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Waiting to Exhale

5 minutes

If someone were to ask you to recall the summer of 2014, it may not seem too far off.  However, when put into context of world events, it could seem like a lifetime ago. 

West Africa was in the middle of an Ebola outbreak, Barack Obama had over two years remaining in his second presidential term, the San Antonio Spurs were defeating the Miami Heat in the NBA finals, and it wouldn’t be another year until Universal Pictures released the first installment of the Jurassic World trilogy. 

Personally, I was a nineteen-year-old college student spending my summer working as a tennis instructor during the day and a prep cook by night. It was also the summer I studied for and took my first actuarial exam. I remember looking at the CAS Educational Journey and thinking how far away I was from my goal of being a Fellow of the CAS and how happy I’d be when I was eventually done.

The CAS exam process is always evolving. But for reference, I took seven exams, two online courses, a course on professionalism, and received three validations by education experience to attain my Associate of the CAS. After that, I sat for an additional three exams for my fellowship. As introduction, the exams start out as essentially the most difficult math test you can take--before moving into in-depth insurance topics. As a consulting actuary who sees a wide variety of work, these exams gave me better understanding of how we work, and key insights into the bigger picture of why we use certain methodologies and processes.

Having finally passed my last exam this past May, I can share two things that college-aged Trenton thought: “Yes, I was a long way from my goal,” and, “I definitely am happy to be done.” And certainly, the question most asked by friends, family, and coworkers has been: “How happy/excited are you to finally be done studying?” 

But while I did experience a joyful feeling when I received the official notification that I passed my last exam, I find myself telling people what I feel far more is relief.

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As an actuary, I am a numbers guy, so let me put some things into perspective: I sat for exams eleven times during my journey. If I had to estimate, I studied approximately 350 hours per exam. That is a total of about 3,850 hours, or over 160 days studying during those eight years I was writing exams. 

Ask any actuary you may know, it takes incredible discipline not just to study for these examinations, but also to give up certain parts of your life and to be able to say “no” to social events. We sacrifice time and memories with our friends and family to sit in a room alone, writing practice problems or working formulas.

Over the last eight years since my first exam, I have been lucky enough to graduate college and spend the last five and a half years working at a Pinnacle, which has provided tremendous support through my exam process.

In my personal life, I have been blessed with becoming a dog owner and getting engaged. I have seen my friends graduate college, earn master’s degrees, become homeowners, get married, and for a lucky few, become parents. Because of my journey, I had to pick and choose when I could celebrate these events with them, commemorating their milestones only when I didn’t have an exam that I needed to study for or take. For me, those decisions were sometimes harder than the exams themselves. And so, I am beyond excited that those decisions and sacrifices, and that part of my life are behind me.

As hard as it was, I don’t look back at the exams process with any negative feelings. I would not be where I am in my career if it weren’t for my success with the exams.  And I already feel nostalgic when I think about some aspects of studying. Did I enjoy spending five hours every Saturday and Sunday studying? Absolutely not. 

However, as I approached my sitting this spring, I found myself making sure I stopped at my favorite breakfast place before heading into the office on the weekends or spending an extra fifteen minutes sitting outside with my dog while reviewing notecards. At first, I was not sure why I was doing this, but as my exam date came closer, I started to realize this could be my last time doing some of these things that had become apart of my everyday life.

But a great thing about working at Pinnacle, was that there were always co-workers taking the same exams and coming into the office on the weekends with me. It was always helpful knowing that even though I was studying alone, I wasn’t the only one making the same sacrifices. And, of course, we even managed to have some good times while studying (and occasionally a beer afterwards).

The feeling of achievement and sense of camaraderie allow me to recall the exam process fondly. Now, however, I get to sleep on a Friday night knowing that I’m not taking a practice exam in the morning. I don’t go to bed on a Sunday night expecting to greet a five o’clock alarm to get up and start memorizing flashcards. Now this important chapter in my career is complete, it hasn’t been happiness I’ve felt but rather an overwhelming sense of relief.

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