Overcoming Test Anxiety for NASAA and FINRA Exams

By: Kaplan Financial Education
March 22, 2019
Anxious woman staring at a pile of books as she prepares to study for a securities exam

Most people experience some anxiety before taking a big exam; however, when worry and self-doubt start interfering with your test-taking abilities, you may be experiencing test anxiety. Trying to pass a FINRA exam is stressful enough without this added burden. Reviewing test-taking strategies, setting a study schedule and getting into a healthy routine will help you ease some of your anxiety around the test. The more you prepare yourself for the material and for the exam process in general, the less intimidating the test will be.

That said, there are a number of things you can do in your preparations to build confidence and ease your mind. These tips were put together by our expert securities instructors to overcome test anxiety.

Get Into a Study Routine Early

As soon as you have decided to take the test, get into a study routine. A steady, regular study method gives you confidence and lets the material “ripen” in your mind. Exam preparation packages can go a long way toward helping you establish good study habits. Your retention will increase dramatically with regular studying compared to a frantic push at the end. Balance your studying between the License Exam Manual and Question Bank so you don’t burn out of either. Be sure to take a day off to rest your mind when you need to. 

Get into a Good Sleep Routine

Getting a good night’s sleep before the exam is important to reducing anxiety and being at your best. Anxiety can obviously interfere with sleep, making it a vicious cycle. Getting into a good sleep routine a few weeks before the exam can help you sleep well the night before the exam. Experts recommend avoiding electronics, alcohol, and late-night eating right before bed—they can all keep you from falling or staying asleep. Figure out what works for you and stick to the routine.

Learn the Exam Process

The more you know about what to expect on the day of your FINRA exam, the fewer surprises you will encounter. This will allow you to solely focus on the exam content itself. Check out this article about what happens on the day of your FINRA exam.

Find the Testing Center

If you have not been to the testing center before, you may want to make a trial run so you know exactly where you’re going. If the testing center is inside an office building, make the extra effort to park your car and go inside to find it. This will give you confidence that you know exactly where to go on exam day.

Taking the SIE exam? Download the free eBook, A Candidate's Complete Guide to the SIE Exam, for valuable information about the test contents and the securities licensing process.

Disable the Timer Feature on Kaplan Practice Exams

If ticking time provokes your anxiety, you can disable the timer feature when you practice with Kaplan. Contact the Kaplan Student Support team at contactus@kaplan.com, and they will disable the timer feature for you.

Request Special Accommodations from FINRA

Upon a formal request for special accommodations, FINRA does offer services that include extra examination administration time and private testing rooms. Visit FINRA’s accommodations page for more information about how to apply and what accommodations are available. Be sure to complete the application process in advance. It takes 2 to 3 business days for FINRA to process your request and offer you accommodations.

On Exam Day, Get There Early

Plan to arrive at the testing center 30 minutes early. Being early means you’ll have plenty of time to check in and find where you are supposed to go. It will also give you some time to collect your thoughts before the exam starts.

Take a Break During the Exam

Plan on taking a short break during the exam and walk to the restroom to refresh. A splash of cool water and a little alone time will allow you to breathe and regather your thoughts. Ask the test center how to do it. Spending 3 to 5 minutes on a break during the middle of the exam will allow you to focus on the last half of the test and finish strong. Even the pros get a halftime!

Take Deep Breaths

A normal reaction to stress is to take shallow breaths. Therefore, to relax a bit, take a few deep breaths. Hold each breath for 3 to 5 seconds and then let it out slowly. Occasionally breathing like this during the exam will help slow your heart rate and calm your thoughts.

Take the Questions One Bite at a Time

Remember the old adage: “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.” If, during the actual test, you consider it as an elephant, which you can eat one question at a time, you will relax. You can do a one-question exam, right? Do your best on each question as it comes up. Then move to the next...one bite at a time.

Keep Your Customers’ Best Interests in Mind

There will be questions posed to you during the exam that you have never seen before, and you should expect that. Always approach questions with your customers’ best interests in mind. It will help you sleuth out the correct answers to the questions.

Avoid Changing Answers and Second-Guessing Yourself

FINRA isn't trying to trick or fool anybody. Everything you need to answer a question correctly is always right there. Generally, when you change answers, it's because you are reading (or attempting to read) between the lines. Trust your gut and keep moving forward.


If you are looking for exam prep help, consider a Securities Study Package from Kaplan Financial Education. Choose from our live, online, and self-study options. 

Free Download:A Candidate's Complete Guide to the SIE Exam

After identifying nine series exams with common content (6, 7, 22, 57, 79, 82, 86/87, 99), FINRA decided to restructure their licensing process. The common content is now tested in the new Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam. Download this free guide to learn more about how the new securities licensing process works, the rationale for the change, SIE tested exam content, and how it could change hiring and recruiting practices.