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Series 7 Top-Off Difficulty: How Hard is the New Series 7 Exam?

studying with calculator for series 7 top-off difficulty exam

Below I will walk you through the Series 7 Top-Off Exam’s difficulty level. This new exam was first offered in October 2018, and student feedback abounds. That said, the feedback is mixed and similar to my SIE Exam difficulty discussion, the degree of difficulty for the new top-off exam is quite dependent on the student’s background. However, the Series 7 Top-Off difficulty is much more evident than for the SIE Exam. In this guide, I break down what makes it challenging for some, and less-so for others. If you need any extra help, check out our video courses or our Series 7 tutoring options.

Some Key Points:

  • 3 hour 45 minute exam
  • 135 questions (10 of them are not scored)
  • 72% score needed to pass
  • Multiple choice
  • SIE Co-Requisite (NOT a prerequisite)

FINRA’s Series 7 Exam for registered representatives is meant to gauge competency. It weeds out who becomes a general securities representative and who doesn’t. Can’t your college education do that? Not well enough apparently. For the thousands of professionals that work in the financial services industry in the United States, the Series 7 is one of the first stepping stones in establishing yourself in the industry.

In many jobs, passing is a prerequisite in order to talk with clients and perform other duties (e.g., take orders, solicit sales, etc.). Like most professional exams, the Series 7 has a pass/fail outcome. Given that it’s almost a four-hour exam, aim to pass the first time around. That will help put an end to working all day, and studying all night…It’s even worse than it sounds!

So How Hard is the Series 7 Exam?

A common tongue in cheek refrain on Wall Street is the following: “If you got 73% on the Series 7, you studied too long.” As much as Wall Street is known for its humor (….um….), I would avoid the “tough guy” advice. I’ve seen many young professionals take the test too lightly and end up failing. Many respectable financial institutions (especially the bulge brackets), don’t want to see their employees fail. For this reason, over-studying and going into the exams highly prepared is just fine (and recommended!).

How to Study

The Series 7 is no different than any somewhat challenging freshmen level college exam. The content is fairly straight forward but there will be the odd curve ball thrown. The question of “how hard is the Series 7 exam?” is obviously in the eye of the beholder (read: test-taker!). You will need to spend time memorizing rules, understanding formulas, and familiarizing yourself with definitions.

Most importantly though, do as many practice questions as you can (more on this follows). And, as fast as you can! Some people finish early, but don’t expect to have too much time left at the end. Check out some more of our tips on Series 7 test prep further down in this guide.

What to Study

Keep in mind that the exam has been updated in recent years. I tutor (online and in-person) many students whose bosses tell them to focus on muni bonds and options and that’s it. Why would they suggest that? The mistaken assumption that what was heavily tested 15 years (or more) ago is still heavily tested. The reality is that the current Series 7 exam has a much greater focus on customers, suitability, and various financial products. You will also find plenty of rules for broker-dealers, customers, and account-related information.

In most cases your employer will provide you with your study material. See further down our guide for our views on that.

When Are You Ready?

Remember you have slightly more than 1.5 minutes per question so you want to be sure you’re ready when you decide to take the exam. Below we discuss target practice scores in more detail, but I can tell you that consistently scoring around 85% on the STC practice tests worked for me (and has worked for others with whom I’ve worked/tutored). This exam is much harder than the SIE Exam, so over-preparing is not a bad thing.

Series 7 Top-Off Difficulty: Math, Math, and More Math

One major reason for the greater Series 7 Top-Off difficulty versus the SIE Exam is the math. You can likely count on one hand the number of times that you will need your calculator for the SIE Exam. However, the Series 7 Top-Off is different. You should expect to calculate, and know, many formulas for the Series 7. These include the Conversion Ratio, Margin Requirements, Max Gain/Max Loss for Options, among others. If math was not your strong suit in college, or high school, you will need to brush up. There are plenty of fractions, decimals, and percentages with which to contend, and you may even face some mild algebra.

For example, given the par value of a Convertible Bond and Conversion Price, you need to be able to calculate the Conversion Ratio. This is a three variable math problem where you are given two variables and required to “solve for X” (the third variable).

If the above makes the Series 7 Top-Off difficulty level sound insurmountable, then let me assure you that it is not. Whether or not you have a background in finance, the key to success on the Series 7 is to study hard. The challenge for most people is that it’s a novel subject. Like anything, if you sit and read long enough, you will absorb it. If you don’t have the time to sit and read (pressure from the boss?), then I highly recommend a Series 7 tutor. Most students need at least two months to study for this exam. If you need to accelerate that timeline, a tutor will help.

