1.03.2010

 

Where did Jack go? I don't see where...

That's what Kent used to say when we played peekaboo. Well, daddy, not Jack, but you get the picture.

Sorry for the disappearing act mom. Oh, is someone else still out there? I apologize to you too. Here's a quick summary recap of what I've been neglecting to write about the past couple of months:

  • In September we found out that Beta is another boy, Dean Isaac. Kent's been getting ready to be a big brother and we think he'll take to it pretty well.
  • In October my fantasy baseball team won the league for the third straight year, and the fourth time in the last five. Someone introduced an amendment to the rules last year limiting the keepers for teams that win back to back (or back to back to back). Fortunately for me it did not pass. Fortunately for my league, I'll be very busy and sleep deprived this spring when we're drafting, so it'll probably be a down year.
  • In early November I took Exam C. Results will finally be available at the end of this week. I felt good about parts of the test at the time, but I wasn't sure I'd done well enough overall to pass. As the results date has gotten closer I've only gotten more pessimistic, and I won't be surprised if I have to take it again in April.
  • We traveled to Atlanta for Thanksgiving, and Kent and his cousin Emerson started a band. Next Thanksgiving they'll have another member for the group. I think in about 10 years we'll have a one-hit-wonder boy band. Stay tuned.
  • For Christmas we traveled to Ocean City and Baltimore in Maryland, where Kent got to see his cousins on the other side of the family—Nicholas, Travis, and seven-day-old Blythe, the first girl of her generation.

Right after we got back from Maryland we had a labor scare and went to the hospital. Everything was ok and they sent us home, but now we're in full out baby-preparedness mode. The infant car seat is in the trunk, and our hospital bag is packed. This past weekend we rearranged our bedroom so that we could set up the co-sleeper that my sister lent us. We also took the first real steps to getting the crib/toddler bed out of Kent's room and the daybed that was Erica's into his room so he can have a big boy bed and Dean can have a crib when he's ready for one. Thanks to Erica's mom we're setting up a new bed in the guest room so that we'll still have someplace for visitors to sleep, which is good since my mom and Erica's mom both plan to come down for several days after Dean is born. There are still a few things to do, but if Dean surprises us we're pretty much ready.

Finally, I wanted to follow up on last year's post, wherein I actually made two resolutions and even shared them with the world. I wanted to track our personal finances for a year, and I wanted to get out of credit card debt. The bad news is, like most resolutions, I didn't manage to do either. The good news is, I made progress and think we'll fulfill both this year.

Last year I tracked our finances for about two months before giving up. But, more recently Erica and I have been talking about trying to actually budget instead of using the loose "make sure you set aside enough to pay the bills and spend the rest however you want" method we've been using since I worked at the bookstore. So I've gotten the personal finance software set up again, and in the meantime several improvements have been made that should make it easier to keep up with. Having Erica actively involved will also help immensely.

As far as credit card debt goes, we did a good job of going after it until sometime this summer when we had a hiccup in our finances, and ever since then we've been kind of coasting. We've still been working away at it, but with less intensity. However, it's down to the point that our anticipated tax refund should pretty much cover the rest of it, so hopefully by the end of February we can bid it a very fond farewell.

—Jack

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8.20.2009

 

New route to ASA?

As those of you who still visit the blog know, there's basically only one reason to check in these days: updates to the handy pie chart (actually my submission for the first FAP module was graded and I passed so I do need to update it, but that will come later). When I introduced the pie chart I ran through the overall structure of the path to ASA and concluded:

The nice thing about this whole process is that it is well defined within the profession and each additional accomplishment generally is rewarded with raises and increased employment opportunities.

Well, that may change. Specifically the well defined part, but in the long run I can see the raises and increased employment opportunities being reduced as a result.

On the afternoon of Friday, August 14th, the SOA, CAS, and CIA jointly released a letter and accompanying FAQ about a major change to the credentialing process for future actuaries. The proposal, called the Future Education Methods (FEM), would allow students at certain universities to earn exemptions from preliminary actuarial exams based on their grades in certain classes as long as they pass Exam P/1 while they are in school.

