By Julie Lederer
Actuarial candidates, especially those who are working or going to school fulltime, face a variety of demands on their time and energy. This makes it especially important to maximize the efficiency of study time through the use of effective learning techniques. A January 2013 monograph released by the Association for Psychological Sciencei provides an evaluation of ten commonly-used learning methods and assigns a relative utility rating to each method. The authors’ evaluations can guide students toward the most productive study techniques and encourage them to substitute highly-rated methods, such as practice testing, for lower-ranked techniques, such as rereading the material. This can boost exam performance and increase the effectiveness of students’ study time. This article first introduces the ten methods and provides the authors’ overall conclusions. Then each technique is reviewed individually, with suggestions on how actuarial students can employ the methods as they prepare for exams.
The chart below, adapted from the cited monograph, lists and describes the ten learning techniques evaluated by the study’s authors. The rightmost column displays the utility ranking the authors assigned to each method.
Practice testing“Practice testing” as the term is used by the monograph’s authors includes studying flashcards, working practice problems, and taking practice exams. Practice testing is believed to work by facilitating the retrieval of information from long-term memory. Numerous studies have demonstrated the high effectiveness of practice testing as a learning technique. The literature suggests that the efficacy of the technique is enhanced when:
Studies have shown a benefit to practice testing even when the format of the practice test does not match the format of the exam. This suggests that essay-type prompts may be beneficial to actuarial students studying for preliminary exams and that those studying for upper-level exams can still gain from working the multiple choice and true/false questions found on the older style of exams.
Interleaved practiceStudents using interleaved practice switch between different types of problems within a single study session, instead of working all problems of one type before moving on to the next subset of problems. This method is thought to boost exam performance by requiring the student to differentiate between various types of problems while studying. The literature suggests that interleaved practice is most effective when the problems of various types are first completed in discrete “blocks,” with interleaving being introduced only once the student has gained proficiency with each type of problem. Most actuarial students probably already use some version of this technique, moving through the study manual section by section and then working practice exams that combine many different types of problems.
Faced with the competing demands of studying, work, travel, family time, and childcare, actuarial candidates may benefit from seeking ways to improve the efficiency of their study time. All ten of the cited learning techniques can boost exam performance, but busy students may wish to concentrate more of their efforts on the highly-ranked methods, such as practice testing and distributed practice.
Julie Lederer, ACAS, MAAA, is a consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP in Chicago, Ill.
i Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58. doi: 10.1177/1529100612453266 http://pspi.sagepub.com