Taking Two CAS Exams in One Sitting

by Elizabeth End, FCAS

I bet the idea to take two exams during one sitting flits across the minds of most candidates at some point during their exam journey. It sounds so tempting to shave six months or more off of your ultimate travel time, but setting aside more hours to study than you already do for one exam is quite the deterrent. Most candidates tend to stick with one exam at a time, but some candidates attempt and pass two in one sitting. Some such CAS members were kind enough to share insights into their past experiences that may be helpful to today’s candidates who are thinking of taking two exams in one sitting.

It’s important to think early on about whether your employer will be supportive of your taking two exams in one sitting. Your company may be happy for you to attain your goal level of CAS membership sooner, but they may want your exam progress and work experience to build together at a more standard pace. Some companies may support your taking multiple exams at once, but others may not provide resources for a second exam. If you will not get any additional support from your company, you may have to pay out of pocket for materials and exam fees as well as use your personal time for all the additional studying required. One double-exam passer said her company was not supportive of her efforts to take two at once, so she ended up switching to a company that did.   

Besides the shortened exam travel time, CAS members I spoke with cited prior attempts, topic relevance, above-average study skills, the challenge of it, and ample spare time as reasons they attempted two exams at once. Some exam-takers who failed with a somewhat high failing score felt that they had a pretty solid grasp on the material and would not need as much study time for the second sitting of that exam; they felt like they could handle studying for the second attempt alongside studying for a completely new-to-them exam. People taking this approach generally studied for the first-attempt exam by itself for the first one to two and a half months before incorporating study for the second-attempt exam. Similarly, some people took two exams because the content of one was already somewhat familiar to them since it tied into their everyday work. One double-exam passer realized that she didn’t need as much time to study and pass as the CAS recommended; she was able to study for two in the same amount of time as many other candidates studied for and passed one. One CAS member was motivated by the challenge of taking two of the hardest actuarial exams at one time. Another simply did not have many other commitments outside of work and decided to do it while he had the time to devote to it.

Although all of the CAS members had different tactics in terms of their study schedules, they all consistently had a somewhat tiered approached. Their schedule at the start of the study period differed from the last couple of months or weeks prior to the exam. Some successful double-exam takers started studying by alternating between the two exams every one or two weeks. As the exams got closer, the exam-takers would quicken the alternation to every two or three days. One CAS member shared that, during the last couple of months before exams, he would take a practice exam for one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. Another CAS member said he would get up at 4 a.m. on weekdays to get in his extra study hours. Sticking to schedules was key to most of the two-exam passers, as well as frequently reevaluating and adjusting study plans.

What other items are needed to succeed? Our exam-takers called out perseverance, quality study time and being organized, as well as finding time to take care of yourself through down time and exercise. It can be a challenging process with bouts of panic and stress, so it is important to take care of yourself throughout. It requires more effort and energy than just taking one exam. As one respondent pointed out, “There is a significant inefficiency component to it due to having to switch back and forth between the exams.” And although you may have the time for additional studying, it is crucial that you not be distracted. One respondent commented, “One quality [study] hour beats two distracted hours!”   

As for candidates recommending taking two exams in one sitting, everyone said it depends on the individual’s circumstances. Candidates need to assess and judge their own levels of commitment, discipline, study effectiveness, time availability and outside responsibilities. You may feel that you have the time to tackle two exams, but your significant other may feel differently. Taking two exams in one sitting can feel like a possible shortcut to actuarial success, but as one respondent pointed out, “[in the] long term, it makes no difference.” You have to ask yourself if the short-term gains are worth the studying pains. Posing a probabilistic challenge, one respondent wagered that “there is a far greater chance of failure than success.”

Note that all contributors to this article spoke about taking exams during times that had more typical CAS exam schedules (all exams were administered within a week and each exam was only offered on one day of that week). Candidates currently sitting for the Fall 2020 exams have entirely different perspectives.   

If you find yourself taking two exams in one sitting and want to share your thoughts and advice, please reach out to the Candidate Liaison Committee. We would be happy to do a follow-up article or Hot Topics post.

Thank you to the CAS members who shared their experiences and thoughts on this topic. Hopefully your insights will help current candidates as they journey through their exams.