Actuarial Outpost
Go Back   Actuarial Outpost > Exams - Please Limit Discussion to Exam-Related Topics > SoA > Corporate Finance and ERM (CFE) Track > Strategic Decision Making
FlashChat Actuarial Discussion Preliminary Exams CAS/SOA Exams Cyberchat Around the World Suggestions

Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 01-12-2019, 12:45 PM
XP-SteveScoles's Avatar
XP-SteveScoles XP-SteveScoles is online now
Join Date: Apr 2016
College: University of Manitoba
Posts: 180

Originally Posted by Jonnyboy View Post
To preface, though I'm no expert, I have passed all my actuarial exams on my first attempt, so I assume my study methods and exam strategies are effective. Perhaps my insights could be useful to you.
  • How do you study for these exams?
  • How do you approach the exam questions?

Recall from How to Measure Anything that we can be calibrated with repeated exposure and feedback.
  • Did you feel like this exam went well right after you finished with it?
  • How'd it compare to those six practice exams you took where you only scored poorly on one of them?
  • How were those six practice exams scored?
  • Have you felt similarly optimistic about an exam in the past, only to fail?

Maybe you need to calibrate yourself. You might be overestimating the quality of your answers. You might be grading your practice exams in a way that isn't in-line with how the real exams are graded.

I will tell you that I've never adopted the oft-mentioned strategy of flashcards and memorization for these exams. My strategy has always been to start early, and read all the source material once through (not thinking at all about how it might come up on an exam). I let myself really get into the material, and try to incorporate it into my understanding of the world. I don't approach it from the "I have to pass an exam" vantage point, but from the "this is interesting and useful information to know" vantage point. I get excited about the knowledge. Each exam I've taken changes my perspective on the world, even if I forget a lot of the specifics after taking the exam.

After a few months of reading through the material and letting the big picture soak in, I will usually begin going through the video lectures and summaries provided by PAK. (Personally, I like to do all of my reading and video watching while going on walks around the city; oddly, I find that the information becomes linked with very specific memories of those walks, which can be helpful.) This second part serves as a refresher/reminder of the material, and allows me to dive deeper into certain parts I may have missed during the first pass.

Only in the last month prior to the exam do I start to do practice questions, and I have never taken a complete practice exam prior to the real thing. I always perform this process by first downloading the most recent 3 or 4 exams published by the SOA, and labeling each question by the relevant syllabus section/subsection.Then, I'll do a problem from a particular section and immediately after completing the question I'll read the sample solution and then reread the material where I feel I fell short. I try to answer one problem a day during the last month (which means I'm usually spending like 15 hours answering old exam questions in the last month).

Finally, I always take extra time off right before an exam. If the exam is on a Tuesday, I'll take a study day (or vacation day) the Monday and prior Friday (and possibly prior Thursday as well), so that I'll have 5 or so days immediately before the exam where I do nothing else but cram. I don't work, I eat takeout, and I ignore my friends and family. Rereading the study guide (and some source material) for one syllabus section per day seemed to work well. So, for instance, on Thursday the week before I might start with syllabus section 1, and read the PAK condensed summary for that section, do a couple practice problems, read some parts of the PAK summary (non-condensed), and reread some source materials if I find I'm still missing some understanding. Usually, during these last five days I'll read through like 500 pages of material and spend something like 50 or 60 hours focusing entirely on exam prep.

The night before the exam I obviously try to get to sleep early, and ensure that the morning of I have a healthy breakfast.

Finally, while taking the exam, I try to answer the questions not in an obvious attempt to display syllabus knowledge, per se, but as though I were being asked by a client to answer some question they have. I try to put on my thinking hat, and provide some useful insights which may or may not come directly from the source material; usually it does. The goal for me is not to show the exam graders that I know the material, but that I'm a knowledgeable, thoughtful person, who can think critically and provide answers that any person reading (even those unfamiliar with the exam or source material) would find insightful and useful.

My take is, if the exam writers want a specific answer, they should ask a specific question. If I provide an otherwise good answer that isn't what they were looking for exactly, it's their fault for not asking a precise enough question.

