Actuarial Exams – Part 1 (Sharing my old write up)

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Actuarial Exams in India has been a topic of never ending discussion in my life since the day I decided to have a career in Actuarial Profession. I have come across many people who aggressively discourage or sort of scare students or Aspiring Actuaries about the pattern of exams. After listening to all and actually passing certain actuarial exams, I have come to certain conclusions and I would like to share it with you all today. The most important thing I have learned is that patience is all it takes to pass the exam other than hard work and determination.

Yes, it can be well agreed that these exams are not like any other professional exams in India. These exams are different from other exams in more than one way. I will describe it all here. If you are a fresher in this field and yet to write your first actuarial exam yet, then this article will give you a detailed idea of what kind of challenges you will have to face in taking your exams and if you have already given exams you may well agree with me on these points and will also help you in taking exams in future.

Why are Actuarial Exams Different?

To start with, I would like to talk about the most interesting fact about this exam. It’s certainly passing marks; Students go and attempt the exams without knowing the passing marks for the exam. Candidates do not have a specific boundary to be crossed in front of them when they go and sit for exam.  They sit for exam to give their best in terms of knowledge rather than just writing answers to score a minimum specified numbers to pass the exam. If actuarial exams are compared with other professional exams you will find that candidates in other profession have a certain number of marks to be scored in exams i.e. a boundary to be crossed.  If a race is of 1 kilometres and runners are told that you will be declared winner on running 1st 400 meters than obviously nobody will bother to run next 600 meters and will prepare for 400 meters run only. Similarly in other professional exams students are supposed to score a minimum marks for example 40% in individual subjects and 50% or so aggregate. Most of the students then only study adequate to score this much. While candidates in actuarial exams have no such boundary to be crossed or specific target that is to be achieved. They are unaware of how much is to be scored and hence are left with no option but to prepare full 100 marks. They have to study every topic and be prepared for everything that comes in their way.

Another unique thing about actuarial exams is that the questions asked are more or less practical and very challenging in nature. These questions are not which anyone can attempt by just mugging up the books. Candidates should be prepared to tackle any challenging questions in a stipulated period of time. This practice of examiners make sure that only eligible candidates are offered success rather than the non deserving candidates who has the habit of cramming without understanding the concepts of the subject. Also there are no options in number of questions of “either-or” that is to be answered. Students are left with no scope to omit topics to be asked in exams. This is confrontation before candidates but this is where the whole crux of actuarial exams lies. In real life, complications in actuarial work do not come with option, so is the essence of actuarial exams.
Third most interesting thing about actuarial exams that need to be appreciated and applauded, which also coincide with my earlier point is that successful as well as unsuccessful candidates don’t know how much they have scored. Many would argue that if marks were displayed it would give candidates a better idea of their success and failure; they would know how much more to practice. I feel that this practice keeps candidates humble and grounded and makes sure that they don’t get over confident about their success (in case they pass with overwhelming margin over passing marks) or get very discouraged at failure. The grading system for unsuccessful candidates is well justified. This practice of institute keeps competition away and keeps the purpose of exams intact without allowing it to distract to other irrelevant topics of competition, toppers or runner ups etc.
This was all about theory exams of the institute which constitute 12 out of 15 exams of the course. Not to my surprise there are 3 practical exams and these practical exams are conducted to test various other skills set required by an actuary other than his numerical skills and his ability to write exam papers. Obviously an Actuary should be excellent not only at numerical skills but also in his communication and presentation skills. CT9, CA2 and CA3 are these three practical exams which briefly and very reasonably test the other knowledge level of an aspiring actuary through a unique exercise. Great details of these exams are available on website so I need not talk about how the exam is conducted but I would appreciate the pattern of exams. Obviously these exams are also not very easy to clear but not very difficult either. Difficulty levels are just reasonable. These exams collectively test various skills of candidate like his communication, concentration ability, listening skills, writing skills, team work, computer skills etc.

Well these are my observations; every one may or may not agree with me.

In general, if you have good skills to write the exam, determination to become an actuary and most importantly patience to work hard and crack the exams, you will never find the course over demanding or extremely difficult to get through. If you get put off by the syllabus or the duration of the course, well this profession is not fit for you. As this profession will require lifetime learning and will demand good amount of quality hard work. The career is very challenging and so are the exams and syllabus. Take is as a challenge and get through it. Don’t complain but appreciate the hard work required. Of course you have all right to keep your point but some time complaining distracts you from your goals.

Sometimes it happens that your paper goes well still you may see your result as FA, FB etc. You may not be declared as pass. In such cases there is definitely something which needs to be worked on. Don’t get put off by failure but get ready for another exam and take it as an opportunity to get even better with the concepts and come out stronger. Personally, failures in actuarial exams have never put me off, of course it makes me sad but then it also can’t discourage or demoralise me from moving ahead in actuarial career. I always take it as an opportunity to get better. And I need not say this that success in actuarial exam is a moment of utmost pride for all of us. The broad smile which may not vanish or get any smaller for at least next few days is all that encourage me to take the challenging challenges of Actuarial Exams.