Many career changers wonder where to get started with actuarial exams. The exam track is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of a prospective actuary gaining professional status. To become an actuary you must complete the relevant exam track and requirements for your chosen focus. We aim to discuss the different actuary societies, basic exam tracks and requirements, and how to get started with exams when switching to an actuarial career.
Actuarial Exams Quick Facts
- Society of Actuaries (SOA) and Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) are the two actuarial societies in the U.S. that you can pursue professional status with.
- Both societies accept the first three exams: Probability/1 (P/1), Financial Mathematics/2 (FM/2), Investment & Financial Markets/3F (IFM/3F) Each exam has thirty to thirty-five multiple-choice questions and a three to three and a half-hour time limit depending on the exam.
- The general rule for exam study is 100 study hours per hour of an exam. Exam P/1 is three hours, therefore would take 300 hours of study to prepare.
- You can take exams in any order. The most common places to start are P/1 or FM/2.
- 57.4% of those who sat for P/1 in July 2020 passed (soa.org). The percentage of people passing FM/2 is comparable at 56.8% in the August 2020 sitting (soa.org).
- Both P/1 and FM/2 are offered six times a year. IFM/3F is offered three times a year. Computer-Based Testing is available for both and an instantaneous exam grade is available upon completion of the exam.
- The registration fee for P/1 and FM/2 is $250 and IFM/3F is $350
- Approximately 5-6 minutes per question depending on the exam
The focus you choose for your actuarial career will determine the society you need to register with. Generally, insurance is split into two categories; life and non-life. Life focuses on the insurance of animate objects, such as health, retirement, and life insurance. Non-Life handles inanimate objects, including auto, home, and travel insurance. Non-Life is also referred to as Property and Casualty Insurance.
Society of Actuaries
The SOA is your choice for any ‘life’ based insurance. To attain Associate of Society of Actuaries (ASA) requires 7 exams, three Validation by Education Experience (VEE) requirements, one set of self-paced modules, and attendance of the Associateship Professionalism Course. Think of modules as similar to exams, but you do not take a standardized assessment under rigorous exam conditions. The Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice are the Associate modules and require you to read material and complete self-paced written assessments. College courses typically fulfill VEE requirements. Career changers may be required to fulfill these if they did not take any business or actuarial classes at college.
Casualty Actuarial Society
The CAS handles designations for Property & Casualty. The process is similar to the SOA, however, the exams and other requirements differ after the first three exams. The CAS also has two VEE requirements that align with the SOA, these classes include Accounting, Finance, and Economics.
You probably haven’t even started looking for jobs let alone made any decisions on which society to register with. If you are unsure it would be wise to keep as many doors open as possible. You should apply to every job you can find and focus on completing all exams and requirements that are accepted by both organizations. You will be able to decide which track to further pursue at a later time.
Professional License (Actuarial Credentials)
There are two levels of designation you can achieve with either society. The first one that you will pursue is Associate. The style of exams and content is different between the Associate and Fellow tracks. Many consider the Fellow exams to be more challenging as they cover a wider scope and focus more on “Free Response” questions.
The path to an Associate can be a different experience for career changers. The length of time to gain associate designation will vary for everyone. Some manage to pass all the exams the first time while others may fail several times before passing. These exams focus on mechanical skills such as integral calculus and statistical calculations. It is not uncommon for actuaries to achieve Associate and not pursue Fellow.
Once you have achieved the designation of Associate you have the option to continue down a pathway towards attaining Fellow. These requirements focus more on actuarial standards and best practices, such as specific responsibilities of an actuary on performing certain tasks, or disclosures required on actuarial reports.
How do I get started taking actuarial exams?
You will have to register for an exam before sitting. Every exam has a registration deadline that is usually about one month prior to the actual date. I recommend first starting with exam P/1 or FM/2. P/1 focuses on introductory probability and statistics and requires some integral calculus. FM/2 focuses on cash flows and annuities. Many choose to sit FM/2 first as it is not calculus intensive.
