This article is cross-posted on Actuarial Post.
You like video games, of course you do. The thrill of achieving a high score, of passing yet another level! The endorphins that are released into your blood stream contribute to that euphoric “gamer’s high” and you feel just great!
Then the reality sets in and you remember that you need to study. You turn off your console and open up your manual only to fall asleep on it with that complicated formula being imprinted on your cheek when you wake up. If only studying was as exciting as playing that shoot ’em up game!
I recently read an article on Lifehacker that made me think of how we structure our reward system for the actuarial exams. Sure, the forums are littered with advice, like the following: “Buy yourself that latest gadget…” or “Treat yourself to a meal at an expensive restaurant…” if you pass your next exam, but the outcome is so far into the future that we frequently find it very hard to motivate ourselves during such prolonged periods. It is hard to keep an end-game in mind when the outcome is six months away.
What if you can gamify your exam studying to stay motivated in the interim, rather than holding this “big picture” in your head all the time? What if you can earn points every day and cash them in once in a while, not unlike that third level of that favourite game of yours?
I would like to propose the following system, based on the Lifehacker article I mentioned. Naturally, you will need to modify this system to suit your own interests and the exams you are currently taking.
Let me use a beloved actuarial notion for everything, the Actuarial Control Cycle, to set up this system! The Actuarial Control Cycle is a model to describe the fundamental nature of actuarial work and broadly consists of the following cyclical steps: understand the environment, specify the problem given, develop your solution, monitor the results, revise your assumptions and be mindful of external forces influencing this cycle. A popular diagram looks like this:
And now, to apply the Actuarial Control Cycle to the issue at hand:
You first need to identify all the tasks you don’t like doing. This is easy! Put studying in this category! However, we can split this activity into several subcategories: theory, practice problems, practice exams, flash card memorisation…
Design the Solution
Assign the highest values to the least favourite tasks. For me, this would be as follows:
- Practice Exams – 4 points
- Practice Problems – 3 points
- Flash Card Memorisation – 2 points
- Theory – 1 point
To take this a little further, you can assign multipliers if you, for example:
- Do more than one chapter of theory and practice questions in one day – x2
- Do more than one practice exam in one week – x2
- Flash card memorisation – 2 points for each set of 10 cards memorised. You can use the Leitner System, which we talk about here.
You see where I am going with this? Tailor the reward system to your own liking and the more creative you are, the more complicated your point system is, likely the more fun it will be earning these points.
Base the rewards on what you like doing the most and yet you think is extravagant. Like dining out, like buying a new app on the App Store or Google Play, like buying a video game. Assign the point value according to your own judgement, not making it too easy or too hard.
Monitor the Results
I am not sure about you, but I love tracking everything in spreadsheets. I guess this is why I am in the actuarial field after all. Use Google Docs or Evernote to be able to update and check your progress on the go.
You need to monitor the results and update your assumptions. Set the frequency according to your own study schedule, but I would recommend making adjustments every 1/6th of the time in your study process.
External forces in this cycle are things that distract you. This may be anything from your college exams, busy periods at work, family obligations. Revise your point system accordingly by, for example, awarding higher multipliers to the tasks performed during busy periods.
Have fun with this
The reason why you created this process is to have fun with it. So go ahead, enjoy your studies!
If you do your studying on the computer/laptop, have a look at RescueTime to track your progress.