Just my 2 cents.
There is a lot of gold there. Also, it's, once again, important to be careful how you use it. Again we can get caught by things like vividness or availability bias in analyzing a performance. Like overcoming a lot of biases, its a matter of weighting things properly and looking at percentages, etc.

I can make a lot of comments on this, but here are two for right now:

1) Jonny's approach is actually very similar to the one I used (without the long walks!). I needed a big picture understanding of everything. Once I had that, it was relatively easy for me to attach details to it and remember those details because they had meaning to me.

But ... I see a lot more students needing the detail and then later forming their big picture understanding. The approach can really help some, but not work for others

I have to say "enjoying the learning" is also something that I did (except for the occasional study note). It can really add to the "finding meaning" aspect of the studying.

2) Taking a full practice exam -- Jonny did not do this, but for most students I see, this is critical. It might work for some, but not others. I have lots of detailed comments on this in our preparation. But I want to be sure ... I have seen lots of students that never did this, and then when I got them to do it, passed the exam with a much higher mark.

It's like Dick Fosbury and the high-jumping fosbury flop technique. He found he couldn't do it well in practice, rather he needed the intensity of a competitions to do it right. This is an extremely rare quality (not doing something in practice, but doing it under extreme stress), but it worked very well for him.

I will post some more concepts. Thanks Jonny for sharing that!
I help students pass SDM
Reply With Quote
Old 01-13-2019, 10:34 PM
XP-SteveScoles's Avatar
XP-SteveScoles XP-SteveScoles is online now
Join Date: Apr 2016
College: University of Manitoba
Posts: 180

Here are some more comments - I am going to focus on one of Jonny's specific points. By the way, this is really useful that Jonny put his whole approach out there. I think it's important to look at these things in clear detail ... Often students are looking for that one or two things that will "make the difference", but that is not often the case.

Jonny talked about repeated exposure and feedback and I have seen a lot of what passing students do and what non-passing students do and I see a lot of patterns emerge. BUT it always needs to be adjusted to the individual student!!!

Jonny:"I'll do a problem from a particular section and immediately after completing the question I'll read the sample solution and then reread the material where I feel I fell short"

This is really good (but with some caveats for SDM). Past SOA questions are like gold (particularly this sitting with such massive syllabus changes - fewer past questions will apply). You really need to extract what you can from them.

Some errors I see students make for SDM:
a) SDM has a lot of questions where there are multiple correct answers, BUT only one answer is published. Exam question writers takes weeks/months to write questions and they go through several layers of approval. However, the only guidance for solutions is: "it must be a solution that got full marks". There is a lot of variation in the effort put into solutions. I often see students thinking their answer needed to fit the solution quite closely and they tie themselves in knots going from answer to answer.

Last sitting, I set up a short checklist of things on how students should evaluate their answers rather than looking at the solution as the only gospel.

One massive lever for SDM is learning HOW to answer the questions. This is where offering feedback had a huge impact on pass rates

Furthermore, the insidious nature of this is that most students get through CFE and ERM thinking doing the past SOA questions is enough and then get to SDM completely unsuspecting that they need to be more careful with past SOA questions

b) One thing that is super-critical that Jonny mentioned is that when analyzing your answer, go back to the source material and make sure you understand the source material. In addition to solidifying your understanding, you should find that going back to the source will actually expand your knowledge beyond just the question asked ... see next point

c) I sometimes see students using the past SOA exam questions in a way that ends up having them optimize to past exams ... rather than preparing for the exam to come! They want to be very correct for the past question, but don't go beyond the narrow aspects of that question ... as noted in (b), going back to the source can allow you to expand your knowledge beyond the question asked.

This is important for SDM in particular, because it is extremely rare for them to ask a similar question on a later exam. In fact, when the same topic comes up in a later exam, it is almost always tested at a deeper level than the previous time it was questioned. e.g. Five Forces model: do a five forces analysis of Frenz ... when Five Forces comes up again several exams later, it's do a five forces analysis of Blue Jay Air with 4 new competitors added in ... with a deeper focus on two of the five forces.