For those with no background in finance, the Series 7 Top-Off difficulty can be self-evident. Take your time to look up definitions when you don’t know them. Investopedia is a great resource when you get stuck. It’s like Wikipedia, but for investment/finance terms. I use it plenty myself, and I’ve been in the industry for over ten years.

Series 7 Top-Off Difficulty For Those with a Background in Finance, or Economics…

If you have a background in economics, finance, or business, then you might have an easier time. I would never advise no study time, but I’ve seen some students pass in two weeks. Note: This is quite rare, and does not likely apply to you!

The average time needed to pass for those with a heavy finance background is about a month.

Since your study time is likely limited (by your employer), it’s important you do it efficiently. One way to make sure you hit the necessary material is to have the right study material. Your Series 7 study material can be a key reason why you do well or not. I encourage most of my students to stick to the mainstays in the industry such as STC and Kaplan. Once you score over 85% on their practice exams, you’re good to go.

On the other hand, the Series 7 Top-Off exam can still be hard even for those with a business degree. No real-world investment experience can make sections like “Order Types” (limit, stop loss, etc.) difficult. Options and Bonds are also often the most requested topics about which I get asked. There is not much coverage of those in most college curriculum.

Boiled down, the Series 7 Top-Off Exam difficulty level can really depend on your background. You need a score of 72%, or higher, to pass. Be up front with yourself about how well prepared you are for the exam. Take two months to study if you need it. Get some help if you need it. It’s better to pass the exam the first time, then to have to tell your boss you failed.

With enough discipline and patience, you can get through it! But, again, it starts with the right study material…

Series 7 Study Material: STC or Kaplan? Here’s Your Answer

If you are studying for the Series 7, your employer has likely provided you with Series 7 study material. Have they given you the best material out there? That’s a tough question to answer if you are new to the industry. When I took the exam, I used the Securities Training Corporation’s (STC) material, but I have used Kaplan on multiple occasions with the students that I tutor. I know both very well. So, let’s break down the differences and decide once and for all which is best.

Series 7 Study Material: STC or Kaplan?

The study material from STC and Kaplan overlap significantly (unsurprisingly). Nevertheless, there are still differences between the two.

Series 7 Study Material: Kaplan

Some common feedback I’ve heard from my students when it comes to Kaplan is that the text does a better job explaining concepts than STC. I would have to agree in that Kaplan has a way of explaining topics in a simple fashion. Another nice characteristic of Kaplan is that you can access what they call the QBank. The QBank is a relatively inexpensive (under $100) standalone product you can purchase if you already have the text from another provider. I highly recommend it.

The QBank is a large database with hundreds of questions from every section. There are a little over 2,000 questions in total. The Q-Bank is extremely helpful when studying. It allows you to drill down on specific sub-topics. For example, rather than just focusing on Options generally, the QBank allows you to drill down in the Options section and select practice questions that focus only on taxation issues for Options. Similar “drill down” capabilities exist for other topics in the QBank (Equities, Debt Securities, etc.).

Furthermore, a plurality of my students that have used multiple practice question providers relayed to me that Kaplan’s QBank questions were the most helpful when it came to exam preparation. In other words, based on my students’ feedback, the consensus is that Kaplan has very effective practice questions!

What I’ve observed with students that use Kaplan confirms this. Their likelihood of passing the exam is consistently high if they can score in the low-to-mid 80s on practice questions. Thus, good scores on the Q-Bank can translate into a passing grade. This is a helpful gauge to know if/when you are ready for prime time!

Series 7 Study Material: STC

In terms of the STC study material, I have observed that it is generally sufficient to help students pass. Despite some minor discrepancies between STC and Kaplan, STC is a solid text, in my view. Easy to understand, and topics are well laid out. That said, for really thorough students I recommend getting both STC and Kaplan texts. At a minimum I recommend getting STC material, and Kaplan QBank questions.

Why?

The number one complaint that I hear from students around STC is that their questions are not as challenging as Kaplan. Furthermore, STC’s practice questions leave more to be desired. Many of my students get through STC’s practice questions in no time. This leaves them prone to memorizing answers after repeated attempts.

