Section D detailed study manual available

The final Section D detailed study manual is now available, and this completes all updates for the detailed study manual for fall 2019. The remaining video lessons in Section D will be posted by Friday, 8/16, and we will begin rolling out the remaining flashcard updates and practice problems soon thereafter.

Thank you for your patience as we put these last pieces into place. I took some extra time to make some custom examples for the new VA GLWB material in Section D that I think will be well worth the wait. It is difficult to learn the key testable concepts without seeing examples.

Flashcards are available in Sections A, B, and C

We’ve now posted over 450 printable and mobile app flashcards for the first 3 sections of the course. The flashcards in Sections A, B, and C are 100% complete for fall 2019. There are also a number of flashcards available in the mobile apps for Sections D and E, but we are still making a few edits to those. Feel free to use the filter feature in the mobile app to zero in on specific sections and sub-sections of the course. One strategy a number of people follow is to review cards soon after completing a section or sub-section.

But whatever your flashcard persuasion, happy reviewing!

Section A flashcards are available

As I mentioned yesterday, we are rolling out batches of flashcards this week, and Section A’s flashcards are all available now. This includes both the printable PDF-based flashcards in the Supplementary and Review Material section as well as the flashcards in our Review app for iOS and Android. Section B will roll out next. 

Section C is now complete

Today we added 4 new lessons to Section C. This makes the video lessons and detailed study manual for Sections A, B, C, and E 100% complete, along with most of Section D. This is over 55 hours of video lessons.

I had hoped to have the final Section D updates in place in July, and even though they are very close to being finished, they still need about a week or so more of work. The “obstacle” to that happening in July, however, is that I have some family vacation time planned at the end of this month, and I probably need to take that for my own mental health since I’ve been working on LPM updates 7 days a week since April! 

However, I have had so many requests for flashcards, I have decided to push out as many of those as possible the remainder of this week. If all goes well, I should be able to sign off on Sections A, B, and likely more. I think this will add the most value for the most people since many of you are in those sections now. This will include both the printable PDF-based flashcards and flashcards in the Review apps for iOS and Android.

I’ll post more details soon when those updates are in place. Thanks again for your patience as we near the finish line with our LPM updates. We are working as hard as we can to give you as much as possible as quickly as possible. 

Another quick update

We have just a few more lesson updates to go. Many of these have been developed and we are just putting some final editing touches on them. There will be plenty of time to watch all videos, re-watch, re-re-watch, and more before the exam! 🙂

Many flashcards have also be written, and we are in the final phase of editing those as well. These will continue to roll out in batches in the iOS and Android Review apps, and we will be posting printable flashcard PDFs in the coming weeks as well. And of course we will post as many drill problems and practice exam problems as we can in the month of August and beyond. 

We appreciate your patience while we continue adding all the features you expect in our LPM course. This is just one of those sittings that happens maybe once a decade when the syllabus changes are so large it takes us longer to get the last of the updates in place. Our goal is to maintain the high standard of quality you expect from us, and we appreciate your patience as we deliver on that.

Section B is now final

Sections A, B, and E are all 100% complete, and we will be dropping in a few remaining lessons in Sections C and D before the end of the month. Today we added 10 new lessons to Section B to complete it. The LPM course now has over 50 hours of video lessons.

Considering that only 1/3 of the LP syllabus was retained when the SOA remade it into LPM, we are very happy to have so much in place now. We appreciate your patience as we drop in the final updates, which will include a few more lessons, flashcards, practice problems, and additional condensed outlines for review. If you took LP in the past, you can see how the syllabus changed here.

For anyone starting LPM now, I recommend simply starting at the top of the course in Section A. The remaining updates are well ahead of that point.  

You can also view all details of past changes and the current state of all downloaded items in the Revision History and Scheduled Updates spreadsheet in the Introduction section of the course.

What does it take to pass an FSA exam?

In January 2019, we surveyed our FSA exam customers to identify patterns in study habits. The survey was sent after candidates received their fall 2018 results. As with most surveys, response rates were fairly low, but we received over 350 usable responses and were able to discern some interesting patterns in study habits.

In the sections that follow, we show both quantitative results (e.g. time spent studying) and behavioral patterns (e.g. strategies employed while studying) suggested by the survey. Of the two, we believe that understanding the behavioral patterns of successful candidates has the most value. In other words, we believe quality of study time is a bigger driver of success than quantity. However, quantity still matters, especially for the 5-hour exams.

Exams Included In the Survey

The survey was sent to customers who used a TIA course for one of the following exams. Because of the greater number of 5-hour exams, the majority of responses fell into that category.

  • 2-hour exams included: ILA LRM, G&H Specialty, QFI IRM
  • 4-hour exam included: ERM
  • 5-hour exams included: ILA LP, ILA LFV-U, ILA LFV-C, G&H Core, G&H Advanced, QFI Quant, QFI Advanced

Aggregate Study Time

We are often asked how much time our customers spend studying in total. As one might expect, the survey data show that candidates spend more time studying as the length of the exam increases.

