The Top 5 FINRA Exam Myths

In the more than 25 years of helping financial services professionals pass more than 400,000 exams, we have had students tell us every possible scenario dreamed up by test takers who have “heard” stories about how FINRA exams are administered. The top 5 myths and misconceptions are as follows:

Myth # 1: If you fail the test and have to retake the exam, FINRA makes your next exam harder

This is a popular misconception that has been around for years. Many students have insisted that this is the case. Even going as far as to say that FINRA knows what questions you missed on your previous exam and increases the number of questions you will see on those topics on your next exam. The myth is that FINRA does this  to make it harder for you. While FINRA does know that you took the exam and has a record of your results, FINRA does not administer your next exam based on the results of your first attempt. Each test administered to students is randomly pulled from FINRA’s question bank. The focus of the test will be based on the predetermined weight detailed on the exam outline published by FINRA. Further, all exams will distribute the difficulty of each exam in the same manner. The exams will all have questions ranging from simple to complex and from easy to difficult modeled according to the exam outline.   


The only thing that makes a student’s second exam harder, is the increased test anxiety that results from the first unsuccessful attempt. Having prepared for the test and having come up short, is something most people find very upsetting. Add to this, the pressure that is often on test takers to pass the exam so that they can assume the duties that require licensing.  There is absolutely an increased fear of not passing the exam the second time and the fear of having to wait again prior to the all important third exam. Worrying about having to tell managers and coworkers that you were unsuccessful increases the anxiety level even further. 


When students have to prepare to retake the test, a common mistake is only concentrating on the areas where they scored poorly. What often happens in these cases is that the student sees their score increase in the areas where they did not do well on the first attempt and they see their scores drop considerably in the areas where they did well. This often results in a failed second attempt. It is important to maintain the knowledge in all areas tested and to bring up the scores in the areas where you were weak. To ensure you do this, continue to study all topics with a slightly higher focus on areas of weakness.

Myth # 2: FNRA Exams use predictive learning and give you more questions based on the topics you are answering incorrectly

With the advancement in technology this misconception has gained a lot of traction in recent years. However, this is simply not the case. FINRA administers each exam for every series based on the content outlines provided. If FINRA were to employ this practice, the result would be that every single test taker would wind up with a completely different exam based on their unique areas of weakness. This would invalidate the effectiveness of the exam as a qualification tool. The exams are  designed to measure candidates’ knowledge in a variety of key areas. If questions were added where the candidate was doing poorly, questions in other critical areas would have to be replaced based on these questions. This simply does not happen


This misconception has originated from the simple fact that when students see questions in a particular subject area where they are struggling, they tend to remember them. As a result, the test taker upon reflection often feels he / she had far more questions covering that topic. This is the case for all exams from the SIE and series 3 to the series 99. As a general rule many students who take the series 7 struggle with options and municipal securities. Series 24 candidates tend to have challenges with the supervision of trading and market making and series 79 test takers often have difficulty with valuation calculations. As a result many students feel that their exams were continuously presenting questions on these topics.


If a student is struggling with a topic, he / she tends to be more anxious when questions covering the areas of weakness appear on the screen. This leads to more stress and can negatively affect the test taker’s overall performance. Do not fall into this cycle! Test anxiety is a real issue and can cause a student who has more than enough knowledge to pass the exam to fail because he / she psyched themselves out. Do your best to stay calm and to answer the questions one at a time. 

Myth # 3: The Test is harder if you take it remotely 

As many of the exams are now allowed to be taken remotely, this development has led to the birth of a new myth. Student buzz is now that the test is harder if you take it remotely rather than at the testing center. Once again this is absolutely not the case. Prometric administers the exam in both scenarios based on the formulas and test outlines provided by FINRA. The question banks are the same and the method of selection is the same. The only difference is the environment is different. You are in your home or office using your computer and not one located at the test center. 


The test is not harder if taken remotely. However, some students do find the restrictions employed during remote testing to be a challenge. For example, students are not allowed to use a standard calculator and must use the calculator provided in the testing software deployed on your computer. Additionally, students are not allowed to use traditional scratch paper to set up calculations or to draw visual aides. Students must use the onscreen notebook. These two restrictions do cause problems for students especially when working with difficult option questions on the series 7 and series 3 or when dealing with complex valuation calculations on the series 79 exam.


The administration of remote testing is no joke and test takers must go through a thorough security process before the test is to be administered. You will be required to roll up your sleeves, scan the room, your desk and anything else required by the proctor. Do not have your test canceled because your desk is messy or because the proctor can’t see the room clearly.  Additionally, make sure you take your exam when your home or office is very quiet and you will not be disturbed. Kids playing, dogs barking, neighbors and spouses talking are all very very distracting. You will not be allowed to take the exam in a common office with others around. You will be required to be alone in an office or meeting room. Again, make sure you schedule the exam when coworkers will not be disturbing you. 

Myth # 4: The series 63 and 66 are easy 

Many test takers who have successfully completed the SIE, series 7 or 79 exams feel confident about their ability to pass another exam. A myth that has persisted for more than 30 years is that the series 63 and 66 are a joke and that you don’t need to worry about passing. Just skim through the material for a day or two before your exam. Go in and pass it.  Countless students every week fall victim to this myth and are stunned that not only did they not pass the exam, they got destroyed. 


The series 63, 65 and 66 exams are all written by NASAA not by FINRA and the exam questions are detailed and difficult to understand. Additionally, many of the questions have answers in the answer keys that are very similar to each other and one or two words make the difference between the correct answer and the more correct answer. Being able to discern between the two based on a comprehensive understanding of the material is key to passing these challenging exams. 


The origin of this myth is somewhat based in fact. 30 years ago these exams were not nearly as challenging as they are today and NASAA has worked hard at continuously making these tests more comprehensive and more difficult. Do not take these exams lightly. We recommend studying for 40- 50 hours for the series 63, 50-60 for the series 66 and at least 70 hours for the series 65. 

Myth # 5: You can just take practice tests and pass the exam

This is absolutely the number 1 myth that somehow still circulates among FINRA test takers. Someone who has been licensed for years tells a new financial professional, just take tests and look at the answers, that’s how I passed the exam. This is unlikely to be the case. MAYBE that is what they did after attending a class and reading a book, but it is highly unlikely to be the case. The test questions are designed to help students master the application of the knowledge they have learned, not to provide them with the knowledge they need to pass the test. As the financial markets have developed and as new technology and investment products have been introduced to the market, the concepts and the exams themselves have gotten more and more challenging. 


Over the years the number of students who have failed their exams as a result of just taking practice tests could not be estimated. You must read the book fully and completely, watch all of the corresponding videos and take many many practice exams and simulated final exams if you want to pass. There are no shortcuts to being successful. If you try to prepare this way you will be wasting your time. 


Just taking practice questions is the biggest reason people fail FINRA, NASAA and NFA exams. Thousands of students fail their exams every year relying on this Myth. Countless, hugely successful financial services veterans have called us literally shell shocked at having gotten blown away on the exam because they thought their experience in the industry would get them passed the test. The real world and the test world are vastly different and the way people do things at the office and the policies and procedures employed by firms are not the facts, concepts and regulations tested on FINRA exams. Do NOT get trapped by this pitfall as you will be waiting 30 more days to retake your exam and to get to work.   

We hope that this article has helped you better understand the truth about how FINRA, NASAA and NFA exams are administered and what you must do to prepare to pass. 

Good Luck On Your Exam!

The Securities Institute of America 

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