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How to Pass the New Series 6 Top-Off Exam

If you need to take the Series 6 Exam, you should know that the exam has changed significantly in the past year. These changes resulted from FINRA’s securities exam restructuring program, implemented in October 2018.

Due to this FINRA initiative, an individual must now pass two exams to become registered as an investment company products/variable life contracts representative: the   and the Series 6 top-off exam. These can be taken in any order. In fact, the SIE can be taken before you become employed by a financial firm. The top-off exam can only be taken by persons who have secured employment and are “sponsored” by a financial firm.

How Is the New Series 6 Top-Off Different from the Previous Exam?

A major outcome of FINRA’s restructuring process is that the top-off exams have been reduced in length. The old Series 6 had 110 total questions, while the new Series 6 top-off was trimmed to just 55 questions. Of these questions, 50 are scored, and 5 are experimental, unscored questions. These unscored questions will appear randomly throughout your exam, so you must address them like any other question. These experimental questions are used by the exam experts (psychometricians) to test their validity and performance before they are added to the bank.

Important Series 6 top-off test facts are summarized in the table below.

Time allowed to complete the exam1 hour and 30 minutes
Number of scored questions50 (5 additional unscored)
Passing score70% (35 questions correct)

Although the idea of a shorter exam is appealing, a candidate can get only 15 questions wrong on the new Series 6 top-off to achieve the passing score of 70%. And, keep in mind that even though the top-off is shorter than the legacy Series 6 Exam, between the SIE and new Series 6, you will be scored on a total of 125 questions, instead of the 100 questions of the legacy Series 6.

What Does the Series 6 Cover?

Series 6 registration allows individuals to assist customers in purchases and sales of investment company and variable products. In real-world terms, persons that hold Series 6 registrations can sell mutual funds, unit investment trusts, variable annuities, and variable life. The updated Series 6 top-off exam focuses on the day-to-day activities of persons that deal with these products and is divided into four functions that these representatives perform. The functions and an explanation of what they include, along with the number and percentage of exam questions related to each, are shown below.

FunctionNumber of QuestionsPercent of the Test
1. Seeks Business for the Broker-Dealer from Customers and Potential Customers

Knows and complies with rules of soliciting business and cold-calling, and lawfully uses communications, sales materials, and other materials to market the products.

2. Opens Accounts After Obtaining and Evaluating Customers’ Financial Profiles and Investment Objectives

Understands the client profile information that must be collected and how this information applies to recommending appropriate financial strategies.

3. Provides Customers with Information About Investments, Makes Suitable Recommendations, Transfers Assets, and Maintains Appropriate Records

Knows product features and can educate customers on product risks and rewards. Can make recommendations that are appropriate for a given profile.  Knows processes for transferring assets and understands and complies with recordkeeping requirements. Knows available resources for tracking product performance.

4. Obtains and Verifies Customers’ Purchase and Sales Instructions; Processes, Completes, and Confirms Transactions

Knows rules and processes for completing purchase and sales transactions with customers and supplies required documentation and disclosures.


How Hard Is the Series 6 Top-Off Exam?

All questions on the Series 6 are multiple-choice. You must select from four choices. The questions can be lengthy and filled with significant and sometimes distracting detail, which adds to their complexity. In comparison to SIE Exam questions, Series 6 questions are much more situational than definitional, and require a deeper knowledge of investment company and variable products, going beyond the overview of these products introduced on the SIE Exam.

Although the exam is not designed to trick candidates, careful reading is extremely important. Some questions are posed from a negative perspective, using question stems like “all of the following are true EXCEPT” or “of the practices below, a registered representative is not permitted to engage in which of the following” – these questions require great care in reading, as it’s easy to miss the “not” as you get caught up in the detail.

The exam is designed to ensure you know some of the more detailed concepts that relate to doing business with these products. Because the breadth of products covered is somewhat narrow, the exam tends to expect a deeper level of understanding.

What Is the Pass Rate for the New Series 6?

The pass rate of the new Series 6 has fallen slightly from the pass rate of the prior Series 6 Exam. FINRA recently released a first-time Series 6 pass rate of 58% percent for individuals who had already passed the SIE Exam.

How to Get Sponsored for the Series 6 Exam

As mentioned, although you can take the SIE Exam without sponsorship, to take the Series 6 Exam you must be associated with a financial firm that is in the securities business. This means that a firm has hired you or contracted you to work in a capacity that requires this registration. Your firm will require you to complete a detailed application – Form U4 – and after FINRA receives the form and clears you, a testing window will be opened. You’ll need to take your Series 6 Exam at a Prometric testing center within 120 days of the opening of the window.

