The actuarial examinations are a series of tests, consisting of topics such as mathematics, accounting, economics and law, required for employment and advancement as an actuary. In the United States, exams are administered by two organizations: the Society of Actuaries (SOA) and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS). Other countries may have their own methods of examining and licensing actuaries. Generally speaking, at least one exam is required for employment as an actuary. Additional completed exams, along with years of experience in the profession, equate to career advancement and increased salaries.
Prospective actuaries in the United States face five preliminary actuarial examinations, which may apply toward any actuarial specialty. These five exams cover probability, financial mathematics, financial economics, life contingencies and actuarial models. The five preliminary exams are administered by either SOA or CAS. After completion of these five exams, the actuary must decide which path he wishes to pursue. CAS specializes in the fields of property and casualty insurance, while SOA focuses on all other aspects of actuarial science such as life, health and pension risk assessment.
The first five actuarial examinations require an advanced level of mathematical knowledge, whereas additional exams require an in-depth understanding of the actuary's respective field. Most of this knowledge is obtained by working in the profession, from a mentor's guidance and/or through continuing education. While a bachelor's degree is usually not required for initial employment, it is often necessary for continued advancement within the profession.
Actuaries who choose the SOA path will be required to complete the Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP) online course. This course features eight lessons and two tests and is required for associate membership. After completion of the FAP, the actuary must choose one of five paths: Enterprise Risk Management, Investment, Individual Life and Annuities, Retirement Benefits or Group and Health. All five paths require three lessons and two final exams. Actuaries who follow this path will be qualified to reach the highest positions as specialists in the field of life insurance or pension planning.
Those who pursue the CAS path earn associate membership by passing all preliminary actuarial examinations, earn Validation by Educational Experience (VEE) and complete two online lessons and two exams. Once the actuary has become an associate member, the next step is to complete three additional exams. After completion of these five exams, the actuary is considered a fellow. The final three exams are only offered once a year, usually between May and October.