Announcement: SOA congratulates the new FSAs for June 2019.

Spring 2007 Basic Education Catalog(1)

Spring 2007 Basic Education Catalog

Suggestions for Candidates

Study Methods

For mathematical examinations, candidates should acquire proficiency with techniques and formulas by working on a large number of problems similar to those expected on the examinations.

For any examination, schedule study time so that each subject is covered adequately.  Try to approach each subject from more than one perspective.  Do not limit yourself to the approach taken in daily work.  Maintain an interest in current developments.  Knowledge of actuarial practice is helpful.  The discussions of papers, unless excluded, are an essential part of the reading and should be studied as carefully as the papers themselves.  Integrate the material studied.  Compare programs, methods and so on.  The more connections developed in the studied material, the deeper the understanding and the better the use made of the acquired information.

Maintain contact with other candidates and take advantage of the opportunities to discuss difficult topics.  Do not hesitate to consult established members of the profession in your own organization or elsewhere.

Do not rely solely on commercial outlines of study material.  Rather, strive to summarize knowledge of the material by adequate review prior to the examination.  For written-answer examinations, try constructing "trial" examinations.  These trial examinations will not only test knowledge and understanding of the Course of Reading, but they may also improve speed and confidence.

Expect integrated questions.  Integrated questions encompass different sections of the material, and require the candidate to pull together various concepts into a cohesive response.  This method mirrors a real-life situation, and provides a better discriminator with regard to who demonstrates understanding of the material.

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Review Classes and Seminars

Many candidates study by themselves or participate in informal study groups to prepare for examinations, but a few additional options are available. In certain areas, universities or actuarial clubs offer classes to assist candidates.

Review seminars and workshops are held at several universities and in various cities. Order forms are included with your study note order, or a listing of providers can be found on the SOA Web site under Study Notes/Information or e-mail

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Study Manuals

Study manuals for examinations administered by the SOA are available from various sources not associated with the SOA.  These products contain material such as summary outlines of Course of Reading material, various types of practice problems, and, in some cases, solutions to recent sample examination problems.

These study materials are neither a part of the Course of Reading nor a substitute for the SOA SNs; nor do they reflect any official interpretation, opinion or endorsement of the SOA or its E&E Committee.

Some book distributors carry study manuals, as shown on their order forms.  Order forms for study manuals are included with the SOA SNs.  A listing of these providers can be found on the SOA Web site under Study Notes/Information.

The required SOA SNs are not contained in any of these study manuals.  The official SNs are available only from the SOA, and are obtained by completing the order form on the Study Note/Information page on the SOA web site. 

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Approaches to Writing Multiple-Choice Examinations

A key to success in writing multiple-choice examinations is to make steady progress through the questions.  Do not spend a disproportionate amount of time on a single question with which you are having trouble.  Move on, and come back to it if time is left at the end.  Chances of correctly completing the greatest number of questions are increased if each question is attempted seriously at least once.  It may help to determine the proportionate number of questions to answer in the first half hour of the examination, check how much ground was actually covered in that time and adjust the pace accordingly.

When pressed for time, a good strategy is to omit questions that are expected to require more than average time and use the time to complete a larger number of more quickly answered questions.  For example, if a cluster of questions with a common introduction is not readily grasped, skip the entire cluster on the first attempt.  Look for questions that deal with more familiar subject matter.

When answering a question, look for the quickest way possible to arrive at the correct choice and mark it on your answer sheet. If a question is encountered for which all choices appear to be incorrect, simply move on.  It later may be determined that one of the answers is correct.  Also, develop shortcuts for eliminating impossible answers by checking out boundary conditions, inspecting other aspects of certain suggested solutions, or substituting numerical values.

Because there is no guessing adjustment, mark an answer choice on the answer sheet for every examination question.

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Approaches to Writing Written-Answer Examinations

Written-answer questions are intended to elicit answers in essay and/or outline form. Numerical written-answer questions require extended numerical or formula solutions; credit given is based not only on the correct results, but also on the steps used to derive these results. Candidates should define formulas and show all work.

Paper is provided at the examination room for your answers. Take time to write legibly, since graders can only give credit for what they can read. Each written-answer question is assigned a specified number of points. The number of points indicates the relative weighting each question bears to the total examination and to other questions and suggests the relative time that should be spent on that question. Try to distribute the examination time over all questions and limit consideration of any question to the time proportionately allotted to it. Generally, it will be more profitable to write at least a brief answer to a question for which you are relatively unprepared than to spend time refining an answer to a question on which you are well informed. No extra points are given for padding an answer.