This proposal would allow many students to graduate near-ASA, with only the FAP modules and the APC remaining for an actuarial credential. In fact, without the other preliminary exams to study for as an undergrad, I wouldn't be surprised to see many more students completing the FAP and possibly studying for FSA exams before graduating and thereby creating a steady flow of entry level ASAs and near-FSAs.

I feel such a move devalues the ASA in particular, along with the FSA, ACAS, and FCAS. I don't feel that the universities that would be accredited for the FEM would be able to consistently and satisfactorily provide the rigor that the preliminary exams currently provide, and over time confidence in the knowledge level and professionalism of actuaries would begin to drop.

The proposal includes a request that comments be sent to fem@actuarialdirectory.org, but the deadline to submit comments is September 10, 2009. It is expected that this proposal will be considered and possibly enacted by a vote of the SOA and CAS boards at their Fall 2009 meetings, without a vote by SOA or CAS members. Therefore, it is very important that any concerns or objections to the FEM proposal be raised during the exposure period. If no major objections are raised it is expected that the SOA board will approve this alternative route to recognition of early actuarial education.

This past week I put together a letter stating my main objections to the proposal, which you can view as a PDF. Other actuaries are also sharing their letters on the Actuarial Outpost. If you are in the actuarial profession or know anyone else who is I encourage you to get informed and make sure that your voice is heard by the Boards of Directors before the fall meetings.

—Jack

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7.01.2009

 

Some progress

I finally finished the first module in the Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP) this week, about two months after I started. The official estimate is that the modules should take about a month each but we've been busy and there were things about the final project that I had to mull for a while. I had a couple of eureka moments but in the end it's nothing so great that it has to be shared. Someone on the Actuarial Outpost has a quote about how things seem easy in retrospect but it is the challenge of looking at them prospectively and getting to the point of retrospection that is the hard part. I feel like that's the case here. It will eventually get graded and don't expect any problems, but since it's my first work in this format who knows.

Unfortunately, I took too long on the first module to realistically have a chance at completing the second one before I need to turn my attention to Exam C for the fall, so I've started studying for my exam about two weeks ahead of my original planned study schedule. Hopefully that will give me enough leeway to finish when I had planned to finish and be ready for the exam. So far so good but I've only been studying for two days and I've only done 10 sample problems. I'm trying to watch a video lesson each day and do about 5 problems afterwards to maintain a steady pace. When I tried getting ready for the exam in May I kept having bursts of progress followed by lulls when I didn't get anywhere, and by the time the registration deadline arrived I knew I wouldn't be ready to take the exam. So it goes. With my current schedule I should be done in mid-late September and then I can focus on my weak areas and work practice problems until I'm sick of them.

After my exam in November I will return my attention to the FAP modules for a few more months and try to get one or two more finished before February, when things will get a lot busier and I'll probably have to take a break. But I've got a good reason to pause, so that's ok.

—Jack

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4.03.2009

 

Change of pace

Last time I wrote about the exams I had just passed Exam MFE and was champing at the bit to dig into my 1,250 page study guide for Exam C. For planning purposes I usually estimate that I can cover 50 pages per week, even though I often struggle to do so and have to revise my study schedule multiple times as I have studied for most of my exams. In this case, by the time I was able and ready to order the study guide I estimated that I would finish the study guide about three weeks after the exam date. Not so good.

A few days later I chickened out and instead signed up for an online video seminar from The Infinite Actuary. The sample study schedule for the TIA seminar said I would be done about March 25th, which would leave me with six weeks to work on practice problems and get on top of my game for the exam. But, I started about a week behind their study schedule and managed to get further and further behind on that too. So instead of taking the exam in May when I know I won't be truly prepared, I am switching gears and starting the Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP) online modules.

The FAP is a self-paced online course that deals with the business practice of being an actuary, whereas the exams I have been taking so far have been geared toward technical math skill and knowledge. It involves more writing to communicate the results and implications of the calculations and less emphasis on learning how to do the calculations themselves. Hopefully I can complete two or three of the modules before I switch back to studying for Exam C in July.

