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.

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: