I will only discuss the case of the Quantitative Finance and Investment (QFI) track, which is the track I chose to follow. However, most of what is written here is also applicable to the other tracks.
As in the case of associateship activities, I recommend that you take the three modules (except the Decision Making And Communication or DMAC module discussed later on) before you take the exams. Why? First, completing the modules gives you a preliminary vision of what the SOA wants from its future fellows. It gives you hints of what you will find in exams, and you can start reading additional material that will be useful later on. Then, if you thought the ASA exams were hard, you will discover that the FSA exams are at another level. The fellowship exams are extremely hard. Each of them requires reading about 2,000 pages of articles and books. Although there are good companion texts made available by Actex, the material tested is so broad that it is not possible to find a unique and synthetic book for each of these exams, which implies you will need to study for an uncountable number of hours. So, completing the modules first will give you a sense of accomplishment before you cross a very long and dry desert.
More specifically, what order should you take the exams of the QFI track in? I suggest that you take the ERM exam first – in case you are interested in becoming a Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst (CERA) – because it is shorter and slightly “easier” (or if you prefer very very hard instead of crazily hard) than the QFI Core and QFI Advanced exams. So, taking the ERM exam before the QFI exams prepares you for what you will be facing when taking these latter exams. If instead of taking the ERM exam you prefer to take the Investment Risk Management exam, it is even clearer that you should take the IRM exam first, because this is a two hour exam only, while the ERM exam is a four hour exam.
All right, now you have passed all three fundamental modules plus exam ERM or exam IRM. Now, what should you do? What is for sure is that you must absolutely take the QFI Core exam before the QFI Advanced exam. This is because there are lots of things about stochastic analysis that you will learn when you prepare for the QFI Core exam that are reused when you take the QFI Advanced exam. For instance, you cannot master the contents related to advanced interest rate models that are tested in the QFI Advanced exam without first mastering the fundamental recipes about Brownian motion that you will learn when you prepare for the QFI Core exam.
Let us say that two years have elapsed and you have passed the three fundamental fellowship modules and two out of three fellowship exams. Thus, you just have one more exam to take and pass, presumably the QFI Advanced exam. It is about time to register for and complete the Decision Making And Communication (DMAC) module. When your DMAC report is validated, you have two years to validate your remaining exams and modules. If you are working sufficiently hard, it is reasonable to expect validating the final fellowship exam in less than two years, given that you can take an exam every six months. Put differently, if you could pass each of the ERM (assuming you chose the CERA subtrack) and QFI Core exams in much less than four trials, then it is reasonable to expect the same thing for the remaining QFI Advanced exam. So, do it, register for the DMAC exam and enjoy: you will learn lots of non-technical skills that will be extremely useful for the rest of your career. Better advice is to go even further: buy all the books recommended in the DMAC e-learning system, read them and reread them!
That’s it, you have now completed all the activities in your track: the three fundamental modules, the three exams and the DMAC module. You can now attend the Fellowship Admissions Course. What can you expect from this course? Lots of case studies and lots of discussion and thinking about ethics, entertaining keynote presentations, and a lot of networking ; all of this in a top-notch hotel. It is not difficult to pass (at last!), you just need to be polite and always on time. However, aren’t these conditions also required in everyday professional life? You are now a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries: this is the beginning, not the end, of your career.