The good news for me is that if I can get a few modules out of the way and then get ready for C in November I have a good chance of being finished with my ASA by next Spring. The good news for you guys is that I should be filling in more of the pie chart sooner rather than later.

—Jack

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1.02.2009

 

New Year, New Pie

In the awesome news department, I found out today that I passed the actuarial exam that I took back in November. That means I only have one preliminary exam left to go, Exam C, which is, well, awesome. However, if you pay close attention you might notice that Exam C is the biggest wedge on the Handy Pie Chart. The study guide I'm using weighs in at 1,250 pages (there is one study guide that is approximately 4,700 pages but I do have a wife and kid so I'm not going near it). So on Monday (while I'm at jury duty) I'll see if I can get the folks at work to order my study guide so that I can get working on it. May 14th is coming quick. After May 14th I will start working on all of the Module wedges on the left side of the pie. Best case scenario has me finishing sometime early to mid next year, but there's still a long way to go, so who knows. Here's the current edition of the Handy Pie Chart—no more updates for a while:

As far as the New Year, I'm not one for resolutions, but I do have two goals for this coming year. First, I'm going to try to keep track of our personal finances for the entire year. I've tried a few times and run out of steam after a month or two, but I think it will help with my second goal, which is getting rid of the rest of our credit card debt. I keep thinking it'll be gone in a year or two and it's still hanging around. I've reached the point where I'm tired of dealing with it and hopefully I'm financially aware and focused enough to make it go away. For good. I'll revisit this post in a year to see how I did.

Wishing a happy year to you and yours,

—Jack

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12.02.2008

 

Goodbye VEE credits, roof

Today I took and passed the macroeconomics CLEP exam. I did slightly better on it than I had on the microeconomics exam despite not having quite as intuitive a grasp of the topic. As with the micro exam, I learned some material from a book and supplemented from a series of narrated powerpoint lectures. The micro lectures were pretty well targeted to the same kind of information that they wanted us to know for the CLEP exams, but the macro lectures were based on a historical look at macroeconomic theory and how it has evolved. It was interesting to watch but there were a few details that I only picked up after missing some of the sample questions. Of course, I was also trying to watch the lectures over our Thanksgiving trip to Atlanta while Kent was napping or in the hotel in the evenings, so there may be other reasons I missed a few things here and there.

At any rate, I am finished with my VEE requirements and now I'll move on to the Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP)—which makes up the left side of the pie chart—between exams. If I get really lucky I will have passed the exam I took in November and will pass my final preliminary exam in May. If that's the case I'll be able to focus on FAP the rest of the year and maybe even finish around this time next year, but that scenario would require a lot going right for me and the preliminary exams still have pass rates between 40 and 50 percent so I'm not going to hold my breath. The next step is waiting for the results from November, which should be released on January 2nd. The updated pie chart looks like this:

In other news, we had some roof damage during Hurricane Gustav, but it was relatively minor, no water was coming in, and I figured we might be able to get it fixed for less than our insurance deductible, so I didn't contact our insurance company right away.

In any case, we were doing much better than some of our neighbors:

After getting three estimates that ranged from $175 to $8,000, I decided that maybe we should contact the insurance company anyway and see what they thought. To my surprise, our adjuster took a look at the roof and said it should be replaced, and today we picked a contractor to do the work.

When we moved in the kitchen appliances, light fixtures, fans, and floors were all new. Since then we've replaced the heat pump, the water heater, and now the roof. All we need to do is the windows and the siding and we'll have a completely different house than the one we saw on our first visit. Crazy.

—Jack

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11.20.2008

 

Microeconomics

The last two weeks I've been learning microeconomics in order to fulfill part of my final VEE credit, and on Thursday I passed the Principles of Microeconomics CLEP exam pretty easily. The CLEP exams are multiple choice tests designed to cover the content of a basic college course. They are similar to the AP exams except there aren't essays (at least not for the economics exams), you can schedule the exam whenever you feel like you are ready, and since it is given on a computer you get your score as soon as you are finished.

