Should I stop taking exams

Discussion in 'Careers' started by Khoa, Dec 16, 2020.

  1. Khoa

    Khoa Keen member

    Hi all,
    I’m 25 joined IFoA in 2018
    I Just received my CS2 September 2020 result of 55 and failed by 1-2 marks (first sitting). I cannot possibly you think what went wrong I have done 20 past papers both ct6 and ct4 and probably put in 60 more serious study hours than IFoA’s guide..

    Studying for exams has been very very exhausting especially during COVID-19 and I felt like giving up. My life has been miserable ever since I joined IFoA, the worst part is that I kept having anxiety and causes me to lose sleep almost every night and often get migraines.

    I kept telling myself that I am not smart enough and even if I try my very best I still failed especially that I don’t think I have a chance of passing the STs and CAs exams. My partner and I have been arguing allot too over not spending enough time together because I studied too much, don’t get me wrong she does support my career progression but my anxiety has a big impact in our relationship because I’ve become quite negative and unhappy most of the time.

    However I have to say I am now in a good job with good pay all because of the past exams I have taken (ct1,2,3,4,5,7) so I no longer have to worry about the future finances. The main reason that keep me going is because my family background where everyone in my family are accomplished in their own field and my parents would be disappointed if I stop taking exams

    The pros has been
    1. Better Job security
    2. Higher pay
    1. Health issues
    2. Broken relationship
    3. Family pressure
    I couldn’t sleep this whole night and woke up 4am started thinking about my life, am I overreacting or is this normal? I appreciate if anyone could share your views or experiences and hopefully give me some advise on what I should do.
    GG_3012 likes this.
  2. limamichelle

    limamichelle Active Member

    I think only you can really weigh the value of the pros and cons and decide what is best for you. but key points from me:
    • Failing a first sitting is very NORMAL and shouldn't get you to the point of despair. If you have really severe health issues perhaps seeking help and talking to your GP might be good, as the exams might just be an exaggerating factor; not to mention the fact that we're in a pandemic!
    • Have you considered the option of pausing? you can stop exams for a year or two and build up your work experience before starting up again.
    • What about slowing down? Doing one exam per year/sitting versus doubling up?
    • You say you don't know the reason why you could've failed: What about exam counselling? and getting more "marking" from acted to help you spot where you are failing?
    Khoa likes this.
  3. Aries92

    Aries92 Made first post

    I used to feel exactly the same. Since joining the IFoA in 2016, my anxiety worsened over the years and it has affected my ability to pass exams. I managed to seek professional help from a therapist who has been able to help me deal with my anxiety and worries. I practiced this throughout 2020 and managed to pass CM2 yesterday (after a year of not passing any exams), which shows that therapy can be really effective. I would highly recommend it would help you deal with your anxieties better.

    Regarding family, you need to do what is best for you. You have to put your health first before anything otherwise this will set you back for years to come. Family do not always realise that.

    Sitting exams and being in a relationship was also tough for me at first, but I was able to manage my time between studies, family and my partner to maintain a good work/life/exam balance. Yes, a massive chunk of the weekends were spent studying but I always kept my evenings free to spend time with my partner and family. Try experimenting with your study plan to find the best way for you to manage your time between exams and your relationship.

    You've done well in your exams so far so it does show that you can pass exams. Counselling used to be an option but unfortunately the IFoA are not offering this service unless it is your last exam to quality as a Fellow. I passed CT6 on the fourth attempt so don't let the CS2 exam set you back, this was your first attempt but you will get there eventually.
    Khoa likes this.
  4. FT58

    FT58 Member

    You can request a breakdown of your marks by question by emailing and giving your name, ARN and which exams you took. This might be helpful to understand where to focus your revision if you do retake.

    Best of luck
    limamichelle likes this.
  5. BrianCunningham

    BrianCunningham Active Member

    Exam counselling isn't an option any more unless it's your last exam. The IFoA changed that unilaterally at the beginning of 2019. I'm pretty sure it was only available for the later written exams (CA1/3/ST(SP)/SAs) anyway.

