Series 7 Top-Off Exam Deep Dive: Content Breakdown and Preparing for the Exam

Series 7 Top-Off Exam Deep Dive: Content Breakdown and Preparing for the Exam

Alright, you’ve taken the SIE (Securities Industry Essentials) Exam, but now it’s time for you to take the Series 7 Top-Off exam? Don’t worry – while this exam is a step up in difficulty, you can easily tackle it by building on what you’ve learned so far. We’ll also share some important test taking tips that will give you the edge on test day. Let’s begin.


Series 7 Content Breakdown

Let’s start preparing by looking at what the content of the test is composed of. If you’re going by topic, here’s what you can expect:


# Questions

% of Test

Investment Companies



Taxes & Tax Shelters


















Trading Markets



Customer Accounts



New Issues






This chart may vary slightly based on how the content of your specific book line up with the FINRA syllabus, but this rubric is a great starting point.

Now, digging into the content by sub-topic, you can get much more specific about what to expect. Let’s analyze the sections, starting with the largest:

Regulations – 50 questions – 20% of the exam

  • 10 Securities Act of 1933
  • 10 Securities Exchange Act of 1934
  • 10 Other Federal Regulations
  • 10 FINRA Rules
  • 6 MSRB Rules
  • 4 CBOE Rules

Regulations is mostly about memorizing trivia items and rules. You need to know the rules if you’re going to advise clients on how to invest their money. Treat preparing for these questions like memorizing vocabulary – leverage flashcard-style materials like Quizlet – Series 7 Regulations Chapter and study them early and often.


Debt – 40 Questions – 16% of the exam

  • 6 – Bond Basics
  • 5 – Corporate Bonds
  • 9 – Government Bonds
    • 4 – Treasury Securities
    • 5 – CMOs & Mortgage Backed Securities
  • 13 – Municipal Bonds
  • 5 – Money Market Instruments / Structured Products
  • 1 – Eurodollar Bonds

All about debt products, which are a substantial part of what’s traded in the market. The big items to keep an eye out here are the formulas and rules that you’ll need to do the (thankfully pretty basic) math, and a lot of nuance about the differences between the various types of bonds. It helps some people to make a spreadsheet as they study to keep their math notes in one place.


Investment Companies – 25 Questions – 10% of the exam

This topic goes over all of the main different types of companies and funds, as well as trivia like the maximum fee they can charge or the 75-5-10 rule. My favorite part about this section is that you get a sense for the key differences between the major types of financial products out there, and the business models of those who sell them.


Options – 25 Questions – 10% of the exam

  • 20 – Options Strategies
  • 5 – Equity Options, Index Options, Foreign Currency Options

Everyone’s favorite topic – Options! Probably the most challenging section for some, Options is something that often needs to “click” for people. If you don’t feel like you “get it” yet, this is a chapter where it’s worthwhile to spend extra time with your instructor or a colleague to understand how it works. Just keep hammering away at the basics until you get it, and the rest will follow – once people start to understand, this often becomes one of the easiest parts of the test.


Customer Accounts – 25 Questions – 10% of the exam

  • 14 Account Basics
  • 4 Margin Rules
  • 4 Long Margin Accounts
  • 2 Short Margin Accounts
  • 1 Margin on Options

Customer Accounts is another section of rules to memorize, but these are focused on the details of your day-to-day job. You’ll be expected to know things such as the documentation needed to open new accounts, customer identification procedures, suitability, anti-money laundering procedures, account maintenance, transfers and closing. Study this one early and often, as these rules often are important for other parts of the test and will actually be pretty useful to know after the Series 7 once you start working with clients.


Taxes & Tax Shelters – 20 Questions – 8% of the exam

  • 2 – Taxes on Municipal Bonds

Some more difficult and complex rules regarding taxes – including a lot of numbers-based trivia regarding taxable limits or rates. This section is arcane but can have a big impact on the returns of your clients – the best wealth managers always keep one eye on how the client’s’ taxes will be affected when making recommendations. If you’re struggling with this now though, it is luckily a small enough section that you don’t need to ace it if you’re on top of the rest of the exam.