I'm a little surprised I managed to learn the equivalent of a semester of microeconomics in two weeks. It makes me wonder why I didn't do better on my AP exams in high school until I remember that I never studied for anything in high school. That's not an option for the actuarial exams and so when it came time to study for this relatively easy test I guess things just came together quickly.

In two more weeks I plan to take the Principles of Macroeconomics CLEP exam to finish off my VEEs once and for all. In the meantime, here's my updated pie chart:

—Jack

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11.04.2008

 

Crazy day

I got up this morning and stood in line for a relatively short hour to cast my vote. I'm glad to see that the rest of the country seems to agree that Obama was the better choice in this election, and I am excited to have a thoughtful, open, forward looking President in office again.

After I voted I took my actuarial exam. I feel like I probably came up a little short of passing, though passing isn't impossible. It's hard to say for sure because I didn't get a chance to try and remember my answers for comparison with other folks who took the exam. I'll find out for sure in January, but the other two times I felt like this after an exam I got 5's (6 is passing), so I'm going to assume I've got another 5 coming my way. So it goes. On the bright side, I do feel like the exam was fair and that I could have passed given a little more time; I was trying to solve problems right up until the proctor told us to stop working.

I'll try to get my economics credit out of the way by the end of the year and bid a fond farewell to the VEE requirements. After that I'll review my study manual to work on solidifying the few topics that I'm still a little fuzzy on and try to make sure that I can solve problems quickly. If I have to take it again in May I want to be sure to pass.

—Jack

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10.25.2008

 

Ten days to go

until my actuarial exam. Oh, you thought I meant the election? Yeah, the SOA scheduled my exam for 2PM on election day. So it goes.

I took a practice exam today and did really well, which was a little heartening because some of the problems I've been working on lately have been throwing me pretty bad. However, the exam I just took is from the first time this exam was ever offered and the questions were softballs. I don't expect my upcoming exam to be anywhere near as easy.

In any case, I won't find out how I did until January so I'll try to fill in some more pie pieces while I wait, either studying for another exam (my final preliminary exam!) if I feel like I passed or getting my economics requirements out of the way if I feel like I didn't. There's not an overwhelming amount of material on this one so I think I can get up to speed pretty easily if I have to take it again in May. But hopefully I can find enough problems that I know how to answer that I can get through this time around. We'll see...

—Jack

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8.09.2008

 

Quick turnaround

I finished my corporate finance exam at around 4PM on Thursday and they sent me an email telling me that I passed at around 7PM on Friday. If only the SOA could get results out so quickly! This is likely the last update on the handy pie chart until November or so, but here's the current incarnation:

Meanwhile, Erica is heading back out of town on Tuesday to visit her mom's parents for a few days in West Virginia. I get to stay in Baton Rouge and work and try to make up some of my lost study time.

Finally, Kent's sleep revolution appears to be over, as he has not done well with the roll-him-over method the last two nights but has done ok with walking. So it goes.

—Jack

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8.07.2008

 

More pie?

We have returned from our summer jaunt to New Hampshire, which you can read about on Erica's blog.

I had to spend some of the trip studying because we got back on Tuesday and I had a corporate finance exam today. I think it went well, but I haven't ever taken an exam like it before and I'm not sure how flexible they are if you don't type their particular phrases when answering a question. All of the questions were free response, so no guessing C to try for extra points after you've answered all of the questions that you knew. The material wasn't as hard as for an actuarial exam but there were a lot of lists to learn and I haven't been exposed to much corporate finance before.

At the end of the exam they said that I'd get results in two to four weeks so there will be a little wait to find out if I passed, but in the meantime I am going to plow headfirst into studying for the next actuarial exam, MFE, which I will take on election day. I'm already over a month behind my proposed study schedule, but they are changing the syllabus in 2009 so I will do my best to pass now instead of having to take it again next May. In the meantime I've updated the handy pie chart below:

—Jack

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7.02.2008

 

Green is good

The Society of Actuaries, in their infinite wisdom, decided to release the results from the May exams today, more than a week earlier than I had expected. I'm not going to argue, especially since my candidate number was listed among the other fortunate passers. Next up, my corporate finance VEE, which I will try to pass in the next two to three weeks. Then Exam MFE in November, which threw people for a serious loop this time around. It could be treacherous. But, then again, they all are in one way or another. I've updated the handy pie chart below:

—Jack

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5.17.2008

 

Actuarial Progress: The Handy Pie Chart

Ok folks, listen up. Since people often ask me "how many exams" I have left, I have created this handy pie chart for your reference and edification. Here is what I've done and what I still have to do to become an Associate of the Society of Actuaries (ASA): Green slices are completed, grey are pending results, and blue are yet to be accomplished. There's still a lot of blue.

