It’s no secret that FINRA securities licensing exams are difficult. However, these exams are a must for many who wish to advance their careers in the securities industry. If a FINRA exam is in your future, mastery of the content and test-taking proficiency are basic requirements. But it’s also extremely important not to exhaust yourself while studying. Exam fatigue is a serious issue, and can negatively impact your pass rate if you don’t take steps to avoid it.

Avoiding Burnout While Studying for Securities Exams

Most professionals that take FINRA exams have several things in common:

  • They accept that they need to pass the exam, but the test gets de-prioritized due to other job demands.
  • They are over-scheduled and can’t find enough hours in a day for exam prep.
  • They haven’t taken a standardized exam recently and have lost confidence in their study and test-taking skills.

There’s no way around it – FINRA exams are a disruption to normal life. Prioritizing your time so that you don’t burn out will be one of the most important steps in passing. For maximum efficiency, block study time for four consecutive weeks on your calendar and set a test date. It’s easy to give up your study time for other demands, or to become overwhelmed at the bulk of the preparation you have to do, but stay strong and don’t let your plan unravel.

  • The first two weeks of study are for reading the book and reviewing on-demand lectures. Plan on one to two hours every day during the work week and use weekends for catching up, committing about three to four hours a day. Stay on track – if you fall behind here, your test date is at risk. You should spend a minimum of 30 hours preparing during this two-week period.
  • The third week should be spent on completing questions and attending class (optional, but highly recommended). Aim for a minimum of 50 questions a day and catch up on the weekend. After the week-three weekend, you should have completed a minimum of 500 questions to get you primed for your final week. Expect to put in a minimum of 20 hours of study in the third week.
  • Week four is all about rigorous testing, and if you can take a day or two off to get away from your office, it’s worth it. Between this week and the following weekend, you will need to complete at least three, full-length exams and additional 20-question exams as needed on topics where you’ve scored below 65%. Block about four hours for each exam and review of questions you missed. Don’t ignore the importance of completing each of these three exams in one sitting. This practice helps you build the endurance and level of focus you need for a grueling test of multiple hours. Anyone who runs marathons – and FINRA exams are truly marathons – knows that the practice schedule can’t be compromised. You’ll need at least 20–30 hours of study time this final week to be ready.

The plan as laid out above sets you up for testing on the fifth Monday after four weeks of study. It is aggressive, and to follow it means sacrifice. But in the end, you get your life back after only one month, and you’ll have a great accomplishment to show for your efforts.

Managing Exhaustion While You Test

FINRA exams are long and tedious – for example, the Series 24 Exam consists of 150 scored questions and 10 unscored questions. Participants have 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete the exam with no breaks, and most candidates use nearly all of the available time. If you haven’t spent a solid three plus hours staring at a computer screen in a test cubicle lately, you’ll need to prepare for the experience.

Studies show that during lengthy exams like the Series 24, test takers can become fatigued and mentally check out as the exam progresses, resulting in a sequence of costly wrong answers. To counteract this tendency, you’ll need to plan for mental breaks during the test. Avoiding exam exhaustion is key to keep your focus on answering all questions correctly and efficiently.

We’ll list some strategies for these breaks, but let me first remind you that you must complete a minimum of three, full-length exams of 160-questions in a single sitting to build your endurance.

Now for some tips on mental breaks:

  1. Pay attention to the clock, and ensure you are completing a minimum of 25 questions every 30 minutes. Managing the time helps you stay in control and avoid the anxiety of rushing at the end of the exam. With this schedule you’ll have at least a half hour to go back and revisit any questions that you marked for review.
  2. After each hour of testing, close your eyes and take five deep breaths, exhaling slowly. This simple practice takes no more than a minute and will re-energize you and clear your head more than you can imagine. Try it now and start implementing this technique as you complete practice exams.
  3. If you’re feeling cramped or physically uncomfortable, a couple of quick exercises will help. First lean your head sideways to your right shoulder and hold for five seconds. Then lean your head to your left shoulder and hold for five seconds. Repeat. After this, drop your chin to your chest and slowly rotate your head from left to right. Do the same, only in reverse from right to left. A couple of shoulder rolls will also help you loosen up – back to front, then front to back. Staying loose helps with concentration, and you need to be at your best.
  4. If you are really struggling to avoid fatigue while taking your exam, you can always request a restroom break. You’ll need permission from the staff, so ask about the procedure when you’re checking in at the testing center. Getting up, taking a short walk, and stretching works wonders for clearing your mind.

Final Tips

Take time to learn more about FINRA exam preparation and make a commitment to get it done. The more you know about what to expect, the less likely you’ll be to fall victim to exhaustion and burn out. Knopman Marks has guided thousands of FINRA students to success, and we’re here to help you every step of the way. Contact us with any questions. Good luck with developing your fatigue-proof plan for passing a FINRA exam.

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Written by Marcia Larson
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.