How to Best Prepare for Actuarial Exams

How to best prepare to pass your first actuarial exam.

Actuarial exams are not easy. Passing the actuary exams requires many hours of dedicated  study time with the right resources for your learning style. For first time actuarial exam takers, preparing can be very challenging. You have to take time to understand what material will be covered on the exams and how you’ll be tested. There are lots of resources available to help students prepare, but if you do not take the time to utilize these resources, you may under prepare, or to fail to cover the requirements. Taking advantage of available study materials like study manuals and practice exams is key to passing your exams.

Don’t Underestimate the Amount of Time and Study Preparation You Need to Do

Many first–time actuarial students underestimate the amount of study time required to pass their first exam or feel overconfident because of their strong aptitude for math. If you start studying only a few weeks before the exam, you will simply not have time to cover the amount of material tested in the exam.

Start Prepping Early

It is best to start at least eight weeks prior to the SOA P exam. Keep in mind that everyone taking this exam has excelled in mathematics. The exams are very rigorous and are designed to test knowledge of the material at a very high level. That is why the pass rate on this exam typically ranges only in the 30 to 40 percent range.

Take One Exam at a Time

Make sure that you have passed or are nearly certain of passing SOA/CAS Exam P/1 before beginning your studies for FM/2. There is no sense getting two “5s” when you can get one 6!

Take Advantage of Available Resources

Many first time students are completely unaware that a huge number of materials are available to help them prepare for each exam. These materials include:

  • Exam home pages for each preliminary exam on the SOA website, which include syllabus details, learning objectives and reading for not only each exam, but each specific exam sitting dates as syllabus changes may be made throughout the year, as well as past exam questions and solutions and sample videos and solutions
  • Study manuals that condense and explain the entire syllabus material and typically provide many sample exam questions with solutions, like ASM and ACTEX
  • Flashcards to help with the memorization of critical equations and other material.
  • Video lessons, online courses and live seminars, taught by leading actuarial science educators that explain the entire syllabus material and include exam questions and solutions. ACTEX Learning offers review courses for P, FM, MFE and C.
  • Practice tests that seek to replicate what you’ll face during a real exam with detailed solutions provided.
  • Many other specialty products such as the Calculus Review guide designed specifically to prepare actuarial students for SOA Exam P / CAS Exam 1.

Obtain the right study materials

Students can save a huge amount of time and energy, and significantly increase your odds of passing your first exam(s) by purchasing supplemental actuarial study materials for each exam. There are many competing products offered by distinguished actuarial authors and publishers so you really cannot make a wrong choice. To help you make your choices, online samples of many of these products can be viewed prior to purchase. Another option to help you select the right materials for you is to contact the bookstore and ask for a recommendation. Calling their support by phone because allows for more “give and take” and gives you the opportunity to ask more questions than e–mail. The three primary bookstores specializing in actuarial study materials are:

The Actuarial Bookstore – offers online live chat support

ACTEX Learning | Mad River Books

At the very least we recommend purchasing a study manual for each exam, like those published by ACTEX or ASM. For most actuarial students, the study manual becomes their primary studying resource along with the required/suggested readings. The price of study manuals begins around $75.00 for the first two actuarial exams. In most instances, you’ll want to purchase the most recent edition of the study manual as they are updated regularly to match changes in the syllabus, to correct errata and to add additional sample questions and solutions.

These materials are a “must have” because they significantly cut your study time and improve your chances of passing the exam(s). All study manuals provide you with detailed outlines of the material, and most provide sample problems/exams with detailed solutions. Samples of the manuals are provided by most publishers and these are available as you browse the material listed on our website for each exam. Descriptions of each manual are also provided in this section. All study manuals are produced by well-known and well-respected actuarial educators and publishers

Other materials may also be considered based upon how well your studying is going or depending upon what weaknesses you may have with respect to the material, or how long it’s been since you studied the material in school. For example, if it’s been a few years since you took a probability or statistics course and your studying is going well but you want more practice with exam taking, then signing up for an online course or purchasing practice exams may be very beneficial. Or if you haven’t seen calculus in a few years, then you may want to consider the Calculus Review product as it was designed for actuarial exams. Students can also purchase review videos, video lectures, problems and solutions, or attend a live seminar. The broad array of choices allows each student to choose supplemental materials that are most appropriate for their needs.

In conclusion: start studying as early as possible, prepare diligently and make sure that you have taken advantage of all the available materials and tools to help you prepare.

Good luck with your exams!


The above content was adapted from an article printed in the Summer 2007 issue of the Future Actuary Newsletter, written by Nancy Stevenson.