Having at least one text but both sets of practice questions will really cover your bases. I should also mention that I have seen such an approach consistently succeed in practice. STC practice material (depending which package you purchase) can come with eight practice exams (in addition to other practice questions). These are quite helpful, and you want to get through them all (ideally twice each). Supplemented with Kaplan, aim to do at least 1,500 questions from Kaplan’s QBank. When your scores on Kaplan practice exams (with at least 75 questions per exam) are in the mid-80% range, then you are ready for the actual exam.

For inexperienced students with no background in economics/finance/accounting, you will need to read the text a little more carefully, and this could take extra time. Be sure to account for this – don’t be surprised if it takes 2 to 3 months to study for this exam.

In a Nutshell

What I can definitively say from my experience at Professional Exam Tutoring is that I haven’t had a single student consistently get over 85% on either the STC or Kaplan practice questions fail the exam.

Any which way you slice it, the Series 7 study material you choose matters. I recommend a combo approach between STC and Kaplan study material. Having a target score (85% on practice tests) to hang your hat on provides a reliable target. If you can’t hit 85%, I highly recommend against scheduling your exam. Wait (if you can) until you are sure. If you have a hard time getting there, feel free of course to reach out to us for an in-person Series 7 tutor (NYC) or online Series 7 tutor.

Best Series 7 Tutors In New York City? Here’s a List

If you’re going to use a tutor, you’ll want the best. After hours of research, I’ve compiled a detailed list of the best Series 7 tutors NYC has to offer. As the global center of finance, the New York City area has thousands of workers in the financial services industry, with many of those needing to pass the Series 7 Top-Off to perform their job functions.

As a result, many people need help with this grueling 3 hour and 45 minute exam. This has driven demand for the many Series 7 tutors NYC boasts. The question is: How do you know which tutors will be worthwhile? And, where can I find the best Series 7 tutors?

Best Series 7 Tutors NYC – First, Why I Think P.E.T. is #1

Professional Exam Tutoring: Of course, I need to start with the company that I think adds the absolute most value among Series 7 tutors in New York City: Professional Exam Tutoring.

With decades of experience, Professional Exam Tutoring’s tutors have a deep background working in the financial services industry on both the sell-side and the buy-side. Jim Moore (owner and founder) is friendly and knowledgeable, and ensures that each student will work with the tutor that most suite their needs (even if that tutor is himself). The company’s tutors are known for being great at breaking down complex topics. A major difference between Professional Exam Tutoring and other tutoring services mentioned below, is that the company offers premium tutoring supplemented with customized notes.

Each students’ specific needs and goals are accounted for. This includes study attention span, work schedule, strengths/weaknesses, and topics already covered. Professional Exam Tutoring tutors will also provide you with candid advice as to where you are in your study progress. Further, for those interested, certain tutors can be scheduled to even suggest career advice for those looking. In-person sessions have a 1.5 hour minimum but online sessions are available for an hour. On top of all of that, Professional Exam Tutoring offers a full refund on your first three sessions if you are completely unsatisfied with our services.

Don’t just take my word for it though. Our Google Reviews will also help you see why Professional Exam Tutoring is my #1 recommendation.

Best Series 7 Tutors NYC – Private Tutors

series7examtutor.com: series7examtutor.com has been at it for a while. The company is primarily run by Michael Weiss out of New Jersey. The company has been around since 2011 and is a partner with the myguruedge.com tutoring website. Although the website looks a little dated, they continue to churn out students that get passing grades according to their website. Prices range from $75 per hour online/video to $150 per hour for a live meeting. While series7examtutor.com is more expensive for meeting in the city than P.E.T., the company has some nice reviews to support the prices.

Capital Advantage Tutoring: Ken of Capital Advantage Tutoring is another good Series 7 tutor in the city. Ken runs a one-man show at Capital Advantage Tutoring as the main tutor. He is very good at what he does and accommodates students at all hours of the day. Ken has been in the industry since the late 1980s and knows the Series 7 (among other FINRA exams) quite well. His rates vary from about $150 per hour to over $200 per hour depending on whether or not you buy blocks of time. I have met him personally, and he is a great guy that I would recommend to anyone.

Other Series 7 Tutors NYC – Companies

Empire Stock Broker Training Institute:  This company not only offers courses but also some study material in the form of online testing and study guides. The company offers myriad training courses for every FINRA test you can imagine. The owner of the company also authored “Series 7 Exam for Dummies.” All of the above said, I would point however, that Series 7 tutors are not available through this company. The company does offer online classes that cost $395. You can also sign up for night classes in Melville, NY where the company is located.

