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Do You Have What it Takes to Face The Actuarial Exam Gauntlet?

By Edited Aug 1, 2015 0 2

A step by step guide through the credentialing proccess for the Society of Actuaries

Current as of 2013

The current exam structure for the Society of Actuaries (SOA) is a bit of an alphabet soup. To become a certified Fellow of The Society of Actuaries (FSA) you have to work through a credentialing process. I'll detail the steps here.

I'll begin with some general thoughts about exams.

  • They are difficult.  Pass rates hover at 50% or less.
  • Most aspiring actuaries will sit for one or more exams as they earn their degree.  As such, most actuarial employers require at least one exam passed. 
  • The questions are written by other actuaries on a volunteer basis and the FSA exams are graded by other actuaries.
  • Some of the preliminary exams are computer based, which means you have to do them at approved testing centers. Others are written, and held at universities or actuarial businesses. Exam centers are located across the country. The online modules, however, can be done on your personal computer. 
  • There are several things you can do to increase your chances at passing an exam, which I will highlight at the end of this article.
  • It usually takes 4-10 years to get through the entire process.
  • The cost to sit for an exam starts at a couple hundred dollars, but increases as you progress.  Generally most employers offer some sort of support. Companies also can offer performance bonuses as you pass exams.
  • The exam structure will change every few years.   It is very different today than it was 10 years ago.  The General Insurance track is brand new for 2013..


These are multiple choice exams.  They are the first step towards achieving the accreditation of Associate of the Society of Actuaries. ASA. They are about 2-4 hours long each.

Probability - P

Subjects: Probability theory, statistical measurement, calculus

Frequency: 4 or more times a  year, Computer Based

Sample Question:  One a fair six-sided die, what is the probability that the sum of your first three roles will be greater than 12?

Financial Math - FM

Subjects: Theory of Interest, Time Value of Money, Pricing Financial Instruments, Amortization

Frequency: 4 or more times a  year, Computer Based

Sample Question: What is the price difference between a Zero Coupon Bond with a Par Value of $1,000 and 10% interest compounded annually, and a $1,000 par value coupon paying bond, paying 4% semi-annually?

Construction of Actuarial Models - C

Subjects: Advanced probability theory, error testing, credibility theory

Frequency: 4 or more times a  year, Computer Based

Actuarial Math - Life Contingencies - MLC

Subjects: Actuarial mathematics (reserving, construction and use of mortality tables, annuities)

Frequency: Twice a year, written

Sample Question:  What is the present value of a $1,000,000 endowment issued to a woman at age 75?

Actuarial Math - Financial Economics - MFE

Subjects: Calculating prices for financial derivatives, introduction to market theory

Frequency: Twice a year, written

Sample question:  Calculate the price of a European call on a stock with an exercise price of $110, and a strike price of $100, assuming volatility of 12%


Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice - FAP

This module covers what is known as "the actuarial control cycle."  The student works through various topics in an E-learning format.  In order to evaluate progress there are two assessments performed, an interim assessment and a final assessment.  The final assessment involves working on a case study.


Often courses taught by an accredited university will count for this requirement as long as you get above a B-.  But, you can also take approved courses and pass a test to meet this requirement.  Subjects include statistics, economics, and corporate finance.


After ASA, the next step it to choose a specialty track.  Then you will set for a few more exams, that last a full day are essay type questions.

The tracks and associated exams and modules are depicted in the following graphic. Descriptions and details of each requirement can be found on the Society of Actuaries webpage:

Exam Track SOA 2013

FSA modules are more involved than the FAP.  The model solutions are subject to grading and only have a limited window for completion. The last module is the Decision Making and COmmunication module (DMAC) which ends with a presentation at the Fellowship Admissions Course


Along the journey you will attend an Associates Professionalism Course (APC) and a Fellowship Admissions Course (FAC).  BOth of these are designed to teach professionalism and ethics among other business skills.

CERA Credential

The Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst title requires a little less work than an FSA.  It's automatic with the Finance ERM track.  You just need the ERM module and ERM exam in addition to becoming an ASA.

Tips for Passing Actuarial Exams

(I'll be writing an extended version soon.)

  1. Set a schedule. The rule of thumb, according to BeAnActuary.com is 100 hours per exam hour.  So for a 3 hour exam, that's 300 hours!
  2. Practice problems - Work, rework, and work some more
  3. Buy a study guide or attend a seminar

Once the exams are passed, the work isn't done.  There are continuing education requirements in order to maintain the credentialed title. These can vary based on the industry you work in.  Retirement actuaries for example, have a lot more compliance requirements. Continuing education actually can be fun.

It may take a lot of work an effort,  but it is worth it.  Actuaries are constantly ranked in the top 5 for careers.  They get paid pretty well.  And the need for their services isn't going away anytime soon.



May 6, 2013 1:23pm
Just managed to cover a number of the topics included in the C and MLC study manuals this year (introduction to actuarial maths, credibility theory), and I've already found them more than I could handle. Presumably anyone who could handle said study manuals themselves should be made of sterner, more mathematically-inclined stuff.
May 6, 2013 1:33pm
These two are the hardest you'll have to face, from a subject matter standpoint. Even the mathematically inclined are challenged here. There is alien notation and mind warping topics. The plus side is that getting through it will provide an enormous sense of accomplishment.
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  1. "SOA Fellowship Requirements." SOA Fellowship Requirements. 21/April/2013 <Web >
  2. "Exams." Actuarial Exams Be An Actuary. 21/04/2013 <Web >
  3. "The 10 Best Jobs of 2012." Career Cast. 21/04/2013 <Web >

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