Three Time-Saving Smartcuts To Maximize Your Studying 

Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”–Peter Drucker, top management coach

If you’ve been to college, no matter what your field, you’ve likely taken exams out your ears, right? It’s no less true for those studying to be actuaries. Yes, there are the usual exams you take for your classes, but taking the exams that really put you on the road to being an actuary—the ones that really count on your resume—are another thing altogether, and you need to make time to study for them.

The thing is, we’re human, and there is a tendency to see the three or four months before sitting for an actuarial exam as an extra-large cushion of time that can be used as you see fit—and quite often, you overestimate the time you have. It’s a kind of time-blindness: a blindness to how fast those 12-16 weeks can go by, and we don’t see how our time is eaten up by too much confidence in how effective we are at studying, or balancing our personal time with time for school and career.

The three smartcuts you need to keep your studying from being “ad-hoc” and “do it when I can” are as follows:

1) The right plan:

  • a study plan that will help you pass the exam effectively.

2) The right approach:

  • how are you going about structuring your studying?

3) The right mindset:

  • having the confidence to pass the exams in the first place.

Destination of This Journey 

Today’s destination is about being able to use each of these timesaving strategies to help you get more out of each hour of studying and spend less time working or studying ineffectively.

The thing is, the amount of time needed to study for the actuarial exam is real—no shortcuts here. But, these aren’t shortcuts, they’re “smartcuts.” The whole point of these smartcuts is to save you time and energy through strategic effort.

Smartcut 1: the Plan 

Peter Drucker, one of the top management coaches out there, once said this: “Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” In order to study effectively, you’re going to need a plan. Not just any plan, though. It has to be a plan that works for you, that you are going to be able to stick with, and this alone could change the way you study. This will lead to better retention, increased confidence and more time for the things that matter dearly to you.

 Many people, however, no matter what their field, often engage in something called “hope studying: 

  • “I hope I can get X amount of hours of studying in.”
  • “I was going to study, but something came up. I hope to make up for it in X amount of time.” 

This also happens when people are studying for the actuarial exam. But what is “hope studying” anyway? It’s essentially making plans to study without specific, definitive actions tied to those plans. Here’s a bit of a reality check for you: 

Hoping is not studying. 

What’s the alternative, if you know this is not really effective? Personalized study plans. How do you go about making a personalized study plan? Here are three guidelines for this: 

  1. Start With You In Mind.
  2. Schedule Your Study Time.
  3. Hold Yourself Accountable. 

A personalized study plan acknowledges all the other things you have going on in your life and helps you make sure you have time for those things plus studying. You want to start with you: your “non-negotiables”–those things you have going on that you absolutely cannot and do not want to back out of, those things that you don’t want conflicting with your studying. 

Smartcut 2: The Approach 

This one’s about how you go about studying. It more or less falls into two categories: personal and community study. 

Your personal approach essentially deals with how you structure your studying: 

  • What sections do you focus on?
  • How many practice problems should you do?
  • How to balance your time between practice problems and practice exams.
  • How do you prepare for the pressure of the real exam before you really have to be there?

Let’s take an example: practice problems and exams. Practice problems help you hone your skills and the practice exams help you prepare for actual exam conditions. To take this further, many folks are into sports, so let’s use that analogy. And even if you’re not into sports, you can still apply this to your own activities—such as music.

The practice problems can easily be seen as team practice. You’re focusing on your technical skills, you’re taking the time to learn new things and make necessary adjustments, and you want to practice doing each component the right way.

The practice exams are like scrimmages—those rehearsed plays that don’t really count, but help you prepare for the real deal. The focus here is bringing together all those skills so you can do them automatically, building agility, endurance and mental grit. It helps give you that stamina and mental agility to go from exam section to exam section every six minutes for three hours.

Do you see where we’re headed? The second part of the approach to studying involves your wider world—your community. Not only do you need to find the right study materials for you, but this could also mean finding a study group or having an accountability partner. Learning by teaching also helps here, because it’s said that a good way to test what we know is explaining it to someone else. Now, you may be the only one you know taking an actuarial exam, so perhaps you could find an online actuarial forum or answer a question out loud in class.

Smartcut 3: The Mindset

If practice problems are the team practices and the practice exams are the scrimmages, then it’s easy to see the two weeks leading up to the real deal plus the actual exam as the “playoffs” and “championship match,” respectively.

It’s easy at this time for your nerves to shoot up, so having an “A-level” mental game is important here. Right before the exam might be when your confidence decides to take a vacation, and questions like “Maybe I’m not cut out to be an actuary,” or “What if I spend all this time studying and don’t pass,” and other self-defeating thoughts can easily run through your mind. So being able to get yourself back into it, mentally, is key.

Here are two quick tips: first off, push yourself now because study time doesn’t carry over. Specifically, if you spend 250 hours studying and you fail, it doesn’t mean another 50 hours, it means another 250 hours. Now you’re at a grand total of 450 hours. That’s time that you really want to save, right?

Secondly, persistence and belief in yourself really do hold the keys to success. It’s easy to fall into “imposter syndrome,” or to put it in more modern lingo, “feeling like a poser.” It’s likely even the president wakes up and thinks, “Who am I to run this country?” But he gets up and does it anyway. If you keep this in mind, you’ll have more than a chance of passing the exam. But you are going to have to put in the work.

You’ve Reached Your Destination

You’re at your destination. So what do you really need to know? Let’s recap the goals here:

1) Use each of these smartcuts so you can work more effectively, getting more out of each study hour.

2) Understand that the highest leverage of time savings comes from passing the exam the first time.

3) You know how your plan, approach and mindset are the three major helpers for gaining that time and ultimately having the success you want.

Planning your time, your approach and making sure you have a “winnner’s mindset” are going to be three of the ultimate keys to success, both at studying and passing the exams.

Think these through and you’re golden. 

Want more help with your journey?

  1. Actuarial Community: Feeling alone on your journey? Become a part of the Actuarial Journey Community!
  2. Create a study plan you’ll actually stick to!: This free video series will show you the step-by-step process to create you own Personalized Study Roadmap and design your Study Lifestyle
  3. Actuarial Job Course: a completely free full-length course with videos, worksheets, tools, and community all geared to help your get your entry-level actuarial job and start your actuarial career.
  4. Actuarial Journey Podcast: Get more insights and lessons learned each week sent directly to your phone!

Let us know in the comments below – Which one of these principles do you think would be the best for you to focus on for the next month?