Wyzant: Wyzant is not based in New York City, but is a platform from which you can find freelance tutors in your area. There are a number of Series 7 tutors NYC has listed on Wyzant’s site but there is no way to judge their competence aside from their “star ratings” from customers. The site indicates the hours its tutors have spent tutoring ranging from a few to 1,000+ for some of the Series 7 tutors listed. Prices also range quite widely from $40 per hour to $200+. There is a 7% service charge for customers and the tutors have to share a percentage of their pricing.

To sum up, the Series 7 exam is hard enough. Finding a good tutor shouldn’t be. The Series 7 tutors NYC has to offer are some of the best in the world. Whether you live in NYC or in Orlando, consider the Series 7 tutors in NYC for your tutoring needs. Of the resources I mentioned above, you are sure to find some valuable help!

Hard Series 7 Questions: Where Should You Spend a Little Extra Time?

Whether you hire a tutor or not, some areas are worth focusing on more than others for the Series 7 Top-Off Exam.

Here I elaborate on the topics that seem to trip up the large majority of our students. Since the new exam was introduced (October 1, 2018) we see the same difficult themes pop-up again and again. The Series 7 pass rate is hard to lock down – it isn’t published by FINRA. That said, I hope this helps you get an idea of the topics that you should hit early (and repeatedly) in order to pass. Spend some time on these and your chance of success will climb.

Ok, let’s get into it.

Hard Series 7 Questions - 1. Options Front and Center

This first topic won’t surprise you. Of all the Series 7 subjects, Options is our number one most requested for help. Students need assistance with the Options chapter more than any other. So where should you begin? Let’s start with the hardest subset of topics within Options: Spreads.

Spreads strategies are by far the most difficult. Not rocket-science-hard, but hard enough that they can sometimes take a full hour of tutoring to fully explain. For reference, most students take three times as long to learn topics themselves versus through a tutor (in our experience). Since Options Spreads take some time, start with them first. A periodic bite-size learning approach will provide repeated exposure to a hard topic that will eventually seep into your mind and make sense. Cramming it in won’t likely work. Debit Spreads and Credit Spreads seem to cause the most confusion. However, being able to identify all types of Options spreads is important.

Straddles and hedging strategies are also fairly challenging for instance, but less so than spreads. Be sure to familiarize yourself with long and short straddles (much easier to understand). Hedging strategies, max gains, max losses, and breakeven prices are also good places to repeatedly review.

To master all of these will realistically take a couple weeks of regular study to fully grasp. Leave yourself a lot of time (if you can). After reading the Options Spreads section, try putting in at least an hour per week (30 min Monday, 30 min Friday for example) for the first few weeks. Repetition is key!

Hard Series 7 Questions - 2. Convertible Bonds

When it comes to debt securities, one of the hard Series 7 questions we see through our students’ head-scratching is around convertible bonds. FINRA throws out the Series 7 convertible bonds topic in a number of ways. Tackling convertible bonds requires a few steps. We break down all of them in detail through our Series 7 tutor services. For now, let’s take a quick look.

The first step is almost always the same. Specifically, calculate the conversion ratio. If you can get that under your belt, then you’re halfway there. Next, you’ll need to understand what it means when stocks and bonds trade at parity – also, how to compute their respective parity prices. Lastly, make sure you know how to determine whether an arbitrage can be had, and how to capitalize on one. Easier said than done (usually!).

Hard Series 7 Questions - 3. Calculating Cost Basis, Taxable Gains and Losses for Premium/Discount Bonds

One of the most common questions that I get around bonds is that of calculating cost basis. Can you determine whether a bond’s value should be accreted or amortized over time? You will need to know how to answer this type of question for the exam. And, how to calculate how much exactly needs to be accreted or amortized.

The first step is to recognize when a bond is trading at a discount or a premium. If at a discount, the bond’s cost basis increases (value is accreted) as it approaches maturity. If at a premium, the bond’s cost basis decreases (value is amortized) as it approaches maturity. These terms may sound complicated but the calculation is not. After you spend a little time on this topic, you will see that the math is not that involved even though the jargon may be.

