The SIE Exam difficulty level is hard to pinpoint precisely. While the SIE exam is hard for some test takers, others won’t likely have a problem with it. In this post I whittle down what makes it difficult for some, and a cake-walk for others, as well as my view on the best study material (video courses and textbooks), and the difference between the SIE Exam and Series 7 Top-Off. Hope you glean some other tidbits from it too!
SIE Exam Difficulty: Step Up to the Starting Line
On your 18th birthday you have not only earned your right to vote in the United States, but also to take FINRA’s SIE exam. It might not be the milestone most associate with their 18th birthday, but if you want a future in the securities industry, it’s not a bad idea to start studying around that time. However, chances are that as an 18-year-old, it might take you a few months to ramp up.
That said, whether you’re 18 years old without any background in finance, or 45 years old without any background in finance, the answers to the SIE exam’s multiple choice questions can be just as elusive. The SIE exam is hard for some people for the same reason that any new subject is difficult.
To this point, in my experience with students, the SIE Exam difficulty is not so much due to the challenging nature of the questions. It’s more due to the novelty of the content. For those with no background in finance, it can be like learning another language. Take your time to look up definitions when you don’t know them. Investopedia is a great resource for this. Admittedly, I still use it, and I’ve been in the industry for well over a decade. If this sounds like you, as an SIE exam tutor, I would highly recommend that you leave yourself at least two months to study.
A Prior Education in Finance Will Mitigate the SIE exam difficulty for you
Now for those of you with economics, finance, or business degrees. There is likely going to be less of a learning curve to climb. In fact, I know some students that have walked into the exam without studying at all and passed (Note: This is a rare exception!).
One way to lessen the SIE exam difficulty, is to buy the right study books. Your SIE Exam study material (see below) can be a major factor in how well you do, and how long it takes you to study. We recommend you stick to the “sure thing” when it comes to study material (STC is our go-to, and most effective in our view). Once you start scoring over 85% on their practice exams, then you’re good to go.
In some situations however, the SIE exam will be hard even for those of you with a business degree. Investment experience can also help. Order types, Options, and Bonds often get less attention in traditional college-level course curriculum than in the real-world. The SIE exam is fairly theoretical, but still has a healthy dose of real-world curriculum. The more personal investing experience you have, the more you will be able to relate to the material.
You need to get a score of 70%, or higher, to pass. During your SIE exam prep, be honest with yourself about how much knowledge you have going in. If you have a hard time defining a “stock” or “bond” for example, then you should expect to take about two months to study on average. Very few people can pass with only a week or two of studying.
The longer you spend time learning the curriculum, the more confident you’ll be, and better your odds of success.
SIE Exam Study Material: My Top Choices for Passing
The SIE Exam study material that you select will also help your odds of success. This is not the same exam that your boss took to get into the securities industry. Hence, don’t look to him or her for much guidance (they will have advice but it’s rarely helpful, and often counterproductive – I see this all the time unfortunately!). Your best bet is to stick with advice from the pros. Fortunately, as an experienced SIE exam tutor, I fall into (or at least close to) that category! 😉
In this post, I’m going to give you my top choices for the best SIE exam study material out there.
There are a lot of video courses out there. Many don't do more than regurgitate the textbook, and therefore add little value. Others claim to be really good, or have an entertaining instructor, but don't go into much depth. What we have found with most students is that they only need video courses to explain really hard concepts. Learning the rules and regulations for example don't usually require learning via a video. Explaining hard concepts like Options, Annuities, and Bonds may benefit you however. Our video courses provide the detail you need to understand complex topics (for a reasonable price!), and we leave out the easier stuff for your textbooks. For a quick look at what we offer, here's a taste:
Speaking of textbooks, we have some thoughts on those too...
Old Faithful(s): STC and Kaplan
The ultimate SIE exam study material are from the masters of the financial exam education industry: STC and Kaplan. Their content overlaps of course, so there is no need to buy both. So then, what are the differences between the two? Let’s take a look at each.
