Super Pie

I've been reading a few excel blogs lately, including a few that focus on making charts look better and easier to interpret. I admit, the handy pie chart has always looked a little cluttered, and it required a long explanation of what the various components were when I first posted it. To some extent it still does, because most (all?) of my audience is unfamiliar with the pathway to the ASA credential. But the new improved Super Pie Chart should be a little more visitor friendly.

Pie chart of Jack's progress toward ASA.

The major categories of the requirements are grouped by color—blue for exams, red for VEE credits, green for the FAP modules, and purple for the APC—and each color region is labeled. Darker wedges in each range show completed requirements (all of the VEEs are complete) while lighter wedges represent outstanding requirements. The text for each wedge fits in place (except for the APC, which floats above), removing the clutter of all those leader lines on the old chart.

The only new progress on this incarnation is the addition of Module 1 from the FAP modules, which I completed earlier this summer. At the moment I am studying for Exam C, which I will take in early November, and I will start working on the FAP modules again while I wait for my result.


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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.


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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.


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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,


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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.


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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:


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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.


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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:


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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:


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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.


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