Actuary life

Actuarial Attitude

Three sittings later, I finally passed Exam FM (Financial Mathematics). I didn’t breeze through it like I did with Exam P, but six months’ worth of training taught me several things. I guess it’s true that failure can teach a lot more than success. I write this to remind myself that I know the path to success, I just need to START and be CONSISTENT.

First is that conventional study methods (which I tried twice) may not necessarily work. I took detailed notes before, registered for ADAPT subscriptions and solved lots of problems, which I think kinda gave me false confidence. I didn’t realize that I was at first content with having solved them that I didn’t take the time to analyze the solutions.

You need the discipline to stick to a study schedule. My goal was to do at least 2 hrs a day during weekdays, at least 4 hours on Saturday (and even watch Kdrama in the office as a reward XD)

I found Yufeng Guo’s guide to be the most helpful of all. ASM exams are very hard, so I didn’t expect a good result. The online CBT mock exam was very helpful for that exam feel. I didn’t subscribe to ADAPT this time and decided to practice on my own steam.

For the first time, I studied with another person. I have a colleague who like me was also struggling to pass. I found that teaching him the solutions makes it easier to realize the parts where I still lack understanding, and forces me to actually defend what I know so far. I also actively collaborated with a colleague whom I made my office mentor. In a more personal context, he taught me the value of “bringing problems into the light”, and that’s exactly what I did… Whenever I had solutions that were not so easy to understand, he explained everything in person or through email.

You need to GET CREATIVE especially with a mechanical exam such as FM. Two formulae (one about price sensitivity and one about the relationship between duration and convexity) were such a pain to memorize, so I wrote them on the whiteboard and displayed it in my room so I could passively look at them every day for a month. Sure enough, I can now picture them in my mind effortlessly.

I solved every problem in the sample exam in the way that Guo described it. Think simple. Prepare scripts.

It’s not enough to know the concepts. You need to solve fast! On the last week of the exam, I practiced speed-solving. … You need to know which items to give up. I got the CBT experience from SOA online.

I formulated a time-management strategy for my exam. …. Goal is to solve 18-20 problems in the first hour.

I also prepared a reward system… i read 10 chapters of manhwa in between sessions, bought a dress I really liked and asked my friend to hold on to it til I pass my exam… Funny how I tend to seek enjoyable distractions come exam season… But more than the material rewards, I convinced myself that I need to pass it this time to finally be able to start learning bass guitar and study korean and poker seriously. (learning objectives that I have always wanted to do but never gotten around to starting…)

This time I paid attention to my health and diet. I looked up food for optimal brain performance (thanks Glenn for the nutritious night-before-exam dinner!), and took a relaxing walk before my exam, and hydrated well.

Good luck meal

Or maybe too well… Halfway into my exam, I already felt the need to use the comfort room and it got me solving even faster :((( I usually answer the survey after the exam just to psych myself up for the results, but this time I didn’t care, I just skipped it to be done with it. I think I got more relief from the after-exam bathroom break than the onscreen congratulations. :)))

But that day I proved that it was possible that even if you have several ventures to focus on, even if you’re busy with work, AS LONG AS YOU DEVELOP CONSISTENCY, it’s possible to do well in this exam and be confident about the results even before seeing it for yourself.

My main takeaway is this: In this steep ladder to an ASA designation, there will surely be a lot of sacrifices. But I don’t have to give up the things you enjoy just to be able to pass. (Fun fact: I drank soju the weekend before the exam because why not…)

My first SOA Exam

Let me start with a confession:
I was supposed to write the SOA Exam FM, but when I saw that the registration was closed, I panic-registered (worried that I would waste this semester away if I don’t do anything) for Exam P instead. That left me with only 10 weeks to study.

Another confession:
I only started wholeheartedly studying for Exam P on the month of my exam! While I made it seem on the outside that I had everything under control (I secured a copy of the reviewers right away, I pulled weekend all-nighters in the company office, I subscribed to ADAPT — all true, except for the “buts”), I had actually been struggling hard. I terribly lacked the will to start (motivation problems due to reasons not worthy of being justified here).


I assume that the majority of aspiring actuaries don’t have this negative trait. I can’t study much during weekdays because I have to be in the workplace for at least 9 hrs every day, so I constantly revised my study schedule to make sure that I at least fit the minimum coverage and practice into the time I have left. And knowing my weakness (inspired by The Art of War, which I have recently reread), I formulated a battleplan:


Fun fact: I was really hungry when I came up with this. I tend to work long hours without eating whenever I am in the zone (or just too lazy to get food)

Sure enough, this strategy worked for me. It made sure that I minimized the time I wasted trying to figure out whether a problem should be prioritized.