The requirements include 5 Preliminary Exams (Exam P through Exam C), 5 Validation by Educational Experience (VEE) subjects (Microeconomics through Time Series Analysis), an 8 part professional development course called the Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP) that includes two high stakes assessments, and the Associateship Professionalism Course, which is a half day seminar where they tell us the legal and ethical responsibilities of being an actuary; once we are ASAs we can sign actuarial opinions, which is why they pay us the big bucks.

The preliminary exams that I still have ahead of me are only offered twice a year. They are difficult, with pass rates usually between 35-50%. So far I've completed two and have just taken a third (results available around July 11th, so stay tuned).

The VEE credits are given for topics that the Society of Actuaries feel are important to know but do not lend themselves well to a preliminary exam. So far I've completed two of the topics and am about to start studying for a test that will take care of the corporate finance requirement. People going through college now can get their VEEs through undergraduate courses, and the other methods I am using to fulfill the requirements are supposed to be equivalent to passing such a course. I hope to be finished with the VEE requirements by the end of the year.

The FAP modules are designed to take about a month each to complete and require submissions at the end of each module. At the end of module 5 there is a comprehensive Interim Assessment (IA). No one knows much about the IA because the folks that have taken it aren't allowed to talk about it; Erica thinks there is some sort of hazing involved. We have 30 days to complete the IA once we download it. At the end of module 8 there is a more comprehensive Final Assessment (FA), which is apparently a huge case study that requires us to analyze a situation and write some professional memos with supporting evidence for our positions. We have 96 hours to complete the FA once we download it, and we have to be supervised during that time to ensure no one provides outside assistance. To answer your question, I don't think my boss will follow me into the bathroom. I hope. The FAP replaced two preliminary exams and is supposed to be more applicable to day-to-day actuarial work than they were.

If all goes well (a significant assumption based on the pass rates for the preliminary exams) I could be an ASA by sometime in 2010. Then I'll start working toward FSA (Fellow of the Society of Actuaries) but since they keep changing the educational requirements, they do not appear in my handy pie chart, and I am not going to worry about exactly what's involved until I am getting ready to start that process...

The nice thing about this whole process is that it is well defined within the profession and each additional accomplishment generally is rewarded with raises and increased employment opportunities.

Watch for periodic handy pie chart updates as I make my way through the process.

—Jack

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5.15.2008

 

Examined...

I took my actuarial exam this morning. The weather was really bad and my proctor ended up being late, but I was the only one taking the exam at my location and I didn't have to go to work today, so I didn't mind too much. The exam started with a nice softball and then it quickly moved into some really difficult questions. When I realized I had skipped more questions than I had answered in the first 45 minutes of the three hour exam I started to panic, thinking I would fail again. But, as I got further into the exam booklet I found some questions that I could answer correctly and once I started getting them right I got on a roll, at one point knocking out 9 of 10 questions. With my newly restored confidence I went back and answered several more that I had previously skipped, and I only ended up outright guessing on four out of 30. This bodes well.

Results don't come out until July, I'm guessing July 11th, but I am cautiously optimistic.

Next up, a professional course in corporate finance to satisfy another (easier) requirement, and in a month or so I'll order study materials for the next actuarial exam so I can start getting ready for November.

—Jack

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5.13.2008

 

In 37.5 hours I will be done...

Hopefully Thursday will be the last time I have to take this particular actuarial exam. I've been feeling pretty good about stuff but tonight I hit a long rough patch in the published practice problems. I've only got 14 left to work on tomorrow and then I'll be ready. I hope.

