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Actuarial exams - the step up from University

In this blog, Mia Collier, Actuarial Consultant at Barnett Waddingham, talks about the differences in moving from University to the actuarial exams, with some helpful tips to manage.

Find out about IFoA's actuarial exams 

Mia Collier“Exams are finally over” – you say leaving your final university exam. Unfortunately, for those going into the actuarial profession, this is not the case. In fact, the actuarial exams will differ from any you have taken before in many ways. In this blog, I will discuss the five areas, where I have seen these differences.


At university, the resources and support available are endless. If you are struggling with the course content, you can find help almost immediately. During my first actuarial exam sitting I noticed that, whilst there is help available, being an independent learner will help you thrive.  A lot of students decide not to attend tutorials for the earlier exams, so there is more pressure to work through and understand the material yourself.


Looking back, the summer holidays were the bright light at the end of the tunnel. This was enough motivation to power through university exams. For many people, work life balance is hard to achieve but, work-life-study balance is an entire different story. When I joined Barnett Waddingham, one of the main pieces of advice given to me was “make use of your study days” and these really do contribute to achieving that balance. As exam season approaches, studying before and after work as well as weekends requires you to push yourself. Working with people in the same situation definitely helps to create a supportive environment.


Weekly study days are extremely useful, as they allow you to learn the material early. This means that accidentally (or purposefully) leaving everything to the last minute is almost impossible. Adjusting your revision techniques may be essential, if (like me) you are used to leaving your revision to the few months leading up to your exams. Developing and following a realistic study plan will help to plan study goals around work schedules and busy weekends. This is an extremely useful skill to have, as it helps you work more efficiently and improved project management.


“Almost every actuary has failed an exam”. Being told this countless times definitely relieved the pressure during studying and whilst it may require changing your study technique and working out what went wrong, it’s nice to know that the world isn’t going to burst into flames.  This was a huge change from University where it can sometimes feel like if you don’t succeed the world will do just that. 


Computer based exams and no coursework. These were the two biggest changes in exam structure I encountered during my first sitting. Although the coursework element was small during my degree, it was comforting to have a cushion if the exams didn’t go as planned. However, during many instances the stress of coursework may have outweighed the benefits – this is another benefit with regards to the actuarial exams. The computer based exams (B papers) mean that you will need to train yourself to use and be comfortable with Excel and R - this also helps with day-to-day work, as these are the two computer programmes I have used most since I started at Barnett Waddingham in September.

Whilst the actuarial exams are challenging, they are also extremely rewarding. From talking to experienced qualified actuaries, it has become apparent that, if you can motivate and push yourself to succeed and work out what study materials/techniques work best for you, then you will reap the benefits of success.