By Bart Mallon, Esq.
Discussion about How to Take and Pass the Series 34 Exam
On Thursday I took the Series 34 Exam and I passed. I answered 30 out of 40 questions correctly for a 75% (it takes a 70% score to pass). This score is not as good as I had hoped for, but it is good for a couple of reasons. First, it proves that anyone can pass these exams without buying expensive study guides (I created a free Series 34 exam study guide). Secondly, the exam gave me an opportunity to really see which areas the NFA is going to focus on therefore which areas of the study guide I needed to improve.
My scores broke down as follows:
- Definitions and Terminology 7 of 10 (70%)
- Forex Trading Calculations 6 of 8 (75%)
- Risks Associated with Forex Trading 3 of 4 (75%)
- Forex Market – Concepts, Theories, Economic Factors and Indicators, Participants 6 of 10 (60%)
- Forex Regulatory Requirements 8 of 8 (100% – did you expect anything else from a forex attorney?)
Total Correct: 30 of 40
Time to complete the exam – approximately 42 minutes
What I exactly did to study for the exam
The way that I studied for the exam is likely to be different than the way that you study for the exam. The time I spent creating definitions for each test topic can be spent memorizing the concepts and defintions. As a brief overview, here is how I studied:
1. Research to create free series 34 study guide. Initially I researched all of the topics which were listed in the NFA study outline. This took a good chunk of time as I had to read information from many different forex resources and then synthesize the information into a short description that I could understand and that would hopefully be helpful to forex managers. Much of this research involved summarizing original NFA sources including NFA rules, interpretive releases and notices to members. I also read through some of the good forex trading resources and provided links to these resources as appropriate.
2. Created note cards. After creating and posting the items on the checklist, I created note cards which were based on the study guide. After creating the note cards I went through them a few times – I would imagine that it was about 8-10 times all the way through all together. This is obviously not very much, but by creating the note cards I was able to ingrain the concepts faster. There were a few concepts which I needed a little extra help with so I would focus on these note cards.
3. Exam questions. Two nights before the exam I reviewed the practice questions which I created. I made a total of 16 fairly tough questions before the exam. The night before the exam I re-read through all of the exam questions again.
4. Final review. On the night right before the exam I did a final real through of the important NFA resources and the forex trading guide. I also did more drilling with my note cards and reviewed the exam questions a final time. I also started an overview sheet which I will turn into another quick glance resource for this website.
Why I did not score as high as I would like
I have taken and passed a number of different proficiency exams which are administered by FINRA – the series 3, the series 7, the series 24, the series 63, the series 65, and now the series 34. For each of these previous exams I prepared much better and accordingly received much higher scores. Generally my scores were in the high 80% range (I don’t have the print outs anymore). Here, my scores were not as high and I think it is for a couple of reasons:
1. I did not do any practice calculations. There were around five questions which really required the use of a calculator. These questions included basic and more advanced calculations related to the actual profits and losses on positions. There was also a question dealing with the price per pip calculation. I feel that the reason I struggled with this part of the exam is that I did not really do any sort of practice problems on these types of calculations – I simply memorized the example I used in the definition. I don’t believe that this is good enough if you want to make sure you will pass – because of this, I am going to create more practice questions related to the actual calculations.
Be prepared to use the calculator on the exam. As an additional tip, do not spend too much time on one single problem – I must have spent a good 10 minutes on one calculation problem and after my calculations, I didn’t even come up with the right answer. For this question I just had to guess. There was another calculation problem which I made a more educated guess on as well.
2. I did not focus really any of my study time on shorting currency pairs. Because I spent no time even thinking about this, I was a bit unprepared for a couple of problems which discussed this as a possibility. These questions were generally pretty basic questions and from previous study I was able to answer them correctly (I think). For these questions I think that the series 3 exam and the series 7 exam helped in terms of general investment management knowledge.
3. Ambiguously stated regulatory terms. The exam included at least one question with ambiguously stated regulatory terms. I believe the question made reference to a Member and Associated Member of some sort of regulated body. These terms are not precise and do not make sense – there is no such thing as an associated member. As I have discussed before the NFA is a self regulatory organization (SRO). Firms must be Members of this SRO and the employees of the firm are termed “Associated Persons” or “Principals.” I was not sure if this question was making reference to APs of a NFA Member firm. I cannot remember how this worked out and I may have switched my answer at the very end (something you are not supposed to do). This is one of the frustrating things about FINRA exams in general – it is not necessarily how much you know, but that you know how to take the exam. This is more true with regard to the Series 7 and other exams, but it still holds true for this on
4. Current Account, Capital Account, Balance of Trade and Balance of Payments. I did not understand these concepts during my studies and still do not understand them. The one phrase that I remembered is that the BOT is the largest part of BOP….and this was on the exam in some form. I think there might have been another question on these issues which I likely answered incorrectly.
