Sunday, August 21, 2005

Why would anyone want to be an actuary?

Yes, after taking the actuarial exams with the Institute of Actuaries (IOA) for nearly a decade and going through two syllabus changes (in 2000 and 2005), I suppose many of my friends (but not those still in the line) probably want to ask me that question but feel a little paiseh about it. My mum did ask me to stop altogether some years ago, when I wasn't making much headway, but no one else has actually asked me that question directly.

current actuarial exam syllabus has been implemented only just this year. My last count says, to qualify as a Fellow, i.e. to complete the professional exams, one has to clear a total of 15 papers. This consists of 9 CT (Core Technical), 3 CA (Core Applications), 2 ST (Specialist Technical, from a choice of 6 possible papers) and 1 SA (Specialist Application, again, from a choice of 6). This number has a tendency to inflate with each change in syllabus. The exams take place twice a year, every April and September (yes, the next one is coming soon!). You can be garang and sign up for multiple papers in each sitting.

But not me. I've been sticking to the "one paper per sitting" principle since I started. Because it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for just one paper. Because the passing rates are low. And partially because these exams cost a bomb.

How much time? For myself, I typically start preparing for the next exam about 3 months beforehand. Actually, I start my preparations on the very day the results for the previous set of exams are released. Which is about 11 weeks (we always complain it takes them so long to mark the scripts!) after each exam period. And I try to put in an hour or two EVERY DAY for those 3 months. Maybe 3-4 hours when the time is near.

How low are those passing rates? For the
CT subjects, the passing rates are pretty decent. Some of the easier subjects get a passing rate of above 70%. The tougher ones though, can be as low as the 30s. On average, the CTs' passing rates are around 55%. The rest of the subjects are a different kettle of fish. Passing rates can be as low as 25%, but average at maybe 40%. I've heard of really scary stories of consecutive failures of these exams, the worst of which was 14 tries (7 years!) to pass the last pesky paper (the SA one). The SA paper is also well-known, well-feared and usually unspoken of (a little like the baddie in Harry Potter, heh... forgot his name). For myself, my er... "record" is 6 tries. Three barren years. When I eventually passed that paper on the sixth try, I couldn't decide what to feel.

As you can see from the two links just given, the IOA only release the names of candidates who pass. Takes a little effort to convince yourself they didn't make any typo errors when you don't find your name there. It is also er... "fun" to search for your pals' names on the pass list (one of my old old friends from JC just qualified in the last exams, my heartiest congrats to her!). But the IOA do send a result slip to you as a form of confirmation of the results. This takes a couple of working days to arrive. Oh that reminds me of one more thing. When one passes, the result slip will declare a very princely looking P. When one fails, we are given a GRADE. FA (fail by 1-5%), FB (by 6-15%), FC (16-25%) and FD (>25%). So "Hey! I "aced" my paper!" is NOT a declaration of good news in our line.

How expensive? Well, everything is priced in pounds (1 pound to about 3 Sing dollars currently). The prices are too painful for me to quote here. So just look

All this studying, whilst you still have to work hours like a normal executive does, i.e. 1-2 hours beyond the official knockoff time. Clock even more overtime when circumstances call for it, such as the hectic year-end reporting period. And maybe work on some weekends (best time to work actually, because the agents will not call you to ask for special quotations or questions about products which they should know!).

We do have support in the form of study leave (this is in addition to annual leave) but it really falls short of what is needed. So it is not surprising that the Singaporean actuarial students' passing rates is even lower than those quoted above. I have no solid proof of this, but this is gleaned from my friends' and my own experience in taking the exams.

The best passing rates globally are that of UK and South African students, where study leave packages are more generous (I heard 60 days PER SITTING for South Africa), official working hours are more strictly adhered to and tutorial classes are available for students to attend (none exists in Singapore). Some of my friends have taken quite drastic measures to boost their chances of passing. Taking unpaid leave for half a year. Taking unpaid leave and flying to UK to attend the tutorials and taking the exams there. Applying for secondment to UK based subsidiaries (if these exist for the company you work for). I'm no longer surprised when I hear of these.

And then there is my solution. I quit my job and took up postgraduate courses. The scholarships I somewhat fortuitously managed to garner and teaching pays for my daily expenses but I spend more than half of my time preparing for the actuarial exams. This gamble of sorts has been paying off for me. I have two papers left. But please don't say "only two" for I have no idea when I will clear them both.

In 2000, one of my closer friends, Ah Gee, commented somewhat optimistically that I should qualify by the time the Korea/Japan World Cup comes around. He had assumed I will pass one paper at each sitting.

Then in 2002, he commented I should get it by the time Euro 2004 kicks off.

And yes, during my previous break in the June just past, he again predicted my qualification as Fellow by the time the Germany World Cup launches another gambling frenzy in Singapore.

Maybe I should just ban him from making such comments.

Akan Datang: A dirty word

222 days to go.

P.S. Then again, after reading this blog, why would anyone want to be a doctor? And after reading this other blog, why would anyone want to be his/her own boss? We enjoy suffering?


Blogger Little Miss Drinkalot said...

You've been studying for your actuarial papers for 6 years now? And can I assume you've passed them all since you're "47 more days to go"?

Sun Feb 26, 07:33:00 pm 2006  
Blogger Acey Deucey said...

Nay. My current course and work has nothing to do with the professional exams (which forms the content of this post).

The countdown is only for my current course and work.

If you include my undergraduate years, then I have been taking the professional exams for a decade liao. Since I was 21. And no, I have not finished them yet. Got two more papers to go (as alluded to in the post).

Sun Feb 26, 07:51:00 pm 2006  
Anonymous Jade said...

Heys.. came to surf ard your blog from your most recent comment in LMD's blog.. (when you mentioned you used MATLAB and other programs)and I realised tat you are in the (Singapore) actuarial field too! Small world, Small world... :)

Sat Mar 18, 12:37:00 pm 2006  
Blogger Acey Deucey said...

Jade, chances are, we know each other.

Erm, can I ask for a small favour? That you don't tell your actuarial friends about my blog? Thanks in advance.

Sat Mar 18, 01:21:00 pm 2006  
Anonymous Jade said...

Hey! no prob, I wun tell anyone in actuarial abt your blog. Actually, in contrary to what you thought, i think we do not know each other cos I am 'new' to the industry. Worked for only 8 months after which I left to study. Like You, I am taking a postgrad now and like you, i am doing something on copulas! (i just found out abt this as today as I cont to surf ard your blog) Really interested to know what your are/were working at. Can I contact you?

Sun Mar 19, 01:50:00 pm 2006  
Blogger Acey Deucey said...

First of all, many thanks for acceding to my request. This means a lot to me and I really appreciate it.

And sure, you can contact me. My e-mail address is on my profile page.

Sun Mar 19, 02:01:00 pm 2006  
Blogger chia said...


I'm a JC student who just graduated and happen to chance upon your blog. I'm interested in taking one of the actuarial exams during these few months but I do not know the means of doing it. May I ask u where to get the study materials? I've searched online for them and they seem pretty expensive. Is it possible to get the study materials in Singapore? my email is Thanks a lot! =)

Tue Nov 25, 12:42:00 am 2008  

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