For every actuarial exam there is a syllabus listing every text and what sections are subject material for the test. You could try to read through all of it, work the examples and hope that you understand the key subjects. That has worked for some people.
However, there are services (for a fee of course) that aid in the exam preparation. As difficult as these exams are, quality assistance is a life saver.
I'll discuss three main study aids in this article, from cheapest to most expensive:
- Study manuals
- Online seminars
- Live seminars.
Study manuals exist for virtually every exam out there. For preliminary exams, they generally consist of quick overviews of relevant subject manner, time saving tips and tricks, and ultimately practice problems with solutions.
It is the practice problems that are the key to most passing grades. Quality study manuals will be super frustrating to work through. Not because they are written poorly, not because they've failed to teach you anything, but because they set the degree of difficulty extremely high. The hope is that if you can master the practice problems, then the test should be a piece of cake.
Note that the solutions are provided. This is helpful at first, when you are just learning how to solve a particular set of problems.
TESTING TIP: As you keep practicing, I recommend that you tear the solutions out of the back of the book and place them in another location where they won't tempt you.
Fellowship exam manuals go to the next level. In addition to the material above, they also offer helpful consolidated lists to aid in recall type problems. Most manuals will provide a supplementary set of flashcards that will be replicas of the condensed lists in the books.
TESTING TIP: Make your own flashcards. Forcing yourself to write things will help you learn them.
Note that study manuals are not substitutes for the material. You are unlikely to pass if you never look at the original texts. The people that write the exam questions don't look at what is explained in study guides, they look at what is in the original work. On the other hand, most of the material wasn't written with actuarial exams in mind. So the study manuals to a great job of bridging the gap by translating the raw material into something the actuarial student can use.
Major publishers are AcTex, and ASM.
- Work at your own pace
- Lots of practice problems
- Challenging and instructive
- Work at your own pace (I know I listed that as a pro, but it depends on your personality)
- No contact person for clarification of confusing subjects
- Might not work for your learning style
The online seminars range from instructor led to module based. They usually have a manual that accompanies them.
Adding the power of the internet introduces a few more dynamic elements to studying.
- Instructors are usually available via email during the seminar schedule.
- Instruction videos, vodcasts, or podcasts are pauseable, replayable, and on demand.
- Most offer forums where you can discuss problems with other students, in essence creating a virtual study group. Although, the quality of help is only as good as the group. A lot of the poster are the ones that need help, while the masters of the material tend to be quieter.
Among the most popular are the series produced by The Infinite Actuary.
TESTING TIP: Set a schedule and do your best to stick to it. Getting behind can be very frustrating.
- Work at your own pace
- More interaction than manuals
- Contact with instructor
- Subject to procrastination
- Group members may be ill-prepared, or not very knowledgeable
- Requires internet or computer to access
image by Daniel Hartmann courtesy of WikkiCommons
In person courses are often held at a particular location (usually a hotel near an airport) for 2-4 days. These are intensive subject matter rich sessions. You must be at least familiar with all the subject material at a high level to even begin to benefit from an in person seminar. Many people taking a live seminar have already attempted the exam.
Expect to spend a few hours in lecture, watching the instructor complete examples and talk about tricky concepts. Then there will be opportunities to work problems. After the day is ended there is usually homework.
This is by far the most interactive way to study, as you can ask questions as they come and get immediate answers. Other participants can be a great resource, and there are usually few distractions so that your studies can be as intense and as focused as they need to be.
TESTING TIP: Ask the instructor if they will allow you to record the sessions. As long as you promise not to distribute the material, they might allow it. If not, block time off in the days following the seminar to rehash what was covered so it stays fresh in your mind.
- Comprehensive coverage in a short time window
- High levels of interactions
- Limited distractions
- Most expensive way to study
- Requires significant preparation ahead of time
- May require travel