Hard Series 7 Questions - 4. Muni Bonds: Tax Equivalent Yields

Another topic that I see on a regular basis that frequently challenges students is with Municipal Bonds. Namely, Tax Equivalent Yields (TEY). Tax Equivalent yields present challenges to most students for two reasons:

1) It includes an “intimidating looking” calculation:

TEY = After-Tax Yield/(1-Tax Rate)

2) The jargon in the name isn’t exactly self-explanatory. What you’re really trying to do with TEY questions is to make the interest rates comparable. For example, let’s assume you have a muni bond, treasury bond, and corporate bond. Their coupons cannot be compared directly. Why?

They are all taxed differently. To compare them, you first need to tax effect them. In other words, make them comparable on an apples-to-apples basis. You want to compare all of their yields either after-tax, or all pre-tax. The TEY calculation does just that. It calculates the muni bond’s equivalent yield as if it did not have tax advantages (and therefore was fully taxable). Such a coupon can then be compared to the corporate bond, which is also fully taxable. Equations can be intimidating enough. With all of this extra jargon, it’s no wonder this section is perceived as difficult.

Hard Series 7 Questions - 5. Suitability

Although this last topic can be fairly intuitive for many students, some find it tough. One main reason is that there is no suitability chapter in most of the text books. STC does a nice job breaking it out at the back of their textbook, but that’s about all you get.

Nevertheless, it takes knowing the various financial products quite well to know what is suitable, and for whom. Series 7 Suitability questions are definitely worth studying. Know what products to recommend to a wealthy conservative investor (muni bonds), a young investor (stocks), a retired investor (balanced fund), etc. There are a lot of different scenarios. As such, we recommend doing at least two hours per week on this subject. One hour at the beginning of the week, and one at the end. Like the Options review, this one is worth doing repeatedly.

Hard Series 7 Questions - Summary

Overall, the Series 7 exam difficulty level can be quite high if you don’t approach it strategically. Take note of the above sections, and study them often. The Series 7 pass rate would be much higher if there was less cramming, in my opinion. Take the hardest topics (like the ones above) and work on them first. Your employer, or the study schedule in your textbook may have other suggestions. But, from the thousands of hours of tutoring we have done, we can tell you firsthand, ours works as good (if not better) than any other methods we have seen.

The Most Effective Study Tips for the Series 7 Top-Off Exam

I have been fortunate enough to tutor hundreds of students for various FINRA Exams. Although I generally impart knowledge on my students, I learn a lot through the process too. Below I share what I have found to be the seven most effective study tips Series 7 Top-Off students use to pass the exam.

Study Tips for the Series 7 Top-Off Which Students Use to Pass

  1. Map Out Your Ti​​​​​​​meline - Effective students map out when they plan to (or have to) take the exam. Do your best to know in advance how long you have to study. This will help you focus on what subjects you should be hitting, in what order, and for how long. This test is a lot harder than the SIE Exam so it’s good to get organized early.
  2. Prioritize Your Topics - Once you know how long you have to study, figure out what – and when – to study. Importantly, one of the most important study tips Series 7 Top-Off students embrace is making sure the hard stuff is studied first. Sure, everyone knows you should eat your carrots before dessert, but why does studying the hard stuff first REALLY matter? The simple answer is that whatever you study first, is most likely to be reviewed the most. The more time you spend on the hard stuff, the less hard it will become. Consider starting with Options, Margin, or Suitability. Many find these the hardest sections of the exam.
  3. Study Schedule by Topic - Once you have organized which topics to prioritize in your study schedule, put it down on paper. Get clear on what days/weeks you want to finish certain topics so you can stay on track. Adding “deadlines” helps add a little pressure if the pressure is not already there. Most students I see without a study schedule end up underestimating how much time they have to cover all subjects. Inevitably these same students frequently run out of time – or have to cram in a few topics for the last week.
  4. Incorporate a Water Fall of Review - Studying for the Series 7 Top-Off Exam is just like juggling. You start with one ball (one topic), and you keep adding one after another. As with juggling you can’t take your eye off the balls, or you may drop one. Similarly you’ll need to keep fresh each topic by constant review. The best way to do this is to incorporate a sort-of “water fall” of review. For example, if you start out studying Options and then switch to Margin and Equities the next week, be sure to incorporate at least 30 to 60 minutes of review of Options that next week. By the third week when you start with Bonds, Munis, and Suitability, be sure to spend 60 to 90 minutes reviewing Options, Margin, and Equities, and so forth. These topics will need constant refreshing, which is why I encourage you to start with the hardest ones first (mentioned above). Of all the effective study tips Series 7 Top-Off students use this one might help boost your scores the most.
  5. Practice Questions - After you read, study, and review practice questions are imperative. The most effective way to ensure you can pass the exam is to make sure you can answer their questions. Do your best to get through as many possible practice questions that you can. Be careful not to repeat too many from any single provider. If you have done all the STC practice questions three times each, and you’re scoring in the mid-80s, switch to Kaplan. After you switch don’t be surprised to see your practice scores drop by 10%. The more ways you see the questions asked, the better. The more questions you do, even better.
  6. Green Light Exams Two Weeks Out – For students that use the STC study material. STC has two practice exams that are meant to simulate the real thing. These are called the “Green Light Exams.” Typically, if you can do well on those, you can pass the real test. I suggest doing these practice exams at least two weeks out from your exam. This will give you plenty of time to study where you went wrong, and to strengthen those weak areas. For Kaplan, take custom practice exams with a minimum of 75 questions each. Do this until you consistently hit low-to-mid 80% scores. Also keep track of areas where you score low and create smaller (15 to 20 question) practice tests to hone in where you need improvement.
  7. Test Day Preparations - Lastly, make sure that you’re prepared for exam day itself. Know where you’re going. Have directions and the address for the exam center printed out the day before. Don’t leave this until the last minute. You don’t want to get your heart rate, or cortisol levels, heightened going into an exam that already makes enough people anxious. Eat a full meal ahead of time, and avoid anything that might upset your stomach. You might not have time for bathroom breaks so plan accordingly. Most importantly, don’t write anything down on the white board, or scrap paper that they give you until the clock officially starts for your exam. You don’t want to be accused of cheating!