—Jack

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4.12.2008

 

Karma

I've missed the vast majority of the problems I've attempted since my last post, and none of them have been due to silly arithmetic errors. I am glad there is still a month to prepare.

—Jack

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4.10.2008

 

Batten = Win!

We are back from Atlanta. Over 6.5 days (52 hours) I took about 100 pages of notes. I am full of math. I think in math. I dream about math. I do math while I drive. I get most of the problems correct (silly arithmetic errors!). Nearly every old exam problem looks easy. I am looking forward to May 15.

—Jack

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1.14.2008

 

Missed it by this much...

Well, the results are out and I got a 5 on my exam, which means I missed passing by one or two questions. I can think of one or two questions that I should have gotten, but in the end I ran out of time and didn't get to revisit them. So now I get to start studying for the same exam again, which will next be offered in May. Since I'm already comfortable with the bread and butter topics, I'll have plenty of time to work on the detailed stuff that was giving me trouble in November. And, I'm most likely going to attend an exam preparation seminar in Atlanta with one of the most respected professors of actuarial science. All in all, I should be in good shape when the exam day comes around next time.

—Jack

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11.07.2007

 

There's always next year...

After I left the exam room I felt like it was a coin flip; I didn't attempt all of the questions but I felt pretty good about the number I had been able to do. Now that I've had a chance to discuss the exam with some other folks who took it, it looks like I might not have passed. I don't remember all of my answers so it's hard to say for sure. Out of the ones I remember, I probably got between 13-15 correct. There are four that I can't remember my answers for. If I got them all, I will probably pass. If not, I'll be trying to answer questions about when people die again in May.

The results don't come out until January. Until then I've got an online course in statistics to take, and I'll be doing practice problems for this exam so that all of my knowledge doesn't trickle out of my ears. So it goes...

—Jack

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11.05.2007

 

T minus 12 hours

Well, 11 and a half really, but in half a day I will be taking an actuarial exam on life contingencies. When a maths professor in Belfast first suggested studying actuarial science to me, I replied "Those are the guys that figure out when people die? I'm not interested in doing that." This is the exam about figuring out when people die. And, although the material on the exam is difficult, I generally like it. Go figure.

—Jack

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2.07.2007

 

Impending Male Progeny

We went to the hospital today for the second ultrasound and found out that we're having a boy! In the past week or so I had started to think of our child as a "he" but I didn't really have any reason to do so. I doubt I have prophetic powers, but evidently my dad knew I would be a boy before my parents found out too, so maybe there's something going on...

We're working on our 17-point plan to get ready for the kid, and soon our office will be a nursery, our dining room will double as an office, and the guest room... Well, the guest room closet will get the rest of what's in the office closet but it'll still be a guest room, so there will be space for folks to stay if they want to visit. Just saying. At any rate, it's almost time to enlist the help of some friends with strong arms to help move furniture :)

In other news, the weather has cleared up and I'm feeling just fine. Funny how that works :) I'm still behind on my study schedule for the next exam but that'll work itself out. I hope.

—Jack

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1.12.2007

 

Passed!

After checking the website last night around midnight, this morning around 6AM, and then periodically throughout the day, I found out this afternoon that I passed the second actuarial exam :) I felt pretty good about it when I took it but it's nice to know that it wasn't a false sense of confidence. You can find my freshly updated resume over on the left-hand side of the page.

This is my first time getting an exam raise since I started doing actuarial work, and I wasn't sure what to expect because my employer doesn't have any written student guidelines—I think the last time someone passed an exam was in 2002. But, when I spoke to my boss today after the passing candidates were posted online, I was pleasantly surprised to find out what "We'll make it worth your while" really meant!

Only 10 more steps to my ASA. If I pass everything the first time I try, I should be done with my Associateship in late 2009 or early 2010. But since the pass rate on the exams is generally 35-40%, I'm not counting on that happening. The exams behind me are supposedly the easiest, and even though I've just started studying for the next one I can definitely see that being the case. I'll do my best and we'll see what happens.

—Jack

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