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Bemidji State University mathematics seniors pass Society of Actuaries probability exam


A pair of Bemidji State University students, Jacob Belina and Brent Hanson, have passed “Exam P,” a notoriously difficult probability test that will start the pair down a path to becoming certified associates of the Society of Actuaries.

Actuaries are professional statisticians who measure and manage risk, with a specific eye toward the potential financial implications of projected future events. Actuaries combine knowledge of mathematics, statistics and business to develop plans for measuring and managing that risk. The society says there are 25,000 actuaries in the United States in a rapidly growing field with increasing demand across the globe.

Belina, a mathematics major from Owatonna, graduated from BSU in May and will return this fall to begin work on an MBA. Hanson, a double-major in mathematics and accounting from Baudette, will be a senior this fall. Both passed Exam P in March. It was the second attempt for Belina, who failed his first crack at the test in January.

“Brent and Jacob are both hard-working and self-motivated students,” said Dr. Eric Lund, associate professor of mathematics and computer science at BSU. “These are the sort of traits that success on the actuarial exams require. Students have to summon the discipline to study and review for these exams on their own. It underscores all the more the accomplishment that these two young men achieved.”

Both Belina and Hanson were excited to put the knowledge they gained during their BSU coursework up against the exam.

“I wanted to take this exam to see if I had what it takes to become an actuary,” Belina said. “The pass rates for this exam are very low, so I wanted a chance to prove myself.”

Exam P is a three-hour, multiple-choice test, which evaluates a candidate’s knowledge of probability and risk assessment tools, emphasizing real-world problems that might be encountered.

The exam is known to be a grueling test of a prospective actuary’s knowledge and skill, and pass rates are traditionally low. The society gives the exam six times per year at testing locations throughout the country, and less than 45 percent of those who take the test typically earn a passing score. Often, pass rates dip below 40 percent.

“This exam was definitely the biggest undertaking I’ve ever had to prepare for,” Hanson said. “Outside of taking specific classes, I definitely put in somewhere between 100-200 hours of studying using a study guide. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, passing this exam might be the greatest accomplishment of my life. It was definitely difficult.”

Passing the exam is the first step toward becoming professionally certified with the Society of Actuaries. The society offers three levels of professional certification, beginning with the Associate of the Society of Actuaries. Society associates demonstrate that they understand fundamental concepts for modeling and managing risk, and also shows an understanding of basic methods used to apply those concepts to common problems. Associates also complete a professionalism course, and after five years gain the ability to vote in society elections.

According to Hanson, passing the test has given him renewed confidence in his abilities and has set him off on the right foot toward his future as an actuary.

“Passing this first in a line of many exams has definitely given me a confidence boost to be able to continue down this long path to certification,” he said. “It also gives me experience and a reference of what to expect from future exams.

Belina echoed that sentiment, while saying the exam also showed what he is capable of with hard work and dedication.

“It makes me think about everything I put into the test,” he said. “All the time and effort finally paid off, and I am very proud of my performance. It was a great life lesson. It shows that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard.”

In addition to passing Exam P, the two also have to attain “Validation through Educational Experience” on their path to certification. Bemidji State students can pursue three sequences of courses in economics, advanced finance and statistics, built into the actuarial emphasis in BSU’s mathematics major, to complete this certification requirement.

“This is another wonderful springboard to success in the actuarial field available at BSU,” Lund said.


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