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Taking a licensing exam is a nerve-wracking experience. You've spent weeks learning new concepts and terms, taken countless practice quizzes and exams, and chances are that your career is dependent on passing the exam.  Even after all your preparation, there's one more unknown that comes into play:  The Testing Center.  If you've never taken a licensing exam, or if it's been along time since you've had to walk through those doors, you likely don't know what to expect.  Below is a step-by-step guide to the Testing Center, and some tips to help you prepare.

Who conducts the exams? FINRA has contracted with two vendors to administer the licensing exams on its behalf.  The two vendors are Pearson Vue (www.pearsonvue.com or 866-396-6273) and Prometric (www.prometric.com or 800-578-6273).

Where are the testing centers? Pearson Vue and Prometric have locations across the country with testing centers in most major metropolitan areas.  Since you may have to drive some distance to take your exam, find the locations nearest you by visiting the Pearson Vue and Prometric websites.  FINRA also provides a list of both vendors’ testing sites at http://apps.finra.org/TestCenter/1/locations.aspx.

What is the layout of the testing center? Most testing centers have a reception area where you will be greeted and checked in.  A bank of lockers in the reception area allows you to secure your belongings.  A separate testing room, often visible from the reception area, is set up with individual testing carrels.  You will be assigned to a testing carrel, and your exam will be loaded into the computer at your carrel.  Surveillance cameras are focused on each testing carrel.  Your actions will be recorded.

What are the check-in procedures? Standard check-in procedures may require that you:

  • Provide a valid government-issued photo ID bearing your signature
  • Be photographed
  • Be scanned with a metal-detector wand prior to entering the testing room. If you leave the room to take a break, you will be scanned again before re-entering the room.
  • Raise your pant legs above the ankles and shirt sleeves above the wrists, and turn all pockets inside-out before each entry into the testing room
  • Be fingerprinted or have your palm scanned
  • Sign a logbook before entering the testing room

What can I take into the testing room? While you can bring your personal belongings into the testing center, you will be required to put virtually everything in a locker before entering the testing room.  You will be permitted to keep the key to the locker on your person at all times.  The following is a partial list of items that you may not take into the testing room:

  • Phones
  • Calculators
  • Notes
  • Food and beverages (including water)
  • Pens/pencils/scratch paper
  • Wallet
  • Purse
  • Watches
  • Outerwear
  • Tissues

Certain medications and other medical necessities may be allowed in the testing room either after obtaining authorization from FINRA and/or it is inspected by testing center staff. Additional information as to what can be taken into the testing room can be found on FINRA's site at http://www.finra.org/industry/test-center-security-guidelines.

What is provided in the testing room? You will be provided with a pencil and scratch paper, or dry-erase markers and acetate sheets where you can jot down notes and do calculations.  You will also be provided with a basic calculator and earplugs.

May I take breaks during the exam? You may take restroom breaks during your exam, but the timer keeps on ticking!  You may not leave the building during restroom breaks, and you are not permitted to access the contents of your locker or any study materials or make phone calls without first obtaining permission from the testing center's staff.  Repeated and/or lengthy breaks will be reported to FINRA.  You should raise your hand if you would like to take a break and a testing center staff member will escort you out of the testing room.  You must sign out each time you exit the testing room, and will be required to complete the check-in procedures before re-entering the testing room.

Some exams, such as the Series 7, are conducted in two parts, and you are required to take a break between the two sessions; the break may be up to 60 minutes long. You will be required to submit your answers to the questions in the first session before taking this break.  You will be allowed to access your locker and leave the testing center during this break.

When can I sign up for my exam? You must complete Form U-4, and your firm must submit the form to FINRA and open a 120-day window for you to take your exam.  Once the window is open, you may schedule your exam.

How do I schedule my exam? Depending on which testing center you choose, contact Pearson Vue (www.pearsonvue.com or 866-396-6273) or Prometric (www.prometric.com or 800-578-6273) to schedule your exam.  The testing center requires:

  • Your full name and CRD number (your CRD number is assigned by FINRA when you submit your Form U-4)
  • The phone number where you or your firm can be reached
  • The name of the exam you're taking (e.g., Series 7, Series 66)

Can I cancel my exam once it's been scheduled? Yes, you may cancel your exam after it’s been scheduled, but FINRA may charge you a rescheduling fee.  Details can be found at http://www.finra.org/industry/reschedule-or-cancel-your-appointment.

Can I check out the testing center before sitting for my exam? Prometric offers a "Test Drive" program at the testing center, allowing you to walk through the check-in and testing procedures that will occur on test day so you know what to expect.  The Test Drive costs $30 and includes check-in, ID confirmation, documentation checking, image capture, seating, tutorial, a generic sample test, a survey of the experience, an end-of-test report, and check-out.  Once checked in, you'll be exposed to the full testing experience described above, in addition to the use of lockers, testing at a computer for 15 minutes, and exposure to test center employee walk-throughs, which occur during any actual test.  Additionally, by driving to the testing center in advance, you can familiarize yourself with the parking situation, the location of the testing suite, and the time it takes to drive to the center.  If you’re a person with high anxiety of the unknown, a test drive may just be the ticket to set your mind at ease on the appointed day.

Being fully prepared when you sit for your exam includes an understanding of the Testing Center’s protocol upon your arrival. However, it also includes mastering the materials you will be tested on and successfully answering the exam questions.

For more helpful tips for passing your exam, see our other blogs, including Staying Calm and Using Flashcards to Prepare for Your Licensing Exam.