SIE Exam Study Material: Kaplan
While it remains early days in my SIE tutoring (Note: not for lack of know-how but because it’s a new exam – I tutored the same material for years for the Series 7), some preliminary feedback that I’ve received from my students when it comes to Kaplan is that they are more clear in explaining concepts in their text. This was also true for the Series 7 study material. The language that they use is straight forward, and easy to understand.
Another nice component of Kaplan’s SIE exam study material is the company’s QBank. Kaplan provides a large supply of practice questions in this QBank. While STC also provides a nice supply in the form of practice exams, Kaplan’s questions can be broken out by topic and allows you to drill-down on specific areas. Importantly however, the QBank (for the SIE only!) has had some mixed reviews from my students (explained more later in the guide).
SIE Exam Study Material: STC
The main resource for SIE exam study material that I would recommend is the Securities Training Corporation (STC). Anecdotally speaking, many more of my students use the STC than Kaplan for the SIE. STC not only seems to be the curriculum of choice for most broker/dealers on Wall Street and their financial advisors, but also the best. They have been the mainstay of financial licensing study material for a very long time. Furthermore, their practice exams will provide you with a reliably accurate view – based on your scores - of where you’re at in your study progression. STC’s SIE Exam study material is extremely thorough and their practice tests are excellent. As tutors we heavily favor content that provides us with a clear picture of our students’ progress, and STC does just that.
STC offers classes in major cities around the country, but the package that I see most often purchased is their “Premier Package.” This package includes study material and practice questions/exams. It is the most helpful study material out there, in my view.
Although you only need a score of 70% to pass the SIE exam, I highly encourage my students to aim for 80% or higher on these practice questions. Why? I have never had a student get over 80% on their STC practice exams and fail their exam. Unfortunately I can’t say the same has been observed for those with the same scores on Kaplan’s practice exams.
Overall, the SIE exam study material you choose matters. There are many options out there, but you can’t go wrong with STC. Others such as Pass Perfect and Training Consultants are helpful, but STC is by far the most reliable from what I see among our students. To make sense of whatever content you were given, feel free to reach out and/or book a tutor. We have tutored with all of the top curricula out there!
Failed SIE Exam? How to Avoid This Outcome
To avoid a failed SIE exam, one thing that I highly recommend is…efficient studying. What do I mean by that? Below I highlight what I believe are some valuable tidbits worth knowing before you take the SIE exam.
A Failed SIE Exam: When Studying Is Not the Problem
As mentioned above, the easiest way to avoid a failed SIE exam is to study efficiently. If you score over 90% consistently on your practice questions (and you haven’t just memorized them), chances are that you will pass the SIE exam. If you have studied for over six weeks and you can’t crack the 70% ceiling on your practice tests, it might not be what you’ve studied but how you’ve studied.
As an SIE exam tutor I have run into this scenario many times. When you feel as if you have peaked on your practice exams, it is most likely because you have memorized most of the material, and do not fully understand the content to its core. Memory work will only get you so far.
There are two simple solutions to this: 1) Use Investopedia for every word that you don’t understand – Investopedia is like the “Wikipedia” for investment terms, and is a tremendous help, in my view – and make sure not to skip over content that you don’t understand, and/or; 2) Consider a tutor. Yes, I realize this may seem like a shameless plug, but a tutor will really help you take your studying to the next level. It’s better to understand the content than to simply memorize it. A tutor will help get you there.
Beware of What You Study
Are the practice questions close to those on the real exam? Try to answer this question before you start studying if you can.
For example, I have heard in multiple instances from students that Kaplan’s QBank practice questions are much easier than the actual questions asked on the SIE exam. On the other hand, STC is an excellent resource for SIE exam study material and has consistently prepared my students for their exam. It’s worth pointing out that on multiple occasions when I have encouraged a switch from Kaplan material to STC, my students’ practice scores have dropped by 10% or more – which consistently turned out to be a more accurate representation of where the student was at in their studying. The overarching point here is to be aware of the source from which you choose to study.
