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Can't find a good study strategy

  1. Sep 26, 2013 #1
    So it's been 10 years since I've been out of college, and this year, I've decided to realize my goal of becoming an actuary.

    My problem is that I keep failing the first preliminary exam. I know that these exams are supposed to be tough, but at the rate that I'm going, technically, I should be able have passed it already (and maybe even pass exam #2). Before I write myself off as "not cut out to be an actuary," I want to think that I'm only studying harder, but not smarter.

    I've been studying since march. I've subscribed to theinfiniteactuary seminars (good feedback from a lot of people), and I've used the published 153 questions.

    My schedule is set up to where I have a good 3 to 4 hours of distraction-free time to study, and since March, I've been studying 5 to 6 days per week, doing problems after problems after problems. The typical suggested time to pass these exams is 150 to 300 hours. Going at my rate, it really shows I'm not utilizing my time effectively.

    I took the exam the first time in July, and up until then, my routine was to work practice problems and do practice exams. That wasn't effective so after the first sitting, I spent from july to September, redoing all of it, but this time tracking every single question on a spreadsheet. About 30 days before my second sitting, I was in a position where every day, I can just work the problems that were highlighted in 'red'(the ones i couldn't get). About 2 weeks away from the exam, I did the published 153 questions just to make sure that I familiarize myself with the 'official' set of questions.

    My problem is that for the questions that I knew how to solve, these were always easy. The ones that I did not know how to solve, I either have an 'aha' moment after reading through the solution, but then forget how to do it again when I retry in a few days, or I follow the steps, accept the thought process, and move on. I can honestly say that on most of the problems that I don't know how to answer, even if I dont know it deep down, I can understand on why the solution is the way it is.

    So in short, the questions in 'red,' stay 'red' forever....

    Come to exam time, I start to stumble. the wording on the question wasn't tough. I understand what they were asking (i,e probability of ____, expected value, etc etc), but it's when they start to ask these things and combining other ideas that gets me.

    So I guess I"m asking for assistance on how to overcome this. I obviously have the desire to move to this field (otherwise I wouldn't have spent my butt in chair that many hours for this many months), so I have the motivation. Now, I'm just trying to practically figure out how to attack it. before I purchase add'l material for additional problems, I want to nail the study habit and strategy. I plan to take the test in January again and would like suggestions on study techniques from all you, as critics, math professors, professionals, etc etc
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2013 #2


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    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    When you learn a new technique, or a novel way to solve a problem, write out that solution in detail, showing how everything was done.

    Then summarize it on an index card.

    You might also do this for the "ones you know how to do"; the cards will then provide your own personal review ... something that you can look over prior to the exam. I learned this technique in a proof-based upper level math class - a card for every definition, lemma, theorem, and computational technique. It worked well for me.

    BTW the "150 to 300 hours" of study is for recent graduates ... they don't have as much studying to do. You may have to improve your general level of mathematics first. One way to do this is sign up for an upper level math course at your local university - audit is fine - just so long as you do all of the homework and take the tests. For example, a senior level course in linear algebra or probability theory.

    Good luck!
  4. Sep 27, 2013 #3


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    Homework Helper

    I always like to ask, what is right way to solve this problem? When you do homework problems, decide if the method you used is the right way to solve it. Try to find a better way to solve it. Try to find a method that is more general, that you can apply in more situations. Try to leverage simple knowledge or concepts as much as possible. Is it the case that simple concepts will lead one to the answer or is the problem inherently complex? That is particularly important, that any complexity in the solution is inherent in the problem, because otherwise, it is not how one should solve that problem.
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