Analysis of Past Exams spreadsheet updated for spring 2019

The Analysis of Past Exams spreadsheet in the Supplementary Materials section has been updated to include the fall 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 500 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 fall 2018 exam later this month as well.

Don’t neglect exercise in your study routine

When studying for actuarial exams on top of work and personal responsibilities, it is very easy to neglect your physical health by not exercising. This is a big mistake. As Wendy Suzuki explains in her TED Talk, “The Brain-Changing Benefits of Exercise,” when you exercise it literally changes your brain for the better. Your focus improves immediately, and it even causes your brain to grow new brain cells over time. Given the highly cerebral nature of most actuarial exam topics, mixing regular exercise into your study routine is, well, a no-brainer. 🙂

How many hours do fellowship exam candidates study?

In November 2018, we surveyed our customers to see how many hours they spent studying on their exam. The survey was sent a few days after they took their exam.

The data we collected are shown in the graph below. The key driver in hours studied was the length of the exam (2-hour, 4-hour, or 5-hour), as one would expect. There was generally not a material difference across exams and tracks, especially for 5-hour exams. 

Fsa study hours fall2018

Key observations for 5-hour exams:

  • 90% of candidates studied 200–500 hours
  • 70% studied 200–400 hours
  • 40% studied 300–400 hours (the most common range)

Key observations for other exams:

  • For both the 4-hour ERM exam and other 2-hour exams, most candidates spend 200–300 hours studying.
  • G&H Specialty candidates tended to spend more time studying than ILA-LRM, QFI-IRM, and even ERM candidates. Nearly all candidates in the 300–400 hour group for 2-hour exams were G&H Specialty students. We are curious to see if this pattern holds up in future surveys. There was not a similar tendency to study more for 5-hour G&H exams compared to other tracks.

Keep in mind that the quality of your study time is just as important as the number of hours you study. One hour of distraction-free study time first thing in the morning while your mind is fresh is probably worth 2–3 hours of study time when you are exhausted or being distracted.

Look in the online course for more tips on maximizing your study time, and let us know if you have any add additional questions. We are here to help!

A quick link round-up

Here are a few links to previous blog posts you might want to check out as you are starting your studying for spring 2019.

Good luck, and please let us know if you have any other questions.

Spring 2019 study schedule posted

As you probably know, there were no syllabus changes for spring 2019, and our LP online seminar is 100% ready now. We recently posted a spring 2019 study schedule with updated dates for the 2019 study season. Good luck, and please let me know if you have any other questions!

Recall vs. recognition

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!

It’s official: do not fold the exam paper during the read-through time

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.

TIA solutions for spring 2018 exam now available

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.

Analysis of Past Exams spreadsheet updated for fall 2018

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.