What worked, What didn’t

Studying the Easy Stuff

I didn’t spend enough time with the “easy” stuff. On the exam, the problems surrounding the algebra of events were real chestnuts. Likewise, the first time that I took the exam I encountered an “easy” normal curve problem with a clever twist of algebra. This time, there were two normal distribution problems with the same difficult twist. Study the easy stuff.

One and a Half Years of Study

Actually, two winters worth of studying. My first winter of studying suffered from a lack of study materials. The only book that I had was the free Finan book, plus whatever statistics books were on my shelf (Hogg and Tanis, Casella and Berger). I mostly worked problems from the Online Math Tests Home Page. This was not nearly enough of a variety of problems. Also, my first crack at studying required much reviewing of calculus topics.

The second winter worth of studying was more varied, and more productive. For me, one and a half years was just the right amount of study time. (During this same period, I also bought and renovated a dilapidated house, worked lots of 55 hour weeks at my job, had major surgery, and was reasonably available for my friends, family, pets, and spouse.) For exam FM, I am planning 1 year.

Actex Manual (Broverman)

The exercises in this book are difficult and varied. I will get the Actex manual for FM.

Guo Book

This book provided me with some variety of material when I needed it, and got me thinking about highly efficient solutions. I may get the book for FM.

Finan Book

This book was a good start for me. There are no worked solutions for the exercises, which can become frustrating. I am now started on the book for FM.

Coaching Actuaries

This was a great help at the last minute, in getting a feel for the real test. For the next exam, I am going to get a one month subscription, two months before my exam.

Having Some Background with the Material

Thinking that I had some sort of familiarity with probability was a handicap for the first exam. It encouraged me to not be as thorough with the “easy” stuff as I should have been.

Fortunately, for exam FM/2, I will not have the same problem. I have no background with the material, so I am starting everything from the beginning.


My memory work deserves some real thought, and a post of its own, to follow later.

In short, I am glad that I put as much time as I did into memory work, although it is hard to place its role in passing the exam. The biggest payoff is in the work that I performed in turning complex topics into little digestible examples. As a result, the elementary distributions now have a permanent place in my consciousness.

Early Mornings

Early mornings work for me. I stuck with a wake up time of 3:30 am, or at latest 4:30 am, for more than 6 months. I had time each mornings to complete the most important study tasks, so any additional study time after work was bonus study time. I could study in the afternoons in the coffee shop, and not worry if I lost some study time in socializing


Never in my life have I been so stressed, terrified, and nervous.

Registering, in the testing center, I had trouble following the simple instructions: signing my name, turning this way or that for the metal detector, pulling out my drivers license.

During the test, I felt as if I missed over half the problems. My thinking was very unclear. Unfamiliar problems were absolutely daunting, calculation-intense problems were like Mount Fuji, and questions that involved extra logical twists were like cinder block walls.

When the exam results appeared on the screen, I did not understand the words.

Back out in the registration room, I was just as nervous as before the exam. I could not figure out how to hand my scrap paper and pencils to the gentleman behind the counter. I dropped things. I spoke in garbled syllables.

In my car, I balled for a few minutes, then laughed hysterically, then balled some more. I still couldn’t shake all of the nervousness off.

But I passed.

9 more Days.

I thought that I was studying intently before, but now I am really studying.

A week back, I signed up to take mock exams from Coaching Actuaries.  I have been taking one or two exams each day, plus reviewing answers.  This study choice was a very good one right now.  I have a much better feel for what I can accomplish with two or three hours of intense concentration.

It has been especially satisfying to successfully solve problems of types I have never before seen.  That is the fruit of hundreds of hours of study.

That is it for now.  Today, I am just reviewing solutions.