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Five Steps to Building a Study Plan for Any Securities Licensing Exam

Getting ready to take and pass a FINRA securities licensing exam can be daunting. These exams cover large amounts of content and require a significant time commitment. There’s no shortcut for the work involved, but you can help ensure the “Pass” if you start your prep with a winning process.

The Five Steps for Success

  1. Get the Best Materials. You’ll have many choices for your materials, but consider your learning style as you make your selection. Additionally, at a minimum you need a clear, well-designed text and a robust online question bank. To provide sufficient practice, the test bank should include a minimum of 10–20 times the number of questions on the actual exam.

Some programs include instructor-led recorded lectures that highlight and clarify heavily tested information. An auditory component boosts understanding and can increase retention by as much as 75% for many learners, so consider making on-demand recordings and/or videos a priority. If well delivered, these can replace spending time and money on a live class experience and allow learners to set their own pace.

Other resources like study apps, predictive final exams, key point summaries, flashcards, and live classes can augment the learning experience. Check out the quality of the user experience before you buy, and learn about the extras that are included. In the long run, a package that bundles all options may be more cost effective than adding options a la carte.

Two final considerations:

  • Check out the vendor’s pass rates. After all, passing is the bottom line, so read reviews and consider the experience of others who have gone before you. Knopman Marks pass rates consistently lead the industry average.
  • Determine whether you have timely support available for your questions. Can you email or call for assistance and expect a prompt response? If you’re doing this on your own, access to experts can make all the difference.
  1. See How Much Time You’ll Need to Study. An efficient study plan is critical to your success, so put it in writing and follow it. A good way to start is to identify the hours you’ll need to complete the study steps and to block that time on a calendar. Be realistic about studying while working full-time, but make sure you study consistently. Studying every other day may be good for the early stages, but daily work will be necessary when you near test time. Give up some larger blocks of time on the weekends. At the end of each week, check where you are and adjust as needed.

The chart below can help you plan for the study time you’ll need.

ExamNumber of Graded QuestionsPreparation Time
SIE75 questions40–60 hours
Series 650 questions40–60 hours
Series 7125 questions75–100 hours
Series 6360 questions20–30 hours
Series 65135 questions70–100 hours
Series 66110 questions70–100 hours
Series 7975 questions75 hours
Series 24150 questions100 hours


  1. Read the Book. There’s no substitute for reading the textbook. A quality book will help simplify complex concepts and provide context. But plan on spending only about 25% of your total study time reading the book. This means you need to keep pushing through without getting stuck in the hard material. Read it like a novel, and don’t highlight or take excessive notes just yet. Steps 4 and 5 below will help you drill into the harder concepts that you may not fully understand from your reading.
  2. Review the Lectures. On-demand recorded lectures are an amazing advantage if you use them well. They are like a private tutor because you can progress at your own pace and replay complex concepts as much as you need to. You’ll benefit most if you take good notes and diligently review them. Plan on spending about 10%–15% of your study time on this activity.
  3. Hit the Question Bank and Final Exams. Of all the study components, the question bank and other predictive exams are most important for ensuring you have the level of mastery you need for success. Be sure your online question bank includes filters that allow for building custom exams by topic, selecting unused questions only, and viewing answers as you go.

Devote the majority of your prep time to completing questions. At a minimum you should complete at least 10–15 times the number of questions in the exam you are taking. For example, the SIE includes 75 questions, so you need to complete no less than 750, but more is definitely better.

It’s a good idea to take a full-length exam on all topics after you complete your reading and the lectures. Then, carefully review your performance to determine topics of weakness. Do shorter 20- to 30-question exams on topics where you scored below 70%, reading the answer explanations as you go. Choose unused questions when building your exams. Then go back to taking exams on all topics.

In the early stages, your score isn’t important. Your focus should be on identifying your weaknesses and taking the time to understand the material from questions you miss. A searchable online textbook is a great convenience when you’re in this stage.

As you continue your practice, shoot to score consistently above the minimum passing requirement. Make sure you do several full-length exams to practice endurance. On exam day, you can’t allow mental fatigue to impact your performance.

When you’ve completed enough questions and are consistently scoring above passing, it’s time to schedule your exam. You should take it within 1–2 weeks and feel confident about a positive outcome.

Good luck with your exam! Build your plan carefully, work it consistently, and you’ll make it happen. And, remember, the team at Knopman Marks Financial Training is available to assist you every step of the way.

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.