Total study time

How Study Time Varied for Those Who Passed vs. Failed

In total, 65% of respondents reported passing. For the 2-hour exams and the 4-hour ERM exam, there was not a significant difference in study time between people who passed and those who failed. For those exams, quality of study time seems to be a bigger driver of success. More on that in the next section.

For the 5-hour exams, however, the amount of study time is definitely skewed left for people who did not pass the exam. Given the size of the 5-hour exam syllabi, it’s not surprising that people who passed generally logged more total study time.

5 hr exam study time

For another perspective on study time, we looked at the cumulative distribution of only people who passed 5-hour exams:

5 hr exam study time cum distn

Roughly 70% of those who passed spent at least 300–400 hours studying, after which there is a subtle inflection toward the 400–500 group. This suggests a slight diminishing of returns on study time after 400 hours for 5-hour exams. The data also debunk the old “100 study hours per exam hour” rule of thumb since virtually all passers spent less than 500 hours studying. However, we think it’s reasonable to recommend being on the upper end of the 300–400 range to increase the chances of passing 5-hour exams. 

Analysis of Study Habits

We asked respondents to share their general strategy and/or any tips that worked for them. After analyzing more than 80 written responses provided by people who passed, we identified the following themes that were the most common.

These themes did not appear in the responses from people who failed. Therefore, we think these points are the most important of all the information provided by the survey and get at the importance of study time quality versus quantity.

  • Embrace active learning. This was the single biggest recurring theme. The vast majority of those who passed say they took an active approach to studying. Examples included:
    • Writing notes on lesson handouts while watching video lessons
    • Writing notes on TIA flashcards and condensed/summary outlines
    • Some people rewrote our flashcards or made their own flashcards and/or outlines for review as they learned the material
  • Use of flashcards for review. Although some successful candidates mentioned that they did not use flashcards at all, the vast majority used flashcards in some fashion to review/memorize material. However, no one relied solely on flashcards for studying. Rather, people either started on flashcards while doing the video lessons and/or reviewed flashcards heavily on the final weeks before the exam. Overall, the use of flashcards is extremely diverse, and person-specific.
  • Multiple iterations over the entire syllabus. Many people who passed said they made multiple passes over the entire syllabus. Many watched the video lessons multiple times at varying speeds (1.5x, 2x, etc.). Some explicitly recommended not trying to guess what will be on the exam and instead trying to cover the whole syllabus. No one who passed said they used past exams to “predict” what would be on future exams in an effort to reduce what they had to study.
  • Work past SOA exams and practice problems. Many people worked past SOA exam problems and other practice questions, mainly in the final month before the exam.
  • Stay on schedule. Several successful candidates recommended sticking to a study schedule.

Based on the responses, we concluded that most successful candidates spent the majority of their study time consuming lessons and graded from a “learning phase” during their first pass over the material to more of a “review phase” in the weeks leading up to the exam and took more of an active approach throughout.

Other Miscellaneous Observations and Notes

  • 100% of respondents used a TIA online course for their exam (as would be expected since the survey only went to TIA customers)
  • A minority of people supplemented their TIA course with non-TIA materials, but we did not see a meaningful pattern in pass rates between that group and the others
  • Use of source material varied a great deal by exam. In aggregate, pass rates and total study time were similar for people who used source material in some fashion and those that did not. But we want to stress that this was extremely exam-specific, and our survey questions were not specific enough to understand exactly how each individual actually used source material.
  • We were surprised to see that neither total study time or pass rates varied by exam attempt. People attempting their exam for the second, third, and even fourth time spent the same total amount of time studying as people on their first attempt, and pass rates were similar. Some noted in their comments that even though they had taken the exam before, they were using TIA for the first time. This may explain why performance was similar to those taking the exam for the first time.
  • As noted earlier, the aggregate weighted average pass rate in the survey sample was 65%. For reference, the weighted average pass rate reported by the SOA was 46%. This average is based only on the exams included in this survey and is weighted by the number of responses we received by exam in our survey.


As stated earlier, we believe quality of study time is a bigger driver of success than quantity. This is true of all exams, but even more true on the 2-hour exams where the passing and failing populations of students follow a very similar study time distribution. We hope that the study habits outlined above will help guide future candidates, and we especially endorse an active learning approach. If you have any questions at all about your upcoming exam, please reach out to our instructors anytime. 

If you are new to FSA exams and want to understand how FSA exams differ from the prelims, check out this video.



Flashcards and other supplementary review items

As a reminder, we will be posting flashcards and condensed outlines in the coming weeks. Some of the flashcards are already available now in the web app and (Flashcards tab of the online course) and in the Review app for iOS and Android. We will be posting the PDF versions in the Supplementary and Review Material section once they are more complete. We will release these by section there. The PDF versions come in two formats, one of which is designed to be print-friendly. They will also include instructions for printing. The condensed outlines will also be posted in the Supplementary and Review Material section once they are ready. 

Keep an eye on the Revision History and Scheduled Updates spreadsheet in the Introduction section for more details on the release of these items as well as all key items included in the course. If you have questions about the location of anything, please let us know.