A note about pacing through the exam
One of the nice things about FINRA exams is that they always follow a very similar pattern. At the beginning of the exam the questions will be easy and you will probably breeze through the first 5-8 questions. From there the questions will begin to get tougher and somewhere around questions 20-28ish there are likely to questions which seem impossible. It is at this point when the despair usually begins to kick in – REMEMBER THIS and keep it all in perspective. You can miss a lot of questions and still pass. After you make it though the tougher questions, the end is easy and you will likely breeze through the last 10 questions or so. Like I said this is a common feature of FINRA exams and I have had the same exact feeling in each exam and really believed that I may not pass.
On the day of the exam
I scheduled my exam for 8:00am. I always try to schedule these exams for the morning for a few reasons, the most important of which is that I just want to get the exam done with. If I schedule the exam in the afternoon I am going to spend the day being distracted and trying to get extra studying in – this is just me, you should schedule your exam for the time you think you will be able to do your best.
I woke up at 5:40am, took out the dog, took a shower and was at the coffee shop by about 6:10. I had a coffee and a bagel with cream cheese and then made my way to the bus stop. I waited for the bus and went through my note cards on the bus ride down to the exam center. After I got dropped off and walked to my exam center, it was 7:10am and I had a few minutes to kill before I was supposed to be at the center (FINRA recommends being at the testing center a half hour before the time which the exam starts). I found a nearby bench and continued to go through my flash cards. At 7:30am I made my way to the exam center and there were 7 people who were there before me. I waited for the lady to check me in and I was finally seated by about 8:05am. After the exam I was given my print out and was on my way. I would recommend eating more than I did; usually I am a bit more prepared but it seems to have turned out ok.
How would I study for the exam knowing what I know now.
The most important thing about this exercise of taking the exam is that I can share my experience with you before you take the exam. Knowing what I know now, I would have modified my studying a little bit. By far the easiest part of the exam were the regulatory questions – these were very basic and they could have been made harder. The regulatory questions which I have included in my practice questions are harder (note: the structure of the regulatory questions may change in the future so I have deliberately made tougher questions with regard to the regulations). As I said before there was a good mix of calculations which were necessary, so I would have focused on this more – during my study time I did not once touch a calculator. I would have ingrained the American Terms and European Terms into my head from the beginning (this would have made it easier for me to focus on the concept tested instead of trying to first remember the definition). These two terms user used to describe exchange rate quotes in many different contexts. Besides these relatively minor modifications, I would have studied in a very similar matter – that is, making note cards, reading, making study guides, focusing on parts I was not quite as confident about, etc.
For those persons who have not taken a FINRA exam before I highly recommend purchasing a study guide (or more than one study guide) which includes multiple exam prep questions. Doing a large number of questions will help you when taking the actual exam. The good thing is that you will generally take the series 3 exam before you take the series 34 exam and the series 3 is much more difficult than the series 34. If you passed the 3 you will have an understanding of the pace of the exams, the types and styles of questions, and how to deal with more of the pedantic parts of the exam taking process (like showing up before, signing in, etc).
I would imagine that it would take someone 20 to 30 hours to properly prepare for the exam, spread out over a week or two weeks. If someone is diligent about putting in this study time, there should be no problem passing the exam. If you have specific questions, I have tried to answer these in other parts of the website. Also, please feel free to contact me or leave a question below.
Reason for taking the exam – Forex Attorney and Develop Free Study Guide
As you may know I am an attorney with a practice focused on helping hedge fund managers start their hedge funds. I also have a related compliance business which focuses on helping forex managers and forex introducing brokers register with the NFA (please see my other site devoted to forex registration information). Through these ventures, I have clients who are involved in the forex area in many different respects and it is likely that these clients (including forex hedge fund managers) will need to take this test sometime in the future. I believe that as a lawyer I am more effective if I can give my clients actual advice based on personal experience.
I also wanted to develop a free exam prep guide for the community – there is no reason why you should need to spend money on a study guide for this exam. I am hoping that members of the community will be able to add to the guide over time and we can develop this into a very useful resource.
The Series 34 Exam is a passable exam and I believe I have provided forex managers with a lot of good information on the exam through these posts and through the free study guide. Please help me to continue to make this resource and website useful for forex managers.