But it so happens that my other main weakness is being very slow at solving (owing to the fact that I didn’t practice under time pressure a lot). In the end, I didn’t have enough time to review my answers.

To be honest, I found it easy concept-wise but carrying out the perfect solution was tricky. There were numerous instances where the answer I kept getting wasn’t in the choices. Towards the end, I had to make an intelligent guess on at least 5 questions.

In the last few minutes of the exam I was already psyching myself up for the imminent failure. Fortunately, I passed! I personally believe that it was a miracle that I didn’t deserve.


I do have a lot of people to thank:

  • Actuarial friends: Tristan, Aileen, Nicky & other workmates who gave me valuable exam tips (and constantly pressured me by asking about my exam progress going almost everyday). Also Chris, he got a 10 so if he says the problems are pretty easy that is quite reassuring.
  • Dr. David for providing me the perfect place to study (free electricity, unrestricted internet access, and a huge whiteboard), and the CSRC staff (especially Lei for making the effort to talk to me even if she allegedly doesn’t like it whenever I’m there, haha)
  • Moral support from non-actuarial friends Dara, Ian, James, and my family
  • My dad for taking care of the logistics so I could focus on consolidating the formulae I crammed into my head (good thing the security system in APS and prometric has been his team’s project in the past, and that’s why he knew how to get there, lol!)
  • Youtube channel jbstatistics (, for helping me make sense of the different distributions
  • The OP of this very helpful thread (
  • Davette Mosley, who made this calculator tip video (
  • Yufeng Guo (for pointing out valuable shortcuts and the things that can be skipped, for emphasizing the need for a strategy especially since I’m the calculation-weak type)
  • The guy who made ACTEX, for making the coverage pretty easy to digest
  • The guy behind the ADAPT SOA sample exam video solutions, for backing me up on solutions that L fail to understand the first time (your voice has haunted me in my dreams several times, haha)

Now I can finally break my 10-week sober streak! B-)

… and study for my next exam.

Check out the study notes I made in case you might find them useful:

Goal [1/20]

Get accepted into my target company’s actuarial division:

I didn’t want to post about this earlier because I was afraid to jinx it, but now that it has been confirmed by the division head, I’ll allow my pessimistic self to let my guard down and feel proud for once. 😀

Why is Manulife DS my first choice? First, I’m aware that it won’t take as much mental/emotional energy for me to adjust to the workplace and the culture since I’ve undergone a certain degree of immersion during my internship days, compared to starting from scratch with a new company. Back then I had already constructed a system in my mind on how to live optimally under those conditions (subject to modification, since I have recently revised my life plan). Secondly, northbound travel time is generally shorter in the morning (mainly why I’m reluctant to consider companies in Makati). I’m also considering to move somewhere nearer to my workplace to minimize it. And lastly, it is conveniently located close to my university! This is important since most applied math courses I plan to take are offered only during weekdays. TL;DR: I’m generally risk-averse when it comes to spending my resources. XD

This calls for a mental celebration! 😀 (and a lot of pre-employment documents to process T__T)

An unexpectedly actuarial summer

When I submitted my application for the actuarial internship program of MBPS, I really didn’t expect to get accepted. The dean said that the odds were against me since they only take in one or two students, and that I’m better off applying for employment since I’m about to graduate anyway. My resume was not that impressive ’cause I didn’t join any noteworthy events or organizations my whole college life, and I also didn’t feel confident about the interview. With those things in mind, I crafted a Plan B for the summer vacation, which was to aid in the intellectual growth of my favorite brother. Needless to say, I was astonished to receive an email from Mr. Wallis (head of the actuarial division) notifying me that I’ve been selected.

