There are two equally important skills needed to get a passing score on any FSA exam: recognition and recall. The highly comprehensive video lessons we include in the online seminar are intended to help you as much as possible with recognition, and the memory aids we include (Flashcards, condensed outlines, etc.) are intended to aid in recall.
Many FSA exam questions require you to recognize key concepts. This requires a conceptual understanding that you hopefully established during the initial learning phase of the online seminar while going through all of our video lessons. The more concepts you understand, the easier it is to see through all of the technical “window dressing” in FSA exam problems and get down to the underlying core concept being tested.
But it is very important not to let your mind “trick” itself into thinking it can recall, when it’s merely recognizing.
Recall is a different skill: it’s the ability to produce information from a list or a source reading based the question asked. Questions like:
- List the characteristics of…
- Describe step X of process Z
In other words, recall requires memorization, but it’s easy to be fooled into thinking you’ve memorized something when in fact you are simply recognizing it on a flashcard or outline. To mitigate this pitfall, I highly recommend the following strategies:
- Use active recall as much as possible. When possible, physically write out detail and answers to flashcard questions. If this is too slow or impractical, try saying the answer to a flashcard out loud. By writing or speaking the answer, it forces your mind to truly build those neural connections between keywords and list detail.
- Create images (even very simple ones) to associate with lists. The human mind is significantly better at remembering pictures than words alone.
- Try to associate emotions and sounds with lists and keywords. Like images, the human mind is more likely to remember sounds and emotions than just words on a page
- Flag or use our Flashcards app to tag/identify cards you consistently struggle with. Review these cards more often than others.
- Create other mnemonics and memory devices as you have time
- Find a study buddy or someone else to quiz you on flashcards so that you have to speak the answer
It’s also important not to obsess too much about memorization and recall because many, many FSA questions require concept recognition and synthesis across multiple readings. Even in the final month, it’s not too late to continue making the those conceptual connections by continuing to consume the video lessons and reference the detailed study manual and source material. Continue writing margin notes, etc. during this phase as well to stay as active as possible.
It’s also important to remember that you will not be able to memorize every possible detail. There is simply too much on the syllabus for that. The good news is that you can fall far short of perfect and still pass the exam and even get a 10. Just continue doing your best to balance recall and recognition right down to the final week, and stay positive!
As you probably know, you will get a 15-minute read-through time before each exam session (both morning and afternoon for 5-hour exams). Last sitting, there was some confusion around what appeared to be a new “no folding” rule during this read-through time.
Fortunately, this is now clarified in the SOA’s official rules and regulations. In paragraph 16, “Special Instructions for Written‐Answer Exams”:
Writing/folding pages, brain dumping, highlighting or the use of a calculator will not be permitted during the read‐through time.
As always, please set aside time to read the rules and regulations before you take the exam.
Solutions for every problem on the spring 2018 exam are now posted on the SOA Exams tab of the online seminar. As with past sittings, I’ve done my best to provide as much instructional value as possible with my solutions. I’ve also addressed several issues in the SOA model solutions where appropriate. If you have additional questions on the spring 2018 exam, please post those to the course forum for that exam.
The Analysis of Past Exams spreadsheet in the Supplementary Materials section has been updated to include the spring 2018 exam.
The purpose of the spreadsheet is to break down every relevant exam question going back to the early 2000s. By my most recent count, there are over 400 individual sub-questions (over 80 hours in point value) still on syllabus. This is way more than the average person can (or should) work, but one way to use it is to look for problems from specific readings (e.g. calculation type problems).
Just be careful with your time. Sometimes I see people spend weeks and weeks working the older DP exams. While there are certainly many relevant questions in those older exams, the problem is that you will end up spending many hours practicing a fairly small percentage of the current syllabus.
Another pitfall to avoid: Do not use this spreadsheet as a prediction tool for future exams. The testing frequency of past readings is highly biased toward readings that have been on the syllabus the longest. Some readings have been on the ILA syllabi for over a decade, while MANY others have been added only in the last 1–2 years.
A better use of your time: I would save at least the most recent two exams to work in their entirety if you can — especially under exam conditions. These are still 100% on syllabus making them a valuable exam prep resource, especially if you use them to sharpen exam-day skills. Use older exams for topic-specific practice as you have time, but be sure to continue studying the entire current syllabus. Assume anything on the current syllabus will be tested with equal probability.
Also, please remember that I have solutions for many, many past problems posted on the SOA Exams tab of the online seminar. I will be posting solutions to the spring 2018 exam in the next two weeks as well.
SOA model solutions are now posted for all spring 2018 exams. I will be posting my solutions to each problem on the most recent within the next few weeks.
Another cool update to the iPad version of our Learn app: you can now use the app in split screen on an iPad Pro. This makes it easy, for example, to have a PDF app next to the Learn app for reading or writing as you watch the video. One of my personal favorite PDF apps for the iPad is PDF Expert. GoodNotes is also very good. Both make it easy to manage and handwrite on PDFs with an Apple Pencil, and GoodNotes can even do keyword searches over your handwriting, which it OCRs as you write.
The iPad Pro, Surface Pro, or similar tablet is a good way to take full advantage of digital technology for managing your PDF study manual and handouts while also practicing your handwriting for the exam.
Especially if this is your first FSA exam, please be sure to stay on schedule using a study schedule like the one we provide in the online seminar. It is very easy to fall behind schedule when going through a large syllabus like LP has unless you monitor your weekly or daily progress against a planned schedule.
One key pitfall is losing days or weeks because you’re trying to really master or prefect a concept from a given reading. It is far better to flag things that aren’t sinking in so you can come back and review them later. A lot of topics will get multiple brush strokes, so it’s very likely that things will make more sense after studying related topics.
Also keep in mind that the tax material in Section E is some of the most challenging and important material on the entire syllabus. It is positioned last in the online seminar because I think it’s easiest to digest once you’ve established a good product design foundation in other readings. It is certainly a “last but not least” situation, so be sure to leave time to process Section E at the end of your first pass.
Even though many actuarial employers have programs that allow people to study at work while preparing for exams, it can be challenging to find quality study time at work during certain times of the year.
A great example is the month of October for actuaries who work in financial reporting. Unfortunately, the first two weeks of October are a busy time at work while preparing financial statements. This is bad timing for anyone taking fall exams, which hit at the end of October—making October a critical month for studying.
Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
- Talk to your supervisor now to see if there is any way you can relax your schedule during that time. Offer to trade duties with someone else, or promise to help cover for someone else next quarter-end. Anything you can do to help prioritize study time over work time in the month of October is not only in your best interests but also your company because it increases the chances of you passing and being able to deliver more value as an FSA. Key takeaway: don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself, but be professional, and frame it in terms of how it benefits the company as well.
- Even if you can’t shift your work responsibilities, see if you can come in an extra hour earlier during the busiest times of the month. Try to get in at least one hour of uninterrupted study time early in the morning before the interruptions of the day begin. Persistent studying, even in small bursts can be highly effective.
Registration for all fall 2018 SOA exams is now open on the SOA’s site. Please don’t forget to register for the exam. The deadline is September 24, 2018.
As a reminder, the LP online seminar is 100% complete for the fall 2018 syllabus. Here a few links to check out if you are revving up your study routine now that exam results have been posted:
Good luck, and please let us know if you have any other questions.