Registering for an exam is straight forward. For the first three, it doesn’t matter which society you register with as you will be able to get recognition with the other society later if needed. I’ve registered for all my exams through the SOA.
Study and preparation
The general rule for Associate exams is 100 hours of preparation for every hour of the exam. That means a three-hour exam should take 300 hours to prepare. Remember that everyone is different and you will have to assess your own ability level before deciding on a study plan.
Generally, the process for each exam is the same. You purchase materials to learn the content. You should always try to obtain comprehensive (self-contained) materials, which means that it is a one-stop for everything you need on that exam. Most material sets assume the test-taker has an understanding of basic mathematical concepts, including elementary statistics and integral calculus. Once you have worked through the study manual, it is important to spend approximately 4 weeks reviewing and working on practice exams. You can purchase study materials from each exam on Coaching Actuaries.
Repetition is easily the most important aspect of succeeding in actuarial exams – practice, practice, practice. On the P/1 exam, you have approximately six minutes per question, meaning that you will not have time to problem solve during the exam. You need to have some idea of how to solve a problem within the first minute of looking at it, if not you should skip the question. Exam-taking strategy and skills are often overlooked and make all the difference.
What if I don’t know Calculus?
If your calculus is rusty or you feel concerned about relearning mathematics, then you may have to spend some extra time honing those skills. If you choose to use self-contained materials provided by Coaching Actuaries or ACTEX then you should be able to pick up a lot from the model solutions in the manual. There are also plenty of places on the internet where you can review the basics of integral calculus, such as Paul’s Online Math Notes. A lot of questions on the exams focus on the same type of techniques and statistical distribution. You do not need to be a calculus genius! It is important to not feel intimidated by the mathematical requirements.
Generally, anyone that considers switching to an actuarial career usually has some experience with high-level math classes. If you do not cope well with math or statistics then likely actuary is not the career for you!
After the exam
Results are published in 8-11 weeks. Most Computer-Based Testing exams on the associate track have instantaneous results. These are unofficial pass/fail results. The only exam that doesn’t offer instant results on the Associate’s track is Long-Term Actuarial Mathematics (LTAM). LTAM has an open-response component and requires review by a grader. If you are lucky enough to see the “Pass” on the unofficial results, it is safe to assume you can start moving on to your next test! If you do not pass then I would recommend re-taking the exam before moving onto another.
How many actuarial exams do I need to land a job?
A career changer looking for serious consideration by an employer should have passed two or three actuarial exams. I think the perfect amount is two exams. You can spend extra time learning other skills that might be good for your resume (e.g. learning a programming language or creating a project with excel).
There are many different opinions on how far you can go. If you have no actuarial experience then you should stick to only three exams to keep doors open to choose which track to continue with. Both societies accept the first three exams. You are better off learning a new skill, such as the R programming language, to put on your resume rather than doing more than three exams.
Validation by Educational Experience
College classes generally cover VEE requirements. As a career changer, it is likely that you do not have the required classes, especially if you have not attended college recently. Nowadays there are companies that will facilitate a stand-alone and self-paced course that will fulfill VEE requirements. Coaching Actuaries has a good program that allows you to fulfill VEE requirements and they will provide an exam proctor for the final assessment (not quite as rigorous as an actual exam).
If you have the resources available then try to complete VEEs before applying for jobs. My only experience is with Coaching Actuaries – once you complete their course you go to your society’s website and fill out an application for the relevant VEE. You can also wait after completing to register until you decide on an actuarial society.
Society of Actuaries – Actuarial Society focused on Life (Health/Retirement/Life insurance)
Casualty Actuarial Society – Actuarial Society focused on Casualty (Auto/Home/Travel/etc insurance)
Coaching Actuaries – Great products for helping actuaries prepare for exams
The Infinite Actuary – Great products for helping actuaries prepare for exams and other technical skills too
ACTEX – Text books for actuarial exams
Paul’s Online Notes – Free online notes for Calculus I/II, great place to review calculus concepts needed on the actuarial exams!
Want more information on changing careers to an actuary? Check out From Teacher to Actuary for in-depth discussion.