    I started the exams in the late 80s, packed them in in the early 90s (switched to IT) and took them up again a few years ago. Not saying you should copy me lol, but some time off (2-4 exam diets perhaps) might do you some good. *(I did think at the time I wouldn't be going back to take them up again, but never say "never" and after almost 20 years went back to finish the CA/ST/SPs (nearly there now))

    I totally get the impact that studying can have on your partner (and kids in my case). I know I can be pretty unbearable around exam time :)
    Your health comes first and do not let family expectations coerce you into putting your long-term physical and mental health in jeopardy. The exams will always be there waiting for you!
    Khoa likes this.
  6. Skull

    Skull Member

    I completed all of the CTs in 3 sittings, all first time excluding CT2 which I passed second time. I was quite miserable when studying - not going out with friends, the exams were always at the back of my mind.
    Anyway, then I came to CA1 and the STs. My life became even worse - my whole life was study, study and study. Failed CA1 twice and the STs once each. At the end I gave up, even left the industry - that was 3 years ago.


    The problem with the actuaries is that they think that what they do is super-duper important, they are getting the best salaries and have the best work-life-balance. The moment i left the actuarial industry I realized how all these things were wrong. If you are after good salary and work-life-balance I would say go to risk management in banks, you should already have all the relevant skills. And on the side you can do an MSc to top your skills - you will have your life back.
  7. VSA_88

    VSA_88 Active Member

    I'm at the same position now, cleared the CTs and struggling to get through the ones beyond those. I am this close to packing actuarial up too. If I can get through CP1 in April, I may continue to sit the exams. I failed my last sitting of CP1 by 1 mark. If I fail again, I'll probably end up calling it a day and look to move to Data Science.
  8. Khoa

    Khoa Keen member

    May I ask what do you do now?
  9. Khoa

    Khoa Keen member

    is it possible to appeal if they've marked unfairly as I'm only 1 mark away from spending another 100hrs of study?
  10. Khoa

    Khoa Keen member

    Quite relief to find someone in the similar situation, I will defo try it. Thanks
  11. Khoa

    Khoa Keen member

    at which point did you decide to stop? after how many attempt of resit? I'm thinking of leaving the IFOA if I fail again in the next April Sitting
  12. Khoa

    Khoa Keen member

    this is encouraging, what make you decided to come back?
  13. BrianCunningham

    BrianCunningham Active Member

    I started working directly with actuaries and students again in 2014 which rekindled my interest in finishing the exams. I've hit a bit of a stumbling block with SP1 so I might have a look at taking AIA and doing something on ML.
  14. Skull

    Skull Member

    Absolutely, since I left 3 years ago - i changed a few companies. I spent 2.5 years at major FS firms as market risk quant. 6 months ago I moved to a bank to do a similar role - but with a bit more coding.
  15. Skull

    Skull Member

    I attempted CA1 twice, each time missed it by 5 marks or so. I also sat ST8 and ST6, both only once with 10-15 marks bellow the pass mark. That's about 3 sittings - 18 months of my life that will never come back... I knew that I wanted to leave the industry when I started hearing that graduates in other industries are earning more than me, even though I had 3+ years of experience at the time...
    almost_there likes this.
  16. studentactuary

    studentactuary Made first post

    Hi, I totally understand how you are feeling! I think a decision on whether to continue sitting exams depends on whether long term you see yourself in the actuarial field. But as others have been saying, not passing an exam first time is absolutely the norm, and please don’t take it as a personal failure.I would also say that later exams are quite different to the CTs - so at the very least there is some variety

    I myself have been feeling very uneasy about exams since September. I cleared all CTs in 4 sittings (except for CT8/CM2). I found CS2 really tricky too - and only just passed second time. Then I took CP1 in April and failed by a mark (the actual mark breakdown revealed I was half a mark away and they rounded the result down). I retook CP1 and tried CP2 and I was convinced I failed both, but somehow managed to pass them both. It was definitely the boost I needed - but having to tackle CM2 again is tricky, I find resits quite hard.
  17. CapitalActuary

    CapitalActuary Very Active Member

    If you’re having a really hard time with the exams it’s totally reasonable to switch career for that reason. If you can blaze through the exams without too much trouble then actuarial is a reasonably sweet deal, but if it’s a struggle with multiple exam failures that changes things in my opinion.

    You’ll be able to make a good salary in other areas of finance or tech, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

    Having said the above, I do know a few actuaries who did struggle to qualify (6-8 years travel time) and eventually felt proud of the accomplishment and that it was all worth it in the end.