Key Steps to Passing the New Series 6 Top-Off Exam

  1. Start by taking the 50-question assessment exam. This will give you an idea of the information you must master for exam success, as well as a sense of the knowledge you already have. Your score on this exam is not important.
  2. Next, read the textbook, with the goal of achieving a high-level, general understanding of the concepts. Put down the highlighter and don’t focus on memorization as you read. Do complete the exercises and quizzes as you go to help you retain and drill on key concepts.
    Note: Reading the text should take no more than 25% of your total study time.
  3. After the reading, complete a full-length (55-question) practice exam to see your improvement from the initial assessment.
  4. Watch the online video lectures to cover the most heavily tested concepts on the exam. Be sure to download the slides and take notes as you go. Completing the exercises throughout the sessions will ensure you’re improving your grasp of the material. These lectures will give you a good sense of how the information is tested, along with important test-taking tips.
    Note: Your lecture notes are an important tool for your final review. Take time completing the lectures so you have good notes.
  5. After the lectures, shift your focus to the practice questions. Here’s where you’ll see your retention and understanding improve. Take several 20- to 30-question quizzes on each chapter along with about 10 full-length exams and shoot for scores in the mid-70s. Always use unanswered questions, and when building your exams, select the testing mode that allows you to view answers as you go. Don’t memorize the questions. Instead, concentrate on understanding concepts so that you can apply your knowledge to different presentations of the material. You will not see exact replicas of practice exam questions on the actual test.
    Note: Don’t be disappointed with low scores as you start testing. Instead, view wrong answers as an opportunity to strengthen a weakness and fill in your knowledge gaps. If you don’t understand the material after you’ve read the answer, take advantage of the text reference that’s provided and go back to the book to gain further understanding. This may seem like a slow process, but if you apply it diligently, your scores will strengthen. Another best practice is to make a flashcard on topics that are continuing to trip you up.
  6. In your final stage of preparation, take advantage of all Training Center resources. Download the Class Summary in the Training Center to review key concepts by chapter and go over your lecture notes carefully.
    Note: Go through these resources several times before your exam, as they include highly testable points.
  7. In the week or so before you test, be sure to complete the diagnostic and benchmark exams. These are designed to present a mix of topics similar in proportion to what you’ll see on the actual exam. The benchmark should be taken about 2-3 days before your actual exam.
    Note: Your goal is to score 70% or above on these. Be sure you review incorrect questions carefully.
  1. Pass your Series 6 top-off exam! If you’ve followed the plan and achieved the targeted scores, you should proceed confidently to the Prometric testing center. You’re ready for success and an exciting new career.

Download a Sample Series 6 Exam

Think you’re ready to pass the Series 6? Download a sample text — featuring correct answers and explanations — to ensure you’re ready.

A Few Important Series 6 Exam Insights

  • You will recognize many Series 6 subjects in your study of the SIE materials. While you’ll be expected to master more detail for Series 6 questions, the concepts will be familiar.
  • Focus on the risks and rewards of each product as you prepare. Make sure you understand how to align fund objectives with the investment objectives of customers.
  • Don’t expect a math test, but be ready for about five questions that require you to compute a numeric answer.
  • Some candidates think the SIE Exam is harder than the Series 6 because it covers such a broad range of topics.

Knopman Marks looks forward to working with you on your Series 6 journey, and we’re here to help every step of the way. Good luck with your study process.

Marcia Larson is Vice President, Faculty, at Knopman Marks Financial Training, New York, NY. She has extensive experience in financial licensing and regulatory training, having authored, developed and presented courseware for numerous securities and insurance exam preparation and continuing education and compliance programs. Before joining Knopman Marks, Marcia was Director of Annuity Products and Business Development at CUNA Mutual Group, where she developed and marketed industry-leading annuity products and retirement solutions and implemented distribution relationships. She was previously VP, Securities Products for Kaplan Financial, managing securities training products and subsequently, international training and businesses development. Marcia has trained thousands of financial industry exam candidates throughout their careers, and also college students as an adjunct professor. Marcia was a summa cum laude graduate of Wartburg College with degrees in Business Administration and Piano Performance. Marcia also holds the designations of Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®), Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®), Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS), and Fellow Life Management Institute™ (FLMI®). She currently teaches the SIE, Series 6, 7, 24, 50, 52, 63, 65, and 66 exams.