All in all, take it one question at a time and be sure to read each and every word very carefully!

What Should You Do Now?

After reading through our tips, it might seem more obvious how, the Series 7 exam difficulty level is hard to pinpoint. You can give yourself the best possible chance by taking the advice given in this guide as well as our other informative posts on the subject. It is vital to be prepared properly and that is down to you. However, at Professional Exam Tutoring, our tutors can give you that extra edge and help you focus, to achieve the result you want. If that sounds nice, then click the button below and we would love to help!



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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Does the Series 7 Top-Off Exam take longer to study than the SIE Exam?

Yes. The Series 7 Top-Off Exam definitely takes longer. Both exams cover much of the same topics. However, the Series 7 Top-Off Exam is much more in-depth. The SIE Exam can be conquered after studying for 1 month to 1.5 months by memorizing almost everything but on average the Series 7 Top-Off takes about two months. The Series 7 Top-Off requires a deeper understanding of the concepts introduced in the SIE Exam. In my experience, students that had a hard time passing the SIE Exam, or failed it once or twice may take up to six months (and multiple attempts) to pass the Series 7 Top-Off.  The best thing that you can do is to get as far of a head start as possible. Study early, and study long. An hour or two per night for a few nights a week doesn't usually cut it.

Why do you suggest Kaplan over STC for the Series 7 Top-Off?

First of all, both offer excellent textbooks. Unfortunately, from our experience with hundreds of students a year it comes down to the practice questions they offer. Kaplan's QBank asks questions in such a way that students' scores reflect more closely to how they will perform on the exam than STC (as of this writing - 12-7-19). We have seen students use STC and pass, however we have heard many more stories of students using STC's practice questions and scoring in the 80%+ range and failing than we have for those using Kaplan's practice questions. Please note: This is only for the Series 7 Top-Off. STC is great for every other FINRA exam in our experience. More than likely, this will get resolved but for the moment Kaplan's questions prepare you best.

I've failed the Series 7 Top-Off Exam twice now, and memorized the practice questions, how should I study?

If you've exhausted Kaplan's (our preferred resource for the Series 7 Top-Off as of this writing) practice questions to the point that you've memorized their answers it can be worth it to switch over to new practice questions. In this situation, we typically recommend STC as a backup resource as their practice exams are also quite good (although slightly easier - in our opinion - than Kaplan's). If you are on your third attempt we DO NOT recommend you take the exam until you are scoring consistently over 90% on STC and Kaplan's practice exams. For Kaplan the custom quiz option is quite helpful to drill down on topics where you are still having issues. For STC, take and retake their practice exams and attempt a "greenlight" exam with at least two weeks left before you take the Series 7 Top-Off. Consider thoroughly reviewing definitions, as well as rules and regulations for your third attempt too. Create a study sheet with those which you forget most easily. Increasing your knowledge of definitions can often add another 3% to 5% in our experience. For some more study tips check out our tips here.