Analysis – 20 Questions – 8% of the exam

Questions that cover the fundamental and technical analysis of stocks, as well as understanding the impact of the macro economic environment and regulations. You should expect the exam to ask you to 1) recommend which analysis to use in different situations, and 2) make decisions based on the results.


Trading Markets – 20 Questions – 8% of the exam

  • 2 – Municipal Bond Trading

The mechanics and rules around the act of trading stocks and the primary, secondary, and other markets that stocks are traded on. There’s a lot of rules and trivia in this one, with fun acronyms like CQS, OTC, and UQDF. Don’t let that intimidate you – this section is most easily understood as an explanation of the differences between the trading systems and the first, second (OTC), third, and fourth markets.


New Issues – 15 Questions – 6% of the exam

  • 2 – Municipal Bond Issues

New Issues covers the mechanics and rules around how stocks are issued, the paperwork around that process, and how issues differ depending on the types of stock issued and the type of entity issuing them. This section is pretty mechanical, but if you ever played sports, you know how valuable it is to have the mechanics down cold.


Equities – 10 Questions – 4% of the exam

A lot of basic terms and rules that are the foundation for the rest of the test – I don’t want to call this free points, but you should know this cold by the time you take the Series 7 :).


Bonus: Suitability Questions

Recently the FINRA Series 7 has placed a lot more emphasis on what are called “suitability and customer situation questions”. The customer situation questions tell you a customer account profile or other information and ask you to make an appropriate recommendation. These questions are judgment based and can have multiple right answers – but your goal is to pick the best choice. These questions will most commonly mirror your day-to-day work in a role as a financial advisor, so don’t be afraid to turn to your mentors or peers for practice and help. You can expect approximately 10-20 Suitability questions on the exam scattered across the sections.


Bonus: Experimental Questions

The actual Series 7 exam that you take will have 260 questions, with 10 of those questions being “experimental” questions that don’t count on the final exam. Don’t sweat this too much – just answer them as normal and be confident in your approach. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to skip questions where you are “stuck”, which we cover more in Part 3 – Strategies for Success on Test Day.

How to use this content breakdown

Analyze the content and rate your knowledge

When you’re planning out your last couple weeks before test day, be sure to spend a bit of time with each section before planning – and do a couple practice questions from each one. You can probably already tell which sections you need more practice with. Take note of your confidence with each section.

Prepare a study schedule

Give yourself a time budget for how many hours you plan on studying between today and test day. Be realistic – the goal here is to set an appropriate schedule. For reference, most Series 7 courses recommend 100-200 hours to learn the material (Achievable only requires 70-100 hours to teach the same material, but that’s the subject of another post 😉 ). If you’ve already been reading through the material and are just planning your final review, 10-20 hours is often recommended.

Once you have your budget of hours, you need to split up your time according to two factors: how confident you are with each section, and how much of the exam is comprised of that section. You want to spend the most time studying the highest value topics where you have the most room to improve. Your goal is to maximize the impact on your score in the budget of time that you have.

Schedule? I have no time!

But wait, what if I’m far behind and the test is in a few days? You will be happy to hear that you can in fact get through more content than you think. In controlled studies, most students see a drop-off after studying for more than three hours in a row, but with just an hour break they can study another three hours with similar success. This doesn’t make for the best results, but it can do in a pinch.

The best results? You get those by studying consistently over at least a couple weeks, and reviewing the material you’ve already studying as you progress. This is what we all hope we will do, but it doesn’t always happen that way :).

Ready to rock your studying or prepare for the exam itself? Check out the other two sections of our Series 7 Deep Dive:

Part 2 – Studying Tips for the Best Series 7 Score – coming next week

Part 3 – Strategies for Success on Test Day – coming in two weeks

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