I have always been impressed with Zilong’s focus on continuous improvement in all areas: fitness, leadership, networking, academics – basically anything that leads to a more successful life.

For anyone who follows Zilong, one obvious question comes to mind: where does he find the time and energy to do so much? Especially as an actuary, how does he manage actuarial exam studying while still making progress in other areas?

The Route to More Efficient Studying

Balancing actuarial exams was always a challenge for me, as it is for most actuarial students. With the “100 hour rule” of studying for exams, we’re encouraged to spend 3-4+ hours in a long, grueling study session each day in order to reach our goal – that doesn’t leave much time or energy for other activities.

I wanted to find a better way to study, and then I met Roy Ju. Roy recently became the youngest FSA in history (age 20), and he did this while balancing academics, work, extracurriculars, and most importantly, a social life.

After many conversations with Roy, I realized the “100 hour rule” put an unnecessary focus on quantity of study hours rather than quality. I learned many more lessons, leading us to publish a book on how to study more effectively: Actuarial Exam Tactics: Learn More, Study Less.cover-art

One of the best changes I made to my study habits was restructuring my study sessions. We talk about this in depth in the book, but I want to share a short passage that is relevant for any student looking to balance a hectic schedule.

“Often, students will schedule single, 3+ hour daily study sessions in preparation for the exams. These types of study sessions can be motivated by an end goal of a specific total number of study hours. As we have previously discussed, there are several limitations to focusing on study hours as the only metric for your progress. Instead, think of an adjusted metric for your study sessions: focused study time.

Naturally, our quality of focus on any given task decreases rapidly over time, with some sources citing a 20-minute limit on fully focused attention.  Regardless of the exact number, we can all attest that we do not feel nearly as productive at the end of a three-hour study session as during the first half hour. Let’s take the example of someone studying for three hours, with the following approximations for quality of focus:

Duration of Studying Quality of Focus Over Duration
1 hour 85%
2 hours 70%
3 hours 55%

The three-hour study session equates to about 100 minutes of focused study time. You could achieve the same result with two separate one-hour sessions with a break to refresh your focus. Of course, these numbers aren’t exact (maybe even overgenerous for quality of focus over three hours), but the same concept holds—we have significantly decreased focus over the course of a long study session, and we can achieve the same amount of learning by utilizing shorter sessions at a higher intensity of focus. These sessions should be long enough to reach a strong depth of focus and understanding, but they should end before any substantial mind-wandering or mental burnout occurs.”

From Pages 41-42 of Actuarial Exam Tactics: Learn More, Study Less

Clearly, the marathon study sessions encouraged by the 100 hour rule are not an efficient use of time. The 100 hour rule itself is not the best metric because it ignores one critical component: quality.

This should be great news for any college student or full-time worker struggling to find time to study for exams – you can schedule short study sessions during breaks in between classes or over lunch. By studying smarter, you can reclaim your schedule and live a balanced lifestyle. For any actuarial student feeling overwhelmed by the demands of studying, learning how to study is a meta skill that will lead to a more successful career.


If you’re interested in more ways to study smarter, our book is being released on May 16th, and we are running a contest to give away free copies. For anyone that pre-orders, you can enter the contest to win a free study manual, flashcards, or webinar. We hope this book allows more students to pursue a wide range of interests and to break the shackles of the 100 hour rule.

Study Manual Raffle

More about this book

Conventional actuarial study advice: Buy a manual, read through each chapter, do as many practice problems as possible, and spend 100 hours per exam hour in preparation for the exam. Is there a better way?

This is the fundamental question addressed in Actuarial Exam Tactics: Learn More While Studying Less. In this book, you will find actionable advice to questions such as: What parts of the material should I focus on more than others? How can I make my review sessions more productive? (When and How to review) What is the best way to structure my study sessions to be more productive? How can I pass the exams while spending less time than “100 study hours per exam hour”? This book presents the study strategies that helped Roy Ju become the world’s youngest actuary, finishing the exams at the age of 20. At this point, most actuarial students will be asking: these strategies worked for Roy, but will they work for the average actuarial student?

This is the fundamental question addressed in Actuarial Exam Tactics: Learn More While Studying Less. In this book, you will find actionable advice to questions such as:

  • What parts of the material should I focus on more than others?
  • How can I make my review sessions more productive? (When and How to review)
  • What is the best way to structure my study sessions to be more productive?
  • How can I pass the exams while spending less time than “100 study hours per exam hour”?

What the critics say

“Too many students will attempt to ‘reinvent the wheel,’ and ultimately flounder about aimlessly before discovering (if ever) a study system that produces results.  The owner of this book can skip this highly inefficient process and learn right away from Ju and Jennings what actually works.”

– Toby White, FSA, Ph.D.  Curriculum Chair for SOA Exam MFE, Associate Professor of Finance & Actuarial Science

“This is a fantastic read I would recommend to all students taking professional exams (not just actuarial exams). Mike and Roy have done a fantastic job highlighting the importance of learning how to learn, and outlining the proven methods of effective and efficient learning!”

-Zilong Zhao, Actuarial Senior Analyst, Author of WeZBest.com

Written by:

Mike Jennings, ASA, CERA

Co-author of Actuarial Exam Tactics: Learn More, Study Less

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