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How I passed 2 exams in 4 months

I have tremendous respect for everyone who can pass Actuarial Exams. The rule-of-thumb of 100 hours of study per hour of exam applies to every exam that I’ve taken except for Exam PA.  This was because I had already spent 3 years doing R programming and working as a predictive modeler.  Fortunately, my employer’s training had given me the statistical background to pass with only about 80 study hours.  By focusing on core concepts instead of memorizing lists of statistical facts, once one already has the “big picture” in mind then all of the details are easy to remember.  The computer-based test format also allows for productivity “hacks” such as checking your answers within R studio, using keyboard shortcuts, and using data science code tactics.

Exam STAM, on the other hand, was a challenge.  This required that I follow all of the conventional study methods, including an actuarial study manual, about 10 practice exams, and frequent trips to Starbucks.

Tips for anyone taking two exams at once:

  1. Value your time.  My goal was to pass both exams and to save as much study time as possible.  I only studied what I needed to on the first take of Exam PA.  Take frequent breaks.  Give yourself chances to relax and destress.  For example, I would take Sundays completely off to watch the Patriots.  
  2. Have a “fail safe”.  Only aim for one exam.  “A bird in the hand is worth more than 2 in a bush” as they say.  For me, my goal was to pass STAM because it would have been more challenging to retake.  Taking PA a second time would be easy and I had already learned the material.  
  3. Realize that even when you know the source material, the exam process itself is a challenge.  There’s a sort of “game” to answering the SOA’s questions.  Practicing the exam procedure, physically going through all of the practice exams, with a timer, and then reviewing your mistakes is critical.
  4. Collaborate with others.  Two coworkers were also taking Exam PA and so we worked together.  Comparing notes and being a moral support goes a long way to make the study process enjoyable.
  5. Make accurate study timelines.  The strategy that worked for me was to create a spreaksheet that had each day mapped out three months in advance with my personal time, work time, and study time.  I updated this spreadsheet every few days and it let me see if I was getting to far behind in one area.
  6. Communicate your plan with your employer, friends, and family.  This is a big investment in your career, and passing the actuarial exams is key to your success.  My manager was extremely supportive and because I had planned out my study time so far in advance, we had all of my project deadlines set to accomodate study hours.  
Sam Castillo

Sam Castillo

CEO/Founder AI Actuary; Milliman, Predictive Modeler; Willis Towers Watson, Actuarial Data Engineer; 2019 SOA Predictive Analytics Contest, 1st Place.

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