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SOA 2021 Exam Updates - Our Pearls of Wisdom

Change can be tough, particularly when it happens suddenly. By now, you will have heard about the substantial revision that the SOA has planned for its Associate-level exams and be wondering what this means for you.

If you have already attained your ASA, congratulations! These changes have no impact on your status, and you need not be too concerned about them unless you have an ASA candidate reporting to you. However, if you have not yet attained your ASA, then you need to become familiar with the changes and develop a strategy for responding to them that makes sense for you.

We have put together a list of considerations and pearls of wisdom that you may find helpful when navigating the changes during the transition period. However, keep in mind that everyone's circumstances are different and only you know what strategy is likely to work best for you.

Our list of considerations is based on information that the SOA released on July 12, 2021. Although we do not expect the SOA to announce any further changes, it may provide clarifying information at some point in the future. Hence, for the most up-to-date information on the forthcoming changes or transition rules, you should consult the SOA website.

Pearl of Wisdom #1:

Do not put your career on hold. Continue to take (and hopefully pass) exams during the transition period.

Remember why you started taking actuarial exams in the first place. It was probably because you wanted to become an actuary or open doors to a variety of rewarding careers that combine business and the mathematical sciences. Unless your goals have changed, you should continue to take exams during the transition period. The SOA's transition rules are usually very generous, so unless you repeatedly fail an exam that is being discontinued, you should not worry that the time spent studying for exams will be wasted.

Pearl of Wisdom #2:

If you have already begun to prepare for an exam that is being discontinued, you should continue to prepare, but make a concerted effort to pass the exam as soon as possible during the transition period.

The only ASA exam that is being discontinued is IFM (Investments and Financial Markets). The final administration of this exam will be in November 2022. Hence, if you have already begun to prepare for exam IFM, rest assured that you will have more than one opportunity to pass it. However, do not wait until November 2022. Make a concerted effort to take the exam before November 2022 so that you have at least two opportunities to pass it. If you wait until November 2022 and are not successful, then the time spent studying for IFM will be wasted, at least from the perspective of completing your ASA.

Pearl of Wisdom #3:

If you have not begun to prepare for exam IFM but have taken a course that covers some of the syllabus, then passing exam IFM may be an easy way to get credit for the new ASA exam ATPA (Advanced Topics in Predictive Analytics).

Candidates who have passed exam IFM will be given transition credit for the new ASA exam ATPA. Hence, for the purposes of meeting the requirements for the ASA and FSA designations, passing IFM is sufficient to obtain credit for ATPA. Since ATPA will be an advanced exam in the new system and it may be some time before it is clear what it takes to pass this exam, some candidates may find it easier to pass exam IFM.

Pearl of Wisdom #4:

If you have not begun to prepare for exam IFM, have not taken a course that covers at least some of the syllabus for this exam and do not plan to pursue a career in investments or financial markets, then depending on your near-term career objectives, you may wish to focus on passing other exams.

In response to market demands for candidates with greater expertise in predictive analytics, the SOA has decided to replace exam IFM with exam ATPA and introduce a micro-credential in data science. This micro-credential would enable candidates who have passed exams SRM (Statistics for Risk Modeling), PA (Predictive Analytics) and ATPA (Advanced Topics in Predictive Analytics) to be recognized for their expertise in predictive analytics without completing all the requirements for the ASA designation. A cursory glance at job postings suggests that there are many opportunities for candidates with expertise in predictive analytics. If you are interested in pursuing these opportunities in the near term, then it may make more sense to focus on passing exams SRM and PA than exam IFM.

Pearl of Wisdom #5:

Although passing exam IFM will give you transition credit for the new ASA exam ATPA, you will still need to pass exam ATPA if you want to obtain the new micro-credential in data science.