That said, there are not a ton of options out there. Knopman and STC are among the best in my opinion. Pass Perfect is also a popular choice among employers but are known to be quite difficult (almost overly so). Many of my past students at Professional Exam Tutoring reported having trouble absorbing Past Perfect’s challenging curriculum and practice questions as we reviewed them. Rather than waded into the material, many feel the company throws you into the deep end and leaves it up to you to figure out how to swim. Although I would agree that different methods work for different students, to avoid being stumped when you sit for your exam, check message boards, or ask around your office. Find out what type of material would best suit you.
The FINRA Practice Test is a Great Resource
Another tidbit worth knowing to avoid a failed SIE exam is that FINRA’s practice test is an excellent study resource. In fact, it is one of the BEST resources you can use, in my opinion. FINRA’s SIE practice test offers 75 practice questions that will be different from those of your study sources. Many students end up memorizing their practice questions from STC or Knopman after a couple months, so changing it up is helpful.
Importantly, there is a good chance that some of the questions that show up on the exam are close to the practice test on FINRA’s website. It seems to me that FINRA would not want to do more work than necessary, so logically one could expect that some of the same questions may show up in both places.
Overall, a failed SIE exam is not hard to avoid if you follow the above approaches. Strive to achieve no less than 80% on your practice tests during your SIE exam prep. Keep in mind my test-taking tidbits and you should be just fine.
SIE Exam Prep: How and When Do I Start?
Well, you now know how to avoid a failed SIE Exam, but you might be wondering: How (and when) should I start my SIE exam prep? Below I outline some study resources that will be helpful in your SIE journey. I’ll also give my thoughts on when you should start looking into them.
Ok, plug your nose. Let’s dive in.
SIE Exam Prep: When Should I Start Studying?
The question of when to start your SIE exam prep is a good one. I used to have many students ask if they should take the Series 7 exam before they had a job, only to find out that they needed to be sponsored by a FINRA member firm. The good news (and bad news if you don’t like studying), is that this sponsorship requirement does not exist for the SIE exam. Thus, you can (and should, in my opinion) begin your SIE prep as soon as you can. You will save yourself a lot of stress later on. Many employers will not allow you to study at work, so if you can get your studying done ahead of time then you’ll save yourself the study time later (at least for this exam).
If you are in college and plan to head into a career working for a FINRA member, then you should start your SIE exam prep ASAP. Not sure who might be considered a FINRA member? Here is a fairly comprehensive list. If you pass the SIE exam before starting a job, you will be much more marketable. It might not be what you want to hear, but some real talk: employers would rather that you invest in you, than they invest in you. Any leg-up that you can get in the dog-eat-dog world of Wall Street will help!
SIE Exam Prep: Ok, I’ll Start Studying. But Where Should I Begin?
As mentioned above, the leading content providers have the best study material. STC is the “gold standard” in my view, and has a robust curriculum. The SIE Exam prep material is very similar to the original Series 7 exam. The focus of the SIE exam is on understanding the products and types of securities in the industry. For example, you will need to know the basic characteristics of a bond, a stock, options, annuities, and many other financial products.
SIE Exam Prep: I’m in College and Don’t Have Time
(But Still Want to Take the SIE Exam)
This is where we come in at Professional Exam Tutoring. Just like I believe you should go to STC for the best curriculum for your SIE exam prep, I also think that you should stick with the best tutors out there if you want to cut down on your exam study time. The benefits of an SIE exam tutor are wide ranging. From personalized attention when learning the content, to detailed breakdowns of challenging concepts (e.g., convertible bonds, annuities, etc.). Using us as your tutor will help you cut your study time down massively.
That said, either way you will need to practice, practice, practice! You will (and should) spend plenty of time during your SIE exam prep taking practice questions. As a college student (or someone fresh out of college), you know the benefits of a high GPA. It signals to others that you are intelligent, and/or work hard. Keep this in mind. A passed SIE exam will send a similar signal. When employers compare you with others in the hiring process, the more prepared you are for the job the better.