Furthermore, the insidious nature of this is that most students get through CFE and ERM thinking doing the past SOA questions is enough and then get to SDM completely unsuspecting that they need to be more careful with past SOA questions

d) to me, almost every student I have seen benefits from timed practice, but the questions you are answering need to be at the right level to truly simulate the SDM exam ... and learn where you need to improve.

This is just on one of Jonny's points. There are a lot of things that can be fine-tuned in other areas for a lot of students I see.

Again, students often look for that one or two things that will change their outcome. Its not always that easy. When I encounter a student struggling with this exam, I want to know everything they are doing and then try to pinpoint several areas for improvement.

Coming from a sports coaching/training background, I was surprised to not see students much more intently analyzing their process. There is a whole world out there that looks at peak performance in a very detailed way.

Interestingly, chapter 8 of the new book Pyramid Principle, has a whole chapter on analytical problem solving which covers the basic methods I see world-class coaches using in analyzing athletic success. But it takes a very careful analysis to determine where the problems are happening ... and it can be quite different from student-to-student.

Thanks to Jonnyboy for outlining his process in such detail -- I think it can give a (starting!!) template for students analyzing what they do and to start inspecting every section of their SDM preparation and exam writing.

Hope this helps someone a little bit!

I help students pass SDM
Reply With Quote
Old 01-14-2019, 10:12 PM
Matas.akarawin Matas.akarawin is offline
Join Date: Jan 2019
College: Alumni
Posts: 1

So glad I'm done with this one on a first attempt, I don't think I can handle the big syllabus changes anymore. Special thank to Steve and his XP team, I honestly didnt expect you to improve my exam writing process so much in a short period of time, it is a miracle. Before applying with XP, it usually take me at least 2 tries to passed both ERM and CFE exams, which i barely passed on 6. Coming into SDM, knowing its the hardest exam out of the 3s I could only dream of passing it on the first attempt.

One of my colleague who passed on the Spring 2018 sitting (his 4th attempt) has recommend me to switch to "Steve's XP SDM" course. He told me that XP mock's exam help him alot in passing this exam. Steve's exam is never something you can answer by copying answer straight from the manual. It requires deeper analysis and force you to understand both the case study and material truly to be able to answer. And most importantly, Steve's course teach me how to truly justify my answer to get more easy points which is the most critical part in this exam.

In all fairness, I think the SDM exam is so well structure that it is nearly impossible to create a mock exam that truly test your ability to perform in the real examination. I mean they probably have like a team of experts going over the exam for months. What are the chances that the mock exams you purchase from an external parties is going to be the same level of difficulty and the same style as the real exam. With that being said, I felt that Steve put his heart into making the mock exam as helpful as they can be, incorporating the case study in a very detailed level throughout the mock exam and testing all your skills required to pass the exam under time pressure. That's why I appreciate it so much, I can feel that he is not just trying to make a mock exam for money, Steve is trying to help you to pass the SDM in any possible ways.

And I didn't even buy XP's full course, all I did was bought his cheapest mock exam product. Steve also gave me review of my answer for one of the mock exam. At first I thought he would just write to me little comments on my answer and where can I improve. Instead he gave me a full 30 mins video review of my answers, telling me where can I get more points and where did I lose points, generally how to improve my answer under a time limit.

I might be talking like I'm paid to speak highly of Steve or even selling XP course myself, but trust me I am not, I'm just simply grateful that I switch to XP just in time for my first attempt on SDM. Why wouldn't I be grateful? He just freaking improved me from a 6s in 2 attempts to a "HARD 7! on a first try! on the hardest exam!?. That's just crazy.

Thank you again Steve!

Last edited by Matas.akarawin; 01-14-2019 at 10:17 PM..
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

All times are GMT -4. The time now is 12:06 AM.

Powered by vBulletin®
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
*PLEASE NOTE: Posts are not checked for accuracy, and do not
represent the views of the Actuarial Outpost or its sponsors.
Page generated in 0.21224 seconds with 11 queries