Eight Secret Tricks to Passing (Exam FM)

1.  Be over-prepared: The syllabus is so extensive, and there are so many twists that may be put on standard material, that there are always going to be questions that look foreign. The more that you are prepared, the more that you will be able to handle some of these. Being over prepared also helps to deal with emotions. There were points during the exam when a little voice in my head said “There is no way that you are going to pass this.” Yet, that same voice was in my head during many sample exams which I passed with flying colors. Experience and over-preparation reveals that you can succeed even when you are not at your best. If you walk into the exam center with worries, or a cold,or the flu, or pain in your back, you know that you can still succeed.

2.  Fill in the tough spots: It can hurt your head to learn new things. Identify the areas with which you struggle, and try to get your head around them. Two weeks before the exam, I still had some head-pain topics. Things like duration matching, convexity, interest rate swaps, and put-call parity. But, they were on my daily study schedule, and I forced myself to confront them each day. It paid off.

3.  Fill in the fundamentals: Once you gain proficiency in a topic, the fundamentals look different. In the month before the test, I went back and reviewed some of the basics of interest theory. At this point, the basics were easy, and I picked up on some of the finer points that I missed the first time around. Amortization schedules, for instance.  After I learned the basic formulas, it was easy to ignore the schedules they are based on. Yet many problems are made much easier by using schedules, rather than relying on formulas.

4.  Memorization is easy: Once you understand things thoroughly, you don’t really need to do much memory work for these exams. After months of working problems, most things will be anchored in your head. And yet suppose that you find yourself trapped in a dark alley by two annuities, one of which is twice as long as the other. Then you will be glad that you memorized \frac{a_{\overline{2n}\lvert }}{a_{\overline{n}\lvert }}=1-v^n I have never encountered this fact in practice, but if I did, recognizing this identity might save me a couple of minutes. Spend a little time on memory work, it is easy.

5.  Test symbolic solutions with numbers: If you have a problem with a purely symbolic solution, and you can narrow it down to a couple of possible solutions, you can frequently replace the variables with reasonable numbers, and see if the result is true. This is my favorite new solution technique I learned while studying for this exam.

6.  Read MacDonald: Actually read it. After you learn the math, go back and read it. If you look at the notes from the sample problems, you will notice that the exam writers have made it pretty clear that the exam will be based on the book. Those non-numeric multiple choice questions can be very challenging. Read the book.

7.  Number your Scrap Paper: I learned this trick when taking practice exams.  If you have time to review problems at the end of the exam, you will need to find the scratch-work easily.

8.  Practice with dull number two pencils: Two weeks before the exam, I put all of my mechanical pencils away, and worked only with old fangled sharpenable pencils. Two hours into the exam, you will be working with dull stubs, so you need to be prepared.

Onward to Exam MFE

The title indicates that I passed FM. Here is how it happened.

I went easy on studying for the two days before the exam. I did some light reviewing of formulas, shoveled snow, walked the dog, and made candy. Weather was a concern. We have been getting blasted by winter each week, along with most of the rest of you in the Northeast. My spouse had generously agreed to come with me to the testing site (40 minutes away, in Lancaster), but I know that winter driving is very stressful for her, and that it was a pretty big thing for her to agree to come with me at all. I also knew that I would really like to have her emotional support after the exam, pass or fail.

We are buried under snow. I am glad that I checked online, because sometime in the last couple of years the Fruiteville Pike Prometric location moved down the street to the next plaza. I might have had trouble finding it, under the twenty-foot tall snow piles.

So, the test itself. I am so glad that I was over prepared. I had plenty of negative thoughts during the test. But I have been doing these problems under all sorts of conditions for months. It is like having a bad day at work: you know that you can still get your job done well, even on a bad day.

When I was all done with the exam, I still had about 21 minutes to go. This is about how I have been timing my sample exams. In those few minutes, I found errors on three marked questions. These were questions that I had reached the end of, and then found that my answer was not on the list. So frustrating. A little time away from the problem, though, and the mistake is often obvious. In these problems, it is often some vital misreading at the front end or back end of the problem.

Anyways, I worked right up to the end. I filled the survey at the end out in a big hurry, because I couldn’t wait to see the result. I was so surprised to see a “pass.”

That’s it. Now that I am done, it is like this big thing that has been dominating my life since early fall is just gone.

When I got home, I pulled out the exam MFE syllabus.

My Soundtrack

I have been listening to music while I study for this exam. Partly because I am studying in a room where there is some coming and going of people and pets, partly because the music keeps my body wiggling while I study, and partly because I am beginning to immerse myself in bebop jazz. I can’t study to most music with words, and I also have come to have a certain like for some current ambient and electronic music. So here’s my Financial Mathematics study music list:

Classic Bop Stuff:

  • John Coltrane – Giant Steps
  • Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
  • Charles Minus – Ah Um
  • Thelonious Monk
  • Dave Brubeck – Time Out

 

Other:

  • Christian McBride – People Music
  • The Crystal Method
  • The Teddy Bears
  • Disparition

This is the first time in my life that I have studied to music.  Strangely, it all started because I listen to podcasts, and I found that I can’t concentrate on math while I listen to podcasts, so I switched to music.  Now, I am hooked.

Today, I am going to listen to classic Nirvana, even though it has words.  What do you think of studying to music?

Nirvana

Flop-Ear Cat

My Study Helper

I’m so excited about studying right now. I still have some derivative markets stuff to take on, but the essentials (calls and puts, purchased and written) are becoming fairly intuitive. A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling more negatively. The basic options material looked like a giant heap of meaningless graphs and formulas. Now, I have formed some associations for all of it.

Normally, I study with a certain amount of distraction. There may be a cat sitting on my lap, or chasing the cursor on the screen. There may be a dog that wants to play, or some issue to discuss with my spouse. I may be distracted by tomorrow’s weather forecast, or by the latest Boing Boing post. These distractions are acceptable: I know how to deal with them, and I am motivated enough to regain my focus. At a certain point, however, there is nothing like a single-minded absolute focus on the work in front of me. And to achieve this, there is nothing comparable to taking a test.

I assume that, among actuary students, I am typical in my love of taking exams (I suspect that I am also typical in having been truly humbled by the actuary examinations  🙂 ). Taking tests, and often out-thinking tests, is what got me through grade school, when I did absolutely no school work or studying. My love of standardized tests, and resulting scores, is what eventually led me to be placed in classrooms appropriate to my ability. So, if you want to get my absolute attention, put an exam in front of me.

With this knowledge in mind, I have registered with Coaching Actuaries again. I took my first exam a couple of evenings ago, and I was immediately transported into test nirvana. For three hours, my mind didn’t blink. The fact that the scores are measured, and that there is a leader board to work myself onto, is extremely motivational to me. I can’t wait to take another test this afternoon.

The Procrastination Equation

A few days ago, I discovered the Procrastination Equation, by P. Steel.
\displaystyle Motivation= \frac{Expectancy*Value}{Impulsiveness*Delay}

I like how this equation accounts for the factors that go into motivation.  To increase motivation (and lessen procrastination),  we use strategies that increase our expectancy of success, and increase the value of the reward for success.  At the same time, we use techniques to reduce impulsiveness and distractions, and reduce delay until beginning.  Any motivational methods can be inserted somewhere onto this equation.  When I break things into small tasks, I am increasing my expectancy.  When I get up very early in the morning, I am decreasing impulsiveness and decreasing delay.  When I perform long and short-term goal setting, I am increasing value.  You can read an article that relates to this here.