Is it OK if I take the Series 7 Top-Off Exam before I take the SIE Exam?

The short answer, is yes. There is no problem from a regulatory or pre-requisite perspective. That said, you are certainly making things harder for yourself if you do it in this order. The SIE Exam is mean to be an introductory exam. The content is very high level, and meant to provide the student with the basics of what is required of a registered representative. The Series 7 Top-Off Exam is much more in-depth, and typically requires a greater time commitment from the student even after having studied the SIE Exam. In a nutshell, doing the Series 7 Top-Off Exam first is very much putting the cart before the horse. While it might be nice to get the harder exam done first, it will make studying that much longer for the Series 7 since you skipped over the introductory content first.

I failed the Series 7 Top-Off Exam. How long of a break should I take before I start studying for my next attempt?

Take a few days to recuperate and reflect, and then get back to the books. After many years as a Series 7 tutor we can authoritatively attest that the longer you wait, the more you forget. This won't be totally surprising. When is the last time you had to recite the state capitals, and how easy can you recall those? Some of the content that you studied will have stuck with you. But, other content slips out rather quickly - Options is a notoriously easy section to forget! Try to keep yourself in the studying mindset. It will help you easily lock right back into your study routine.

Why does it seem like so many more people fail the Series 7 Top-Off Exam than the old Series 7 Exam?

Although we don't have statistics on the failure rate of either (nor have we seen any published by FINRA), from our experience the failure rate appears higher for the current Series 7 Top-Off exam than the old Series 7 exam (which was 6 hours long!). Although we can't know the exact reason for sure, we suspect that the simplest explanation is the most logical. Specifically, the old Series 7 exam used to include material from both the SIE and the Series 7 Top-Off. If you did really well on the SIE portion - say, 90% or higher - you could afford to do poorly on the harder Series 7 Top-Off portion - say, 60% or slightly lower - and still pass. Whereas now, with both exams tested separately, you must score 70% and 72% or higher, respectively, on both the SIE and Series 7 Top-Off tested material. The latter being a much more difficult hurdle than before.

16 thoughts on “Series 7 Top-Off Difficulty: How Hard is the New Series 7 Exam?

  1. Great advce! I was previously licienced in the industry for over 12 years with the Series 6,63, 7, 66, 9 and 10, before taking some time off which caused my licences to expire before I went back to the insurance undustry. I am currently studying for the SIE using STC study material, and will then take the 7 and 66 so I can better help my clients . I am wondering if I should get the STC Text with the Kaplan Text and Qbank to study for the series 7. Based on my past of being previously licienced, what Kaplan and STC material should I combine to study for and pass the series 7 Exam. Thank You.

    1. Hi Withle, I would definitely recommend the STC for the SIE, but Kaplan for the Series 7. A combination for the Series 7 Top-Off would be much better. Like you said, the STC Text and Kaplan Text (plus the QBank – very important!) should be enough. You ultimately want to drive your Kaplan scores up to 85%+ and you’ll be ready. Good luck!

      1. Jim , thanks for getting back to me. Which programs practice exams should I use, STC or Kaplan.
        Also which program of the many out there would you reccomend for series 66 exam. Thanks
        Regards,
        Withle

        1. For the Series 7 I definitely recommend Kaplan’s practice exams at the moment. STC is great too but you need much higher scores to ensure a passing grade, and scores in the mid-80s will typically due with Kaplan. For the Series 66, I am a little less helpful. We don’t currently tutor that topic yet, but I have heard that STC is a good resource for it. Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions. Good luck!

          1. Jim, I am using pass perfect and failed with a 62 score. Pass perfect is provided by my employer. I studied Monday-Friday and weekends and took 15 practice exams. I scored anywhere from high 60’s to 70’s but never 80’s on prep exams. Any experience with pass perfect. I felt prepared but on exam day, I felt like I didn’t know a lot of the questions and nerves took over.
            Do you recommend mixing Kaplan at this point ? I am willing to buy it even though my employer provide us with pass perfect. I didn’t have a strong finance background. Any other recommendation?

          2. Yes, I would definitely recommend mixing in Kaplan. You can buy their QBank (without buying their text package) for less than $80 and it is definitely worth it! Pass Perfect material (and questions) is quite hard to understand from the feedback I’ve heard from my students (and experience teaching with their material). Kaplan is the best (as of now) for the Series 7. Aim to score in the mid-to-high-80s though. Leave yourself a buffer if you can. Good luck!

