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.

Get even more out of the TIA Learn app on the iPad Pro

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.

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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.

Time management is everything: stay on schedule!

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.

Tips for juggling work responsibilities and studying for actuarial exams

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

A quick link round up if you are getting started now

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.

Updates to our Flashcards and Learn apps for iPhone and iPad

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This week we updated our free Flashcards app for iPhone with even more features to help you get the most out of your valuable study time. In addition to a new look, some of the new features include:

  • A redesigned filter bar. You can now filter a single list of flashcards by topic, chapter, lesson, tag, or if a card is marked unknown or known
  • The ability to tag cards, and create custom piles
  • An updated design that allows for cleaner, crisper rendering of flashcard content

We also updated the look of our free Learn app for iPhone, which allows you to download videos for offline viewing and much more. One thing we’ve improved is the Learn app’s ability to play audio in the background. This allows the Learn app to be used in more of an “audio-only” mode when you only want to listen to the lecture audio (e.g. while driving). 

We are also hard at work on a redesign of our Android Learn app, which should be available later this sitting.

All of our apps are tightly integrated with the online seminar and following the lesson structure exactly. Your feedback on these apps has driven our mobile app development, and we’d like to thank you for that! We also look forward to hearing how you use these apps in your future exam prep.

Tips for a late January or July start

Many people get stressed out when they get a late July (or January) start. It’s natural to feel like you’re a bit more crunched when you see that some people have already been studying for a month or more. Rather than dwell on losing a few weeks up front, I recommend thinking in terms of how you can get the most out of the roughly 100 days you do have.

With a good plan in place and the right level of focus, a late January/July start can actually work in your favor—not against you. I explain more below.

Commit to a study schedule right away. We offer a customizable spreadsheet study schedule that follows the exact order of the online seminar and also a study schedule built right into the website itself.

Reference the source material as much as you can, but don’t lose track of time in it. There are 3 broad strategies that I’ve seen work for people:

  1. Read the detailed study manual before looking at the source material
  2. Watch the video before looking at the source material
  3. Some combination of both of the items above (or switch up to keep things interesting)

Try to finish the first pass by mid-September or mid-March

  • This leaves time to review lessons you struggled with—flag these on your first pass
  • It is critical to leave time to work practice problems and past exams
  • Use the final 4–6 weeks to memorize as you go back and forth between detailed study manual and videos vs. the flash cards and/or condensed outlines

Urgency can be an asset. Use it to increase your focus and prioritizing studying over other competing activities.

People who start really early run the risk of burning out early, and there is a often this effect where people just naturally converge on March to finish their first pass, even if they start extra early.

No matter when you start, I think people who pass the exam end up putting in the about the same amount of time and effort in the last 2 months. Staying focused in the final two months before the exam is critical, and this challenges people who have already been studying for several months as fatigue sets in.

If you are starting in late July or January, you are much less likely to hit a study slump.

The value of note-taking when studying for actuarial exams

Someone about to start studying for their first FSA exam recently asked me:

Would you recommend taking notes on the study guide and the videos?

Yes, yes, and yes! Note-taking helps you in 3 key ways:

  1. Helps you stay engaged. If you take notes, it’s much more likely that you’ll pay attention than if you just passively watch the videos or just look at words on a page.
  2. Helps you remember things. At least one study has shown that people are more likely to remember things when they write them down by hand. One of my favorite quotes is the Field Notes tagline “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”
  3. Gives your hand exercise. Five-hour written exams are quite demanding physically — especially in a time when most of us use keyboards and touch screens all day. The more you can practice handwriting between now and the exam, the more “in shape” your hand will be on exam day. Trust me — if you are not ready to write for 5 hours, your hand will literally slow down and even cramp up in the afternoon. But if you practice handwriting, it won’t be an issue.