All in all, I hope some of these tips help! For more, check out our SIE exam cheat sheet here.
SIE Text: Which Should You Buy?
What My Students Are Saying…
[Updated 10-16-19] The SIE Text from which you decide to study can be extremely important. At this point the SIE exam has been tested for over a year. Over this period, I have tutored hundreds of students for the exam and have a much better sense of what works, and what doesn’t.
Below I reiterate our favorite text but also specifically highlight what my students are saying about the study material that they use.
SIE Text: Top Pick
Which SIE text is best when it comes to studying? Time and again, my students answer: STC.
Also known as the Securities Training Corporation, the company has been in the business of educating professionals for decades. They specialize in FINRA exams, and their content is thorough.
I have specifically reviewed all of their material as an SIE exam tutor. My ultimate conclusion is that STC certainly hits the mark when it comes to effectively explaining relevant subject material, accompanied by practice questions that consistently lead to scores that seem fairly representative of how a student might fare on the real exam. In other words, the large majority of my students that score in the high 70s or low 80s on STC practice tests, tend to pass the real exam. In fact, to date, I have had no students score in the high 70s on STC’s practice exams, and then fail the SIE exam.
Now for the Other SIE Exam Texts…
Although I believe Kaplan/Schweser is the premier choice when it comes to CFA exam prep, it seems to be less of a favorite as a SIE text of choice for my students. Although I don’t have exact numbers, anecdotally speaking, many of my students that come seek out my tutoring services after a failed SIE exam, report having used Kaplan study material prior to failing.
Please note that this may just be a fluke, although it has been observed from dozens of students. That said, the feedback I have received largely centers around what I mentioned above, namely that the questions from Kaplan’s “QBank” are too easy, when compared with those on the actual exam.
When it comes to Knopman Marks, the feedback is a little more positive but the company rarely seems to be a first-choice pick so I don’t see their material as often. On the other hand, Pass Perfect, is used by a large minority of my students. From their feedback, consensus is that Pass Perfect’s questions are a little too hard, especially for those completely new to the industry. The company appears to thoroughly instruct their students, but the most common complaint I hear is that there is too much irrelevant content – specifically, many practice questions include concepts that go much more in-depth than what seems likely to be tested.
When it comes to the SIE vs Series 7 the verdict is not too different. For texts, STC remains a top choice among my students, however Kaplan’s QBank in the case of the Series 7 Top-Off Exam is arguably superior than STC’s practice questions. Overall, Kaplan is a large and capable company so I anticipate that their SIE curriculum may improve. For the time being however, when you buy your SIE text, I recommend sticking with STC.
SIE vs Series 7 Exam: What’s the Difference?
I receive a lot of questions about the SIE vs Series 7 exam. Specifically, what’s the difference between the two? And, how much harder is one than the other?
Here I highlight the main differences and difficulties of the two exams. On your way to becoming a Registered Representative, you should be as informed as possible…and this is a good first step to getting there.
SIE vs Series 7 Exam: Some Key Differences
If you were a SIE exam tutor or Series 7 tutor like me, identifying differences in the SIE vs Series 7 could be easy. Of course, not everyone aims toward such stratospheric aspirations so let me explain. 😉
First of all, for as hard as it seems for many (especially those with no finance background), the SIE exam is the much easier exam. The SIE is an introductory exam and is much more high level than the Series 7 exam. FINRA‘s aim is that the SIE exam be accessible to those without a broker-dealer sponsor, and for the curriculum to be equally as accessible. Thus, a basic competency level of knowledge is needed to pass. You just need to make sure that you have the right SIE exam study material, and enough time to study.
While the topics included in the SIE and Series 7 exams overlap (e.g., Bonds, Equities, Options, Annuities, etc.), the SIE exam stays in much shallower waters. Most of the definitions that you need to know for the SIE exam are straightforward, and there is very little math on the actual exam. In fact, many of my students have mentioned that they rarely needed to pick up their calculator for the SIE Exam.