    It seems to be like you’re putting an inordinate amount of pressure on yourself though, so you either need to somehow internally switch this off or perhaps remove the external cause (the exams).
  18. Kamina

    Kamina Member

    I think it very much depends on how you feel about your job as well as the exams. If you're enjoying your work and you're good at it, then I reckon you'll pass these exams eventually

    I cruised through the CTs but failed CA1/CP1 five times (4 in a row) as well as getting a fail in each of my SPs.

    This was mainly due to poor exam technique as the later exams were so different compared to the CTs - I hated doing mocks/assignments but in the end it's what got me my passes. So you might want to look at alternative ways to study compared to what you're doing at the moment.

    I also went slower with the exams, only doing 1 module per sitting, which helped a lot with work-life balance.

    I'm not sure if you have to do the CTs first nowadays but I also found it helps to take a break from a module and go do another one - maybe try the later ones?

    Overall, it took me 7.5 years to qualify.

    What kept me motivated was that I enjoyed the job itself and my company was willing to support me even after the fails.

    Each one of those fails was a punch to the gut but I'm glad I stuck with it.
  19. Phani Vasantarao

    Phani Vasantarao Very Active Member

    I am very surprised that you want to give up after failing by just 1-2 marks on the very first attempt! I was always encouraged when I got so close to the passing mark! If I wasn't I don't think I would be 2 papers away from qualification today.

    In the end, I don't think passing these exams has much to do with intelligence. Certainly, a minimum IQ is required, but beyond that it is more about work and dedication. So don't tell yourself you're not smart enough - if you passed the first few, you certainly have the intelligence to pass the rest.

    You can also think about studying smart instead of studying hard. I realized after my first few passes that no matter how much time I put into the material and assignments, what made a real difference was attempting past papers in near-exam conditions AND evaluating myself against sample solutions. I learnt far more from that far quicker than I did in the months I spent grinding it out on the study material. I realized that it actually made more sense to breeze through the material ASAP, and spend more time on past papers.

    So don't be afraid to skip sections and topics if you're spending too much time trying to understand something that is very unlikely to show up in an actual exam. If it shows up enough in past papers, you will know that you need to understand it, and will still have time to revise and improve your understanding.

    Also, it is VERY important to manage your time during an exam. Before starting to answer each question, do you set a time limit on how much time you will spend on it? If not, you should be. It is better to lose a few marks on details on one question, than to lose the chance to attempt another question altogether. I always give myself 1.8 minutes per park roughly. So for example, for a 15 mark question, if I am spending more than 30 mins, I leave my solution as is and move on. You will get marks for partial workings, and in the end, you might still have time to come back and complete the answer.

    As far as stress and anxiety go - I second the suggestion by many others to take one paper each session. Give yourself break days - if you are not focussed, studying can actually be counterproductive. If re-attempting a paper, rather than starting from scratch, revise quickly and get to past papers right away. If you are financially comfortable, the result of the exam should affect you less, and you should be less concerned about attempting it a second time. If that doesn't do the trick, try meditation or a few shots of whiskey ;) And certainly do spend SOME time with your partner regularly - even a little time might make her very happy.

    If you give up now, you will feel unaccomplished compared to others who won't. Even if you are financially comfortable, that feeling will always nag you. So unless it is too much to take, I think you should give it another shot.

    Hopefully some of the advice above is useful to you. Don't give up yet - maybe slow down, but don't give up.
    N_Exam likes this.
  20. Sendo

    Sendo Keen member

    Can anyone share practical tips tackling the SP/SA fellowship exams? Struggling to transition my study techniques from that of CT to SP.
  21. mugono

    mugono Ton up Member

    Yes, sure - a couple of things.
    1. Doing lots of question practice can be really good in helping to understand the scoring system. Knowledge in and of itself isn't sufficient. The ability to apply your knowledge in sometimes unusual situations is critical to convince the examiner that you 'deserve' to pass.

    2. Exam technique is really important to passing. Pay attention to the command word (e.g. describe, explain etc.) - it can be helpful in guiding you towards points more likely to score. As a rule of thumb, each distinct point is worth 1/2 a mark.

    Good luck.

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