messes up – the secret is to learn that staying up watching, say, Dexter leads not to joy but to shame and regret.

There is a document, found on the profession’s website, that details how the exam process works, from writing the papers to marking the exams to announcing successful candidates. It all makes quite a lot of sense, and also reveals that the pass mark is decided in advance and then adjusted depending on how everyone performs. Someone once said to me that you don’t need to beat the exam, so long as you beat ~60% of the other takers.

So, on a completely unrelated topic, how about a riddle before you get down to revision?  Just to warm up your brain. You can study later.


It’s all in the eyes

There are 100 people with blue eyes and 100 people with brown eyes who live on an island together. They are all perfectly logical and superbly intelligent people, but none of them is very happy because the island is boring and they all want to study to be actuaries on the mainland.  No one knows the colour of his or her own eyes or what the numbers of people with each eye colour are. Every night at midnight, a boat stops at the island. Any islanders who have deduced the colour of their own eyes get on the boat and leave the island. Everyone can see everyone else at all times, but they cannot otherwise communicate. Everyone on the island knows and follows all the rules.

The boat also brings along a wise old lady who, incidentally, has green eyes. Let’s call her the captain of the boat. She comes and looks over the island every night at midnight, and pities all these aspiring actuaries, but goes away with the boat each night.

It turns out that the wise old lady can speak, and she says just one thing. From the edge of the island, just as the boat is leaving, she says the following:

“I can see someone who has blue eyes.” Who leaves the island, and when?

This isn’t a trick question, though it is tricky, and it does have an answer. It’s not one of those lame riddles, where the answer is ‘no one leaves’ or ‘the captain leaves’ or anything like that.

It’s a matter of logic.  If you’re systematic in your approach, you’ll find it easier to get the answer. A little like revision, perhaps. But you can think about that later.