How to pass actuarial exams

As someone who has recently passed all my actuarial exams, as well as a member of the faculty of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia, may I offer a few random, quick tips about how to pass actuarial exams.

  • Know the environment. You should have a good understanding of the financial and tax systems of the country that sets the exams. Examiners try very hard, but sometimes they may unconsciously assume that you know about these systems, even when you are in another country and it’s fairly reasonable that you don’t.

    In Australia, the Department of the Treasury produces the Pocket Brief to the Australian Tax System each year. The Reserve Bank of Australia website contains a section on Australia’s financial system.

  • Know the industry, particularly industry “themes”. It is not uncommon that exam questions are somewhat related to recent industry “themes”. Examiners are human, and so questions draw on their experience, both recent and far away.

A few years ago there was a question in the life insurance paper on unit pricing, just as the topic was receiving substantial attention from the regulator.

  • Think like the examiner and marker. Everybody knows that it’s a good idea to do past exam questions, but it’s equally important to mark the questions that you (or others) have done. You’ll learn a lot more seeing how you and your peers mark exam questions. It’ll improve your exam technique substantially.

  • Brush up your English. This is targeted at everyone, not just those whose English is their second language. There are always room to improve how you express things. The aim is to explain something simply and succintly.

  • Watch the clock. You will always run out of time. Don’t waste time by thinking over exam questions beyond the time you have allocated for them.

  • Discuss with people who knows. It’s important that you extract as much knowledge as you can from people who are actually in the industry. This is the only way that you will be able to learn whether the answers you give to exam questions are reasonable or manifestly absurd.

Hopefully that’s a start. If there are any more exam tips, leave a comment.

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