This interview originally appeared on ActuarialZone.org and is reprinted here with permission.
Actuary and author Abraham (Abe) Weishaus, PhD, FSA, CFA, MAAA, is a well-known and influential figure in the actuarial community whose study materials have helped thousands of grateful actuarial students pass their exams. We’re excited to share our interview with him below. ASM recently published a brand new Exam P Study Manual written by Weishaus, which is available now at the Actuarial Bookstore and ACTEX Mad River Books.
Abraham was formerly a financial reporting actuary for Guardian Life Insurance Company, and he served on the SOA’s Education and Examination Committee for 11 years. He also taught exam preparation courses for the Actuarial Society of Greater New York (ASNY) for 15 years and for CAMAR for 6 years. Currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University, Abraham also teaches exam preparation courses at St. Johns University. He has been an author of ASM Actuarial Study Materials for more than 16 years and currently authors study materials for P, CAS S, MFE, MLC, and C.
ActuarialZone: When did you first become interested in becoming an actuary, and what influenced your decision to pursue this career?
Abraham Weishaus: I first heard of the actuarial career in college. The math department adviser encouraged students to pursue this career as an excellent way to apply mathematical skills. I was more interested in academia at the time. But when I completed my doctoral studies, I found it hard to obtain academic employment. The actuarial exam system was one factor that made me like the career–the fact that one could advance in the career, at least initially, merely by mastering the skills necessary and proving that one had mastered them. Another factor was the easy availability of jobs locally; I was not keen to move. And I liked the mathematical and technical aspects of the job, the ability to apply what I had learned.
AZ: You worked as an actuary at Guardian Life for many years. How did your career path lead you to becoming involved in authoring exam study materials?
AW: It was largely accidental. The Actuarial Society of New York offered review courses for exams. Another actuary at Guardian, who was teaching one of the courses, recommended me for another one of the courses, and I started teaching it. Harold Cherry, who was teaching one of the other courses they offered, met me at our annual luncheon and suggested I write a manual for the course I was teaching. Eventually, I decided to write manuals for other exams. One aspect of working at Guardian helped me a lot: the Guardian actuarial library had tons of old released exams. The large number of old exam questions served as a starting point for my efforts. My MLC and C manuals still have many of those questions.
AZ: How has the exam and credential process changed since you were a student?
AW: A lot! When I was a student, one became a Fellow by simply passing about 5 multiple-choice mathematical exams and another 4-5 less mathematical written answer exams, and not much else. Calculators were not allowed until my last 2 exams, and even then only 4-function calculators with square roots were allowed. One of the challenges of the exam corresponding to the current MLC was to finish all the hand calculations, including long division, in the time allotted! There was no VEE, no modules, no Fellowship Admission Course. Of course there was no CBT either. The only exam exemption was that the calculus exam was waived if one scored sufficiently high on the GRE.
There were also fewer tracks. There was just individual insurance, group insurance, and pensions; you had to pick a primary track and a secondary track from those three.
AZ: Do you have any thoughts or comments on the upcoming changes to the SOA ASA requirements, including the new predictive analytics assessment?
AW: Predictive analytics is very important in the workplace. It was proper to add that to the syllabus. Carrying out an analysis requires heavy calculations, only doable by computer. It is difficult to test this on an exam only allowing use of a calculator. An alternative to the current exam style is needed.
The current split between MLC and C has evolved. The reorganization of the syllabus seeks to split the contents of these exams in a more logical way. However, it will be interesting to see if they can find appropriate textbooks for the new split. I understand that back in 2000, when they split the content, the authors of the Loss Models textbook, who had expected the content to be split differently, were unprepared. The current edition of Loss Models is designed to more or less cover the C syllabus, neither more nor less. I have a feeling that the new syllabus will require a new edition of that textbook.
It is unfortunate that stochastic calculus was removed from MFE; however, the textbook for the course did a poor job at teaching that topic.
AZ: What advice can you give to first time exam takers preparing for Exam P?
AW: If you’ve taken a good probability course in college and scored well, you should have no problem. Go through the SOA sample questions. If you have little problem with these, you are ready for the exam. Otherwise, focus on the subjects you are weak on.
If you haven’t taken a probability course, then you will have to study probability yourself. Actuaries often have to learn topics by themselves, so this will be good practice! My Exam P manual organizes the SOA sample questions by topic, as well as offering lots of other questions from older exams and original questions. Make sure to get a lot of practice working out questions until you feel confident with the material.
AZ: Thanks Abe!