Read each question thoroughly. Before starting to write, determine what is being asked and try to organize the intended answer. It is most important to answer the question that is asked. Points are not awarded for providing a good answer to a question not asked. It may be helpful to write a brief outline before beginning the actual answer. Answer the questions in any order. Some candidates prefer to answer the questions in the order given, while others read over the entire paper, warm up with an answer that comes easily, and gradually work into the more challenging questions.

It may be helpful to jot down on scratch paper ideas that come to mind concerning both answered and unanswered questions. (Hand in the scratch paper with the rest of your papers.) Questions may be answered in outline form, provided the meaning is clear and the question is fully answered. Another acceptable technique is to use one sheet of paper for "advantages" and another for "disadvantages," and similarly for other contrasts. This method allows going back and forth from one page to the other and putting down items as they occur. Use as much paper as needed. An uncrowded and orderly presentation can do no harm, and the use of additional pages may result in putting down further facts and considerations that earn additional credit.

If you believe that there is a better answer or approach than what is indicated in the Course of Reading (e.g., because of recent changes in regulations), it is acceptable to provide this answer, although state at the outset that this answer differs from the Course of Reading. If possible, also indicate the answer or approach given by the Course of Reading, thus demonstrating to the individual examination committee that the assigned material was read and mastered. However, there is no advantage to adding to an answer that is already complete.

Obscure interpretations should not be read into a question; each question is designed to be straightforward. Try to cover all aspects of the question in the answer, and include pertinent facts and details even if, based on practical experience, they seem obvious. However, including facts and details not pertinent to the question will waste examination time and will not earn any additional credit. Do not expand upon one or two points to the exclusion of others of equal importance. Try to state both sides of a question where called for in an answer. Do not, however, try to hedge an issue if a definitive statement is called for; no additional credit will be earned through that approach. If the question involves calculations, show all formulas and work involved in arriving at the answer. If time permits, review your answers.

In most written-answer examinations, there is an average of three minutes for every examination point. However, it may be helpful to adjust the time per question to leave some time for the initial reading of the entire paper and for a final review. Then allocate the net remaining time in proportion to the points for each question. It is well worth attempting every question; generally some credit will be earned, even if a question is only partially answered. However, when no more can be done on a question (even though some time remains for it), move on to another.

Questions will cross subject lines. Prepare for this by thoroughly understanding the interrelationship of the various subjects within each course. Case studies will be used as the basis for questions on the Course 8 examinations. Be sure to answer the question asked by referring to the case study. For example, when asked for the advantages of a particular plan design to the company referenced in the case study, limit the response to that company. Do not list other advantages as they are extraneous to the question and will result in no additional credit. Further, if they conflict with the applicable advantages, no credit will be given.

Since each question is graded separately, each of the answers must be self-contained. An answer must not say, for example, "Part of the answer to question 1 is found in the answer to question 3." Also, each answer must be started on a new sheet of paper.

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Structure Written-Answer Responses Accordingly

Because we are now asking questions which require more integration of material, candidates should structure their responses on the examination in a similar way. A candidate who can synthesize concepts into an organized answer will perform better than a candidate who simply recites facts. Even though the examinations contain larger questions in terms of point value, we have taken into account the fact that candidates will need time to think through the issues and formulate an integrated response. Extra time has been built into the point values for that purpose.

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Become Familiar with the Case Study

Some of the exams contain a case study. This is a good way to bring real-life applications into the study setting. A common misconception that candidates may have is that the case study is simply another study note. In fact, the case study is used to link to as much of the examination material as possible, and references to the case study will appear on the examination. It is a good idea to read through the case study before reviewing anything else on the syllabus, and refer back to the case study as new topics are covered. As a reminder, candidates will not be permitted to bring their copy of the case study into the examination room. A copy will be included in the examination booklet.

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Meet the Learning Objectives or Outcomes

In the Course of Readings section, we provide a set of learning objectives or outcomes for each course. Our goal is that, by the time of the examination, candidates will have met those learning objectives or outcomes and can demonstrate that knowledge on the examination. From that perspective, it's no longer sufficient to have just gone through all the material on the syllabus. Candidates need to be confident that they have met all the learning objectives or outcomes. Note that the objectives or outcomes are stated in terms of being able to "do" something, as opposed to "knowing" something. This is a subtle difference, but important when it comes to being successful on the examination.

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