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How to Pass the New Series 52 Top-Off Exam

If you are an aspiring municipal securities representative, you should know that there has been a major change in the Series 52 registration process. This change follows a decision by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) to align with FINRA’s securities exam restructuring program, which was implemented in October 2018.

So, what does this mean for you? Simply put, for Series 52 registration you must know more industry information than before and pass two exams instead of one. This new process makes FINRA’s Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) Exam a co-requisite exam that can be taken before or after the new Series 52 top-off exam. Unlike the SIE, the top-off exam can only be taken by persons who have secured employment and are “sponsored” by a municipal firm.

Series 52 Top-off Exam Overview

The purpose of FINRA’s restructuring was to streamline the exams and eliminate redundancy. As a result, instead of 115 total questions, the Series 52 now has just 80 muni-focused questions. General content regarding securities industry regulation, bonds and US government securities, and introductory municipal securities information is now tested on the SIE.

Of the 80 questions on the new Series 52, 75 are scored, and five are experimental, unscored questions. These unscored questions will appear randomly throughout your exam, so you must approach them like any other question. These experimental questions are inserted to test their validity and performance before they are added to the MSRB’s question bank.

Important Series 52 top-off test facts are summarized in the table below.

Time allowed to complete the exam2 hours and 30 minutes
Number of scored questions75 (5 additional unscored)
Passing score70% (53 questions correct)

Although the new Series 52 top-off is shorter than the legacy exam, between the SIE and the Series 52 top-off, you’ll need to complete a total of 165 questions on two different tests for Series 52 registration.

Topics Tested on the Series 52 Top-Off

Series 52 registration allows you to:

  • Engage in underwriting, trading, and sales of municipal securities
  • Provide financial advisory or consultant services to issuers of municipal securities
  • Provide research or investment advice about municipal securities
  • Communicate with the public and assist customers regarding purchases and sales of municipal securities

To pass the test, you’ll need to know all about the types of municipal securities, the municipal market, economic activity, government policy, factors affecting interest rates, and applicable federal securities laws and regulations.

The percentage of the exam that is dedicated to each topic is listed in the table below.

TopicNumber of QuestionsPercent of the Test
Municipal Securities

This broad heading covers issuing and trading of municipal securities, characteristics and features of municipal securities, and other relevant information like analysis and disclosure requirements.

Economic Activity, Government Policy, and Behavior of Interest Rates10-1114%
Securities Laws and Regulations19-2026%

How Difficult Is the Series 52 Top-Off Exam?

The co-requisite SIE Exam tests on securities industry and municipal market fundamentals. Because the Series 52 top-off drills down into municipal concepts in more detail, most candidates find the test somewhat challenging. Questions may seem ambiguous and nuanced, making it difficult to successfully choose the correct answer between close contenders. The questions are often lengthy.

What Are the Series 52 Exam Questions Like?

All questions on the Series 52 are multiple-choice, and you must select from four choices. 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 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 MSRB also uses “multiple multiple” questions. In these questions, you are presented with four possible answer choices, and you have to choose which two of the four are correct.

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.

Key Steps to Passing the New Series 52 Top-Off Exam Using the Knopman Marks Method

  1. Start by taking a 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. Create this exam in the question bank by choosing unused questions from all topics. 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 your 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. Download the Class Summary in the Training Center to review these key concepts several times. Also, go over your lecture notes carefully.
  7. In the week or so before you test, be sure to complete the benchmark exams. It is designed to present a mix of topics similar in proportion to what you’ll see on the actual exam.
    Note: Your goal is to score 75% or above. Be sure you review incorrect questions carefully.
  8. Pass your Series 52 top-off exam! If you’ve followed the plan and achieved the targeted scores, you are prepared to pass the exam. Be confident that your efforts will give you the edge you need.

A Few Important Series 52 Exam Insights

  • You will need to have detailed knowledge of the differences between GOs and revenue bonds; the issuing processes for each are a substantial exam focus.
  • The economics questions are often some of the more difficult questions for candidates.
  • Be ready for about 3-5 questions that are mathematical and may require the use of a calculator. These could include topics like bond years, accrued interest, and accretion/amortization.
  • The Series 52 top-off may seem more difficult than the SIE Exam, but the SIE Exam should not be taken lightly.

Knopman Marks looks forward to working with you on your Series 52 registration journey. 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.