Fast forward to two months later: the program has come to an end, and now we interns feel sentimental about leaving behind the routine we’ve built over the course of the program after all the effort towards trying to get used to it. Naturally my friends will ask, “How was it?” so I feel compelled to come up with an elevator-pitch answer (and maybe elaborate a bit until the nostalgia wears off). Let me start by telling about the events and/or my impressions in no particular order:

  • On the first day I discovered that I was the only one from senior year there, the rest of the interns were juniors.
  • We were expected to have a daily total working time of 8 hours and a 1.5 hour lunch break.
  • We were divided among different actuarial teams who were assigned to take us under our wing. My team mate Justine and I think we got lucky with our team ’cause we often got treated to free food. 🙂
  • The “production area” was where we spent most of our time. Bringing of cameras and personal gadgets (exceplt dedicated music players) were prohibited to protect data and customer privacy, they say. I had to bring a notebook everyday to keep a copy of the things I learn.

for obvious reasons

  • Everyone could access the actuarial division files, which was very convenient for shared work. A goldmine of study materials were available, and so were the individual files of all the members of the division (which we tried secretly accessing, of course). I personally benefited from exploring my coordinator’s folder, where I got inspiration for my elaborate life planner in MS Excel and where I found out about an upcoming concert of Twenty One Pilots, my favorite band! (we ended up finding one another in the concert and watching together :D) On my free time I perused some reviewers for Exam P and read as much as I could from Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor.
  • We interns were working on different kinds of things, so our working experiences were different (except for Justine and I, who were grouped with each other until the end). I worked on model documentations under the Indonesia Valuation team and compared calculators for the newly-established Standard Life team.
  • Despite that, we were given training sessions as a group. I learned how to use MS Excel extensively, a little about MS Access (I actually didn’t learn it very well :-/), and quite a bit about AXIS (more out of necessity for the Standard Life work than from the training sessions though).
  • Naturally we interns have been lunch-buddies since day 1. My favorite part of a regular work day is when we stay in the cafeteria after finishing lunch and play card games (thanks to my growing collection) with one another until free time runs out. This was mainly how we developed friendships with one another.



  • Halfway into the internship program, Tristan, one of my BS Math batchmates, became part of the actuarial division. I was secretly overjoyed of course, it felt like finding a fellow countryman overseas. Since he’s part of our age group, we constantly invited him to have lunch with us and take part in our games.
  • Some of the challenges I encountered: The prod area was too cold for me most of the time, sometimes the computers were too laggy to function, and the mismatches between the availability of software and the person assigned to a cubicle due to the regular change of seat assignments presented a great inconvenience. But we managed to work around everything (and I had to bring many layers of clothing to work even on a hot summer day, haha).
  • There was an unlimited supply of free instant coffee in the pantry, which was very convenient, especially in the afternoon. Whenever someone comes back from a business trip, people gather in the pantry for “treats”. 😀


  • Mr. Wallis is well-respected for his achievements in the actuarial field and is regarded by everyone as the “best boss ever”. I personally found him to be adorable. 😀 I like chill but responsible bosses in general.
  • In the last few weeks we were also given speech training in the form of toastmasters and a presentation. In spite of having the most fear of public speaking in the room, I survived and got constructive and feel-good comments from everyone. 😀

ice cream

  • Two weekends before the final day, we had a successful team-building session. Successful by what measure? Although most of us were already pretty close, I was still kinda emotionally distant from them, especially from a guy who I found very hard to like. It was in that event where I found common ground with him and learned to appreciate him. We shared a lot of fun bonding moments which left me feeling clingy by the time we had to part ways. I guess I believe in the power of team-building sessions now. 🙂




  • I really appreciate that the people there weren’t as intimidating as they first seemed, they were actually nice and helpful with our work. And I really like how their community is so warm and tightly-knit, that they really put time and effort to pooling greetings and planning out events to make people’s birthdays and promotions extra special and use it as an opportunity for bonding. We interns were fortunate to have witnessed a rare (and surprise) pre-nuptial celebration for two members of the division and a Hawaiian-inspired birthday bash for Mr. Wallis.

actuarial division

  • A few days ago, we had a personal interview with Mr. Wallis for the sake of evaluating our internship experience. I’ve always wondered how he was able to accomplish the feat for which everyone in the division is so proud of him: achieving an FSA designation before turning 30, and asked him for insights on how to take the same path even with my utter lack of self-confidence. Remembering his advice gives me the inspiration I need. 🙂
  • And yesterday was when we gave our final presentations to the actuarial division. A few hours earlier I didn’t even think I’d survive the report (due to stage fright) but I did, thanks to my teammates’ moral support. We also had an awarding ceremony, and I got the “Most Curious” award, most likely owed to the things I learned from my coordinator’s personal folder, among all the other company files. XD I’m glad that they recognize my passion for learning. 🙂 They hosted a goodbye party for us and we took a tour around the office one last time.


That’s everything, in a nutshell. I’m so lucky to have been given a chance to participate in this internship program. And surely the next batch will have an even better experience once the coordinators implement the improvements we suggested. 🙂