Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Game, Set, Match

I got to the testing center right on time. It's a small facility that handles all kinds of standardized tests. We had to sign in and write what test we were taking. I was the only one taking an actuarial test. Almost everyone else was there to take the GRE's or the latest NASD test. I got the feeling they don't get many of my kind in there.

I waited for a little while, then an older woman came out of the back room and called me in. We went over the checklist and she verified my ID and legal calculator. She asked which test I was taking. When I told her, she said, "Oh my! Are you one of those brainy people? Good for you!"

Even though we had just met, I started talking openly. She was one of those people who just encourage conversation. I got into more detail than necessary and told her I wasn't completely prepared, and I was pretty sure I'd have to repeat the test. She just smiled and told me to think positive. I repeated my new favorite mantra. "All I can do is my best," I said. She patted my arm and said, "That's right! Just do your best. You'll be fine."

"The truth is, I probably should have taken this test ten years ago," I told her. She looked shocked and said, "Ten years ago? You must have been in diapers!" Ah, the kindness of strangers.

She brought me into the exam room, and I was assigned to lucky computer number 5. (Well, one of my lucky numbers, anyway.) I hoped it was a good sign. She gave me my scratch paper and pencils and left me with a wish of good luck.

I went through the brief tutorial on how to use the computer test, then hit the button to begin. The first problem was something about an exponential distribution, or standard deviation, or covariance. I couldn't even tell you for sure. All I know is I had no clue how to even begin to solve it. I laughed under my breath. First problem, and already I was stumped.

I decided to go all the way through to the end. I'd work on the problems that I could solve and skip the rest. It took about 45 minutes, but I went through all 30 problems. I had solved exactly 4.

The second time through, I gave the questions a closer look. I did figure out how to solve a few more. After another hour, I had now worked out about 10 problems. I honestly had no idea how to solve the rest. It was time to start guessing.

I went through the rest of the test trying to make educated guesses. Most of the time, I couldn't even do that. So instead, I picked answers that I liked. The year I was born. CG's birthday. Our wedding anniversary. Might as well have fun with it.

I finished up in a little over two hours. It would have taken me the full three hours if I knew how to do the rest of the problems. I didn't see the point in going back over my work, since more than half of my answers were guesses anyway. I signed out and told my newfound friend that I'd probably see her again in a few months.

I know I failed the test. It will be six weeks before I get the official results, but I'm already formulating my plan going forward. I'm going to continue studying, even though this test is offically over. I'm going to go back through my old homework assignments and tests and do as many practice problems that I can. Practice really does make perfect, especially in math. And I was really out of practice going into this test.

I still stand by my statement that this endeavor was not a failure. This was an insane year, between Ethan's surgery and CG getting more mobile and several major household renovations. I'm proud of myself for getting this far. I know more about the test and what topics I need to focus on. I have already relearned and mastered a good portion of the material. I've just got to finish the job.

The truth is, I still don't know if I even want to be an actuary. But what I do know is that I want to pass this test. Then I want to move on and pass the second test. By the time I do that, I should have a better idea of what I want to be when I grow up. Even if I don't, it will be always be an asset to have on my resume.

More importantly, I will be living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Or at least old tricks that they haven't used in a decade or so.

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