The road to becoming an actuary is paved with a slew of certification exams. If you want to be an actuary, you’ll have to take these exams to get the certifications you need to do so. What you may not be aware of, however, is when you should begin taking these challenging exams. Exam preparation for your first actuarial exam is now in full swing.
The Certification Process for Actuaries
Actuaries must be certified in order to practice. For actuaries, certification is more complicated than for many other professions. Obtaining associate-level certification can take up to seven years, while obtaining fellowship-level certification can take up to three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
It is mandatory for actuaries to pass six preliminary exams before they can be certified. These exams cover probability, financial mathematics, models for financial economic exams, life contingency models, statistical models, and how to build actuarial models with evaluation. Because the rest of the preliminary actuarial exams build on the knowledge gained from the Probability and Financial Mathematics exams, students usually take one of those exams first and the other second. Choosing a career path in actuarial science is largely a matter of personal preference after passing the initial examinations. The Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA) both require additional certification exams before you can complete your full professional certification (CAS).
What’s the hold-up? Every exam requires actuaries to study for months, with each exam requiring at least a few hundred hours of study.
Getting Started with the Exams for Getting Certified
Acquiring full actuarial certification can seem like an enormous task. By planning ahead, working hard, and breaking down the process into manageable steps, successful actuaries succeed.
Make sure to take calculus and probability and statistics, financial mathematics, or both during your freshman year of college. Your preparation for the first two certification exams will begin with this coursework, but you will also need to study on your own.
The summer following the first year of college is often a convenient time for students who have completed these courses, as long as they allow themselves enough time to prepare independently for the exams. Students should not wait too long to take their first exam, even if other students do so later in their college careers. According to the professional actuary societies, many employers of actuaries expect candidates fresh out of college to have already passed two exams. You can’t plan to cram both exams in at the end of your studies because preparing for each one takes so much time. Employers typically prefer to hire interns who have demonstrated their technical skills by passing at least one exam, so you may have difficulty gaining internship experience if you haven’t passed at least one exam.
For the most part, the Probability exam is only offered on odd-numbered months, whereas the Financial Math exam is only offered on even-numbered months.
Exam Preparation for the Actuary Profession
The SOA recommends a study time of 100 hours for each hour of exam time. It takes 300 hours of study for the first two exams, while the remaining preliminary exams are between three and four hours long. Avoid cramming the night before the test by planning to spread out your 300 hours of study over several months. This will give you the time and space you need to master the concepts and techniques you’ll need to pass the test.
The amount of time you spend studying for the exam will be influenced by the amount of time you spend in college, but it is not enough to guarantee that you will pass the exam on your own. There are many free or low-cost resources available to students who want to pass their actuarial exams. These include study manuals from the professional organizations, sample tests, and practice problems from third parties.
For students preparing to take the exam, it is critical that they read and review all of their course material, as well as take practice exams under the same conditions as they will face on the actual exam.
Many actuarial science students pass their first exam as early as the summer after their freshman year of college, which is sooner than you might think.