  2. Jim, I have been studying for the Series 7 Top-off exam for over a year and I just failed for the second time today with a score of 59. I’m using Kaplan and I’ve been scoring quite well on the practice exams with 70s and 80s after taking them multiple times. I’ve used all 2200 of the Q-bank questions and put in countless hours of study time even asking one of my financial advisors for help. When I get my results from the exam it shows I’m weak in every area. At this point I’m kind of dumbfounded as to what I’m doing wrong and why I keep scoring so low on this exam. Do you have any recommendations that you could pass along?

    1. Hi Genie, thanks for the message. Sorry to hear about your results. It’s a tough exam, and a lot of people run into the same problem.

      First of all, it’s great that you are doing a lot of questions, and Kaplan is the best resource for the Series 7 – so far so good! Your scores on the practice exams, on the other hand, are lower than I would be comfortable sending you into the exam with. If you have taken the practice questions multiple times, you want to be scoring 90%+ on your practice exams (because some of your points will reflect the fact that you have memorized some of the answers). See if you can reset your QBank with Kaplan and start over. Unfortunately I know that might not be what you’d like to hear but it’s probably the best way to go about it. Try to refrain from taking the exam, if your employer will let you, until your scores consistently hit over 90%. Hope that helps! Good luck!

  3. Hi Jim,
    I want to get some feedback from you regarding the Series 6 top off exam. I failed it twice. 1st test, 68, 2nd test 66. I’m using Kaplan and went through all of the practice exams/mastery exams and Qbank questions. I focused on weak chapters and scored pretty well. I mainly focused on the biggest section of the exam. I got to a point where my simulated exam scores were in the 90’s. I felt like I was prepared. After reading some of the comments I think my nerves may have also got the best of me. I wanted to get your opinion if I should follow the tips you mentioned above but for the Series 6 top off. In the past I’ve purchased and used STC for my Life and Health and SIE and passed both exams first time. I love how STC explains the material. I think I may just double up and utilize both (STC & Kaplan). Should I read both books? Or just read one and take exams from both books? Any other suggestions will be helpful and greatly appreciated.

    1. Yes, switching up the text might be helpful. Often when our students report having scored really well on the practice questions (85% +) and then fail, it is usually because they have memorized the questions. A change of material will help but I wouldn’t recommend re-reading the textbook – except for specific topics where you feel you still need help. STC is about equal to Kaplan when it comes to how they prepare you for the Series 6, in our view. It sounds like you are really close to passing. A little more studying, and some fresh questions might help get you there. Good luck! P.S. Check out our latest blog post on the Series 6 difficulty if you’d like more info.

  4. Hi Jim, I am currently studying for the series 7 exam. I am using STC complete study materials and plan to also use the Kaplan series 7 Qbank to go along with the STC study materials. At what point should I start taking the using the questions from the Qbank and how many questions or tests should i utilize from the Qbank? Also I do not have a window open yet for the series 7. because the testing sites are closed because of the pandemic. How should I proceed with a study schedule since I have no idea as to when I will be taking the Exam. I will greatly appreciate your suggestions. Thanks

    1. Hi Prime – I would definitely suggest to keep moving forward with your studying. The online testing by FINRA has already started and you will want to be ready to roll out as many firms start adapting to this new reality. Use STC for the practice questions, however Kaplan’s textbook is totally fine and a great resource. I hope that helps!

      1. Hi Jim, thanks for getting back to me. However the study materials that I am currently using
        is STC. I was asking about using the Kaplan Qbank as a supplement and wanted to know how to proceed with using it along with the STC questions. (See my earlier message)
        Thanks for youe help.

        1. Yes, using the Kaplan Qbank is a good supplement. Actually, in many cases it is better than STC (as of this writing). I would use it to drill down on questions in specific sections that are giving you issues. The Qbank allows you to identify specific topics in which you are scoring low, and select those for a set of practice questions. I would take a look at what areas you are scoring less than 60% and make a 20 practice question quiz. Do that over and over in different sections and that should help! 🙂

  5. Not being an absolute novice, what do you recommend to study and pass the SIE & Series 7 exams from Kaplan: the Premium, Essential, or Basic package? Thank you!

    1. Hi Will – the basic package is usually good enough. The most important thing for each of those are the practice exams for the STC material, and the Q-Bank for Kaplan. Hope that helps!

      Jim

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