If you want to obtain the new micro-credential in data science without completing all the requirements for the ASA designation, you will need to pass exam ATPA outright. Passing exams SRM, PA and IFM will not be sufficient. Hence, if you are unsure whether you will compete all the requirements for the ASA but want to be able to demonstrate expertise in predictive analytics to prospective employers through a micro-credential, you should probably plan on taking exam ATPA.

Pearl of Wisdom #6:

If you have already begun to prepare for exam STAM or taken a course that covers some of the syllabus, you should make a concerted effort to pass this exam before the new system comes into effect.

The content in exams STAM (Short-term Actuarial Mathematics) and LTAM (Long-term Actuarial Mathematics) is being reorganized and these exams are being replaced by three shorter exams: FAM (Fundamentals of Actuarial Mathematics), ASTAM (Advanced Short-term Actuarial Mathematics) and ALTAM (Advanced Long-term Actuarial Mathematics). In the new system, candidates will have to pass exam FAM, which covers the basics of both short-term and long-term actuarial mathematics and either ALTAM or ASTAM.

Candidates who pass exam STAM before the new system comes into effect will receive transition credit for exam ASTAM and the portion of exam FAM that covers the basics of short-term actuarial mathematics (FAM-S). They will then only need to obtain credit for exam FAM-L (the portion of exam FAM that covers the basics of long-term actuarial mathematics). They will not need to pass ALTAM.

Exam STAM will be administered three times before the new system comes into effect: October 2021, February 2022, and June 2022. Hence, candidates who have already begun to prepare for this exam or have taken a course that covers some of the syllabus should try to pass this exam before the new system comes into effect.

Pearl of Wisdom #7:

If you have passed exam STAM but not exam LTAM and do not expect to complete all the requirements for the ASA designation by April 2022, then you should probably focus on exams other than LTAM.

Candidates who have credit for exam STAM but not exam LTAM when the new system comes into effect will receive transition credit for exams ASTAM and FAM-S and only need to pass exam FAM-L. They will not need to pass ALTAM. As exam FAM-L is certain to be easier than exam LTAM and exam LTAM is only being administered twice before the new system comes into effect (October 2021 and April 2022), candidates who do not expect to complete all the requirements for the ASA designation by April 2022 should probably focus on other exams.

Pearl of Wisdom #8:

If you have passed exam LTAM but not exam STAM and do not expect to complete all the requirements for the ASA designation by June 2022, then you may wish to focus on exams other than STAM.

Candidates who have credit for exam LTAM but not exam STAM when the new system comes into effect will receive transition credit for exams ALTAM and FAM-L and only need to pass exam FAM-S. They will not need to pass ASTAM. As exam FAM-S is certain to be easier than exam STAM, candidates who do not expect to complete all the requirements for the ASA designation by June 2022 may wish to focus on other exams.

Pearl of Wisdom #9:

If you have not passed STAM or LTAM but would like to receive credit for one of them before the new system comes into effect, then consider taking exam STAM.

Exam STAM consists of multiple-choice questions and has a duration of 3.5 hours, whereas exam LTAM consists of both multiple-choice and written-answer questions and has a duration of 4.25 hours. Moreover, exam STAM will be administered three times before the new system comes into effect (October 2021, February 2022, and June 2022), whereas exam LTAM will only be administered twice (October 2021 and April 2022). Hence, all things being equal, a candidate will probably find it easier to pass exam STAM before the new system comes into effect. For this reason, if you have not passed STAM or LTAM but would like to receive credit for one of them before the new system comes into effect, you should probably focus on STAM.

Pearl of Wisdom #10:

You never know what direction your career (or life) will take. Subjects that do not seem relevant to you today may turn out to be extremely important in your future.

At this stage of your career, you are understandably focused on passing as many exams and attaining your ASA as quickly as possible. In many organizations, advancement and promotion are directly tied to success on SOA exams. However, passing an exam is just an indication that you have learned a subject to a specified standard. Learning the subject well should be your primary goal. If you learn the subject well, you will be a better actuary, and ultimately more successful in your career.