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How I Passed the SIE Exam Despite My Challenges

When I passed the SIE (Securities Industry Essentials) Exam, I felt as excited as when the substitute calculus teacher would wheel in the TV on a big cart. I remember the happiness I’d feel the second I saw that beat-up cart. A wave of relaxation would hit instantly, followed by pure joy.

I had been so intimidated by the material that crushing the SIE Exam really built my confidence. I cried when I found out that I passed. I immediately told Marcia Larson, the Knopman Marks faculty member and wizard who helped me get to the finish line. Couldn’t have done it without you, Marcia!

I faced unique challenges to passing the SIE Exam, or any exam. I have a learning disability that makes it a lot harder for me to memorize facts. I have limited short-term memory so that studying and learning new terms and facts is very difficult for me. No sooner do I progress to a new topic than I realize I’ve forgotten the information from the prior topic. I also face extreme test-taking anxiety that can be blinding and paralyzing.

Now that I’ve made it to the other side of the SIE Exam process, I can shout from the rooftops that if I can pass the SIE Exam, I truly believe anyone can. I share my story in the hopes that someone else will get the encouragement they need to take the SIE plunge, commit to studying, pass the exam, and gain access to an amazing career, as I have been fortunate to do.

I have a learning disability that makes it a lot harder for me to memorize facts. If I can pass the SIE, I truly believe anyone can.”

Why I Took the SIE

Let’s be clear, I never wanted to take the SIE Exam. I have plenty of valid reasons for my reluctance. I have no experience in finance and have never even taken a business or economics class in school. I avoid taking tests at all costs.

I also love my job very much. A requirement of continuing in my compliance role at Deloitte Corporate Finance was to pass the SIE, and then the Series 7 Exam. Because I value my job and my work so much, I was in it to win it. But how?

My secret weapon to passing the SIE was indeed Marcia. When I felt too panicked to study or had trouble mastering a topic, Marcia worked with me. Having her in my corner was everything.



Name: Hannah McGhee
Goal: Pass the SIE Exam
Challenges: Short-term memory loss, ADHD, exam anxiety
Background in Finance: None
Length of Time Studying: Four weeks, consistently
Secrets to SIE Success: Knopman Marks textbook, video lectures, practice exams, supplements, and Marcia Larson
Job: Compliance, Deloitte Corporate Finance


My Challenges to Passing the SIE

I know that many paths can lead to a career in financial services, but one of the most direct routes is passing the SIE. I knew studying for the exam would help me understand the basic rules that guide the finance industry. I wanted to know how the stock market and trading work. Still, I dreaded the study portion and the test-taking that would follow.

Because I have both ADHD and short-term memory loss, making progress as I study is difficult. I have a great long-term memory. But when it came to drilling information for the SIE Exam, I had a really hard time. I also found myself falling asleep because I did not find the material I had to memorize compelling. In fact, I found the material ungodly boring. That didn’t make it any easier to remember.

Often, after I would read a chapter of the textbook, I would not remember large portions of the chapter. I’d have to re-read everything many times. Marcia taught me memorization strategies and helped me come up with tricks to jog my memory. I knew I had to work harder than most people to pass the SIE Exam. Marcia was unbelievably supportive.

Pressure to Pass the Exam

I had one month to prepare before I took the SIE. I felt a lot of pressure. With a big incentive— wanting to keep my job—serving as motivation, I dove in.

Knowing the material wasn’t enough. I also had to work through the anxiety that can take over when I sit for an exam. I know that a lot of new hires are asked to take the SIE, and if they don’t pass on their first two attempts, they don’t get the job. I was fortunate to have a supportive team at my job. However, I also felt the pressure of my colleagues and managers having so much faith in me. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.

To deal with the incredible pressure I felt on exam day while taking the SIE, I did breathing exercises to calm myself down. Breathing in slowly for five seconds, holding my breath for five seconds, and then slowly breathing out for five seconds would get me calm so I could focus on the questions.

How to Study for the SIE

I already mentioned the great guidance I received from Marcia on how to pass the SIE Exam. I also followed the Knopman Marks Action Plan, which gave me a road map. I worked on the SIE textbook one chapter at a time: I would re-read the chapter over and over. When I was done, I would re-read the titles of the sections in the chapter to review, and then go to the Knopman Marks Training Center, where you can test by chapter or by section. I worked my way through by testing myself on each section before moving on. The chapter sections were my building blocks.

As I mastered new sections, I faced big obstacles. I would get to a new chapter and realize I had forgotten everything in the prior chapter. The approach that worked for me was to pile on a little more new material each day, while also keeping the earlier material fresh. I spent one week on each chapter. By the end of the month, when I reached the final chapter, chapter 4, I had mastered the material.

The day of the SIE Exam, I walked in feeling confident. I knew what to expect on the exam. That didn’t make getting the news that I passed the SIE any less remarkable. Watch out, Series 7 Exam—you’re next!

5 Steps to Pass the SIE Exam

Here’s what helped me progress from being intimidated by the SIE Exam and not knowing where to begin, to finding the right support and passing the exam. My level of excitement over sharing my process is one of a child on book-fair day. I also can’t hype up Marcia Larson enough.

  1. Find an SIE class and/or tutor. Finding the right online SIE course with Knopman Marks, and having individual tutoring sessions with Marcia Larson, made it possible for me to pass the SIE Exam. I knew Knopman Marks students had top pass rates on the SIE, so that made me feel confident working with them.
  2. Devote consistent time to study. This was especially challenging with a full-time job and, when I was at home, a chorus of kids in the background. However, my family knew I had a strict study schedule, and I picked up my textbook every night and stuck to my plan.
  3. Watch SIE prep videos. I like to mix it up. I switched between reading the book and hearing a faculty member go through the material on video. Check out their free review video session and see what you think.
  4. Understand how financial concepts apply in the real world. Applying the concepts I was learning to real-life examples helped me remember them.

Test your knowledge with practice exams. Taking the Knopman Marks quizzes before moving on to the next topic helped me gauge my mastery of the material. Don’t take my word for it. Download a practice exam yourself.