The Series 7 Goes Deeper
On the other hand, the Series 7 exam is a different story. The main culprits for a failed Series 7 exam are the exam’s increased detail and difficulty. The Series 7 exam is essentially a much more difficult SIE exam. It has 125 questions (plus 10 extra that don’t count toward your score) vs 75 for the SIE exam. A key difference in the SIE vs Series 7 is that the content goes much deeper for the Series 7.
For example, in the Options section of the Series 7 exam, you need to know how to handle more complex strategies such as straddles, spreads, etc. In the SIE exam you can get away with simply memorizing key attributes around puts/calls. The Series 7 exam also tends to create a lot of confusion around difficult sections such as Debt Securities, and Margin, as it is more quantitative and requires calculations. Options, Debt Securities, and Margins are the topics that are most frequently requested by those looking for a tutor.
Although many of the rules you need to memorize for the exam overlap (E.g., Rule 144, SEC Act of 1933/1934, etc.) in the SIE vs Series 7 exams, the Series 7 exam is more detailed and may have more questions from each of these sections. Unfortunately, you won’t get away with passing without some memory work.
In closing, when it comes to the SIE vs Series 7, both take some time to learn. Leave yourself at least a month to study for the SIE exam, and two months for the Series 7 exam (I realize that sometimes your boss might not be that generous). Take both one step at a time. I have taught students with no finance background that passed each of them. With a little focus, and a lot of hard work, you can pass both too!
What should you do now?
As we have said, the SIE exam difficulty level is hard to pinpoint exactly. 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.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Question: How much time should I leave myself to study for the exam?
In general terms, it will probably take you between 1 week and 12 weeks. For expert test takers, and those with a background in finance, you can probably conquer this exam in a week (or less). For the average person however, it will typically take 45 days. Expect over a month to read the textbook, study, and do enough practice questions to be ready for the exam. We have a small (but significant) fraction of clients that need three months or more to prepare. If you have no experience in finance, or are switching careers, and/or have no education in finance this may be you. On average, from our experience, it appears that the more experience/education, the better.
Question: Is STC the only SIE study material that will lead to a passing grade?
The short answer is, no. I have seen students use all sorts of SIE study material and still pass the exam. Kaplan, Training Consultants, Greico, Knopman, Pass Perfect, and many others can still get you across the finish line. That said, as SIE tutors, we have had the most consistent success with with STC.
Question: What are the most important topics that I should cover for the SIE when I'm studying?
The SIE Exam is a relatively broad exam that covers large swaths of material. There is no particular area tested that vastly outweighs other sections - the same cannot be said of the Series 7 Top-Off. Thus, your best bet is to ensure that you have read every section of the textbook, and have a wide understanding of the material. The concepts are fairly straightforward on average, although many people have issues with Options, Bonds, and Annuities. It may be beneficial to focus on these challenging sections, but don't overdo it. It's not a specialist's exam.
Question: Where can I find more SIE practice questions?
The most effective SIE practice questions come from STC. Specifically, STC's practice exams. That said, FINRA's practice test for the SIE is also another great resource. This practice test may give you a good idea of what FINRA has planned. We advise our students to take the practice test at least twice. The first time, take it once you have covered all the material, and then take it again when your exam date is a few days away. It's best to stay fresh and material that comes from the source.
Question: Should I read the whole textbook?
For most people, yes. For some, not necessarily. There is a lot of memory work for the SIE Exam. Customer Accounts, rules, and regulations need to be memorized for instance. As such, we recommend you certainly read those parts of the textbook. The only time we believe reading portions of the texbook is not necessary is when your studying is supplemented by a tutor. Don't try and figure it all out on the fly (and without guidance). A tutor will help you demystify the complex topics (think Options). However, even with our help on the complicated chapters there will be tidbits you need to memorize - where we can't help you. Play it safe, and read the entire textbook at least once.