The Securities Industry Essentials Exam (SIE) is a new test for the finance industry. Starting October 1st, 2018, everyone who was previously looking to get certified with a Series 6, Series 7, Series 79, or similar license now must take the SIE Exam first. This is actually a good thing: the SIE Exam combines the somewhat overlapping portions of these different FINRA exams into a single test, which gives new entrants into the finance world greater flexibility and breaks the previously more difficult tests into two smaller chunks. But the most important change is with sponsorship.
Before the SIE Exam, you had to be sponsored by a financial firm to take the Series 7 or 79 and get a job. This meant you would get hired and then have to pass the test to keep your job. Now, with the SIE Exam, you can take it without sponsorship – meaning you can pre-qualify yourself and also make sure the finance industry is right for you before you get a job. I think this is a great change for the finance industry.
The SIE Exam is often described as a mile wide and an inch deep – and I found that experience to be true when I was preparing for the exam. It’s a lot of memorization and ‘trivia’ – knowing the answers to specific questions like “what’s the contribution limit for a Roth IRA?”. Knowing this helped me approach my SIE Exam prep in the right way and informed my strategy as I prepared.
While SIE Exam prep will give you a broad overview of the rules that guide the finance industry, I found it pretty helpful to put these rules in context. Everyone who wants to get into finance should understand the basics of how the stock market and trading works. It is the ‘game’ we are all playing, and understanding how it works and the vocabulary used will make a huge difference in your comprehension of the SIE Exam prep material.
The stock market is a living, breathing thing that involves millions of people around the world. Lots has been written about it and there are many who have made a living creating resources to help other people learn more. First and foremost, you need to get your finger on the pulse of the industry by following major financial news outlets such as Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times business section, and The Economist. I prefer written resources to TV finance news, because like most TV news, TV finance news (ie “Mad Money”) is often sensationalist and sometimes has an agenda. The same goes for internet news, especially if they’re trying to sell you on a product, trading course, or themselves.
I also recommend checking out one of the many finance industry communities online, like Investopedia, WallStreetOasis, EliteTrader, or one of the many stock market subReddits (no, not that one). There, you can not only get relevant news fed to you through community forum posts – you can also see how people are discussing it, which to me is even more valuable.
There’s also Youtube channels, blogs, podcasts, Udemy courses, and a bunch of other things. Point is: it’s out there – take advantage of it.
For the truly curious and motivated, you can also try investing yourself. You’re welcome to invest your own money, but I don’t recommend it if you’re new. Instead, you should “fake invest” by building a portfolio with fake money for practice. I found an app called Investr that does that (no affiliation), and enjoyed using it for a couple months while I got my feet wet.
Once I was ready to start studying, I spent quite a bit of time researching the different options and providers. I looked at the different textbooks on Amazon, but most of them had spotty reviews and I didn’t love the idea of making my own schedule. I then looked at the different online program providers
Interestingly, while there’s a bunch of educational product comparison websites for things like the GMAT or GRE, I struggled to find one for the SIE Exam. I felt like Achievable had the best one:
While this is clearly aligned with their product, this chart did get me curious about Achievable’s program. It was free to try, so I gave it a test drive and liked it a lot more than anything else I saw out there. You get the whole first two chapters for free, which for them is Common Stock and Preferred Stock – probably about an hour or two of content that comes with some review questions. After that, they ask you to pay $74, which is still a good deal compared to everything else. And after using it and comparing my experience with that of my colleagues, I can say that it’s as good if not better than the other options.
Achievable is a bit unusual at first, but once you get used to it, it’s a pretty streamlined system. They break studying into two sections: Content Progress and Memory Progress.
Content Progress is like a book: you go through the chapters one at a time, with callouts and diagrams to help explain the examples. It’s a bit text heavy (I wish they had more visuals), but overall the content is very well written and clearly written to be short-and-sweet versus long-and-wordy (unlike a lot of other SIE exam prep). This is apparently the core philosophy of their author, Brandon Rith, who they highlight a few times on their website. I enjoyed the explanations and felt like it was a very good ‘book’ overall.
I had a separate notes document where I took notes, basically a big bulleted list where I sorted it by chapter and subchapter. I tried to mark out specific topics that I knew I would want to come back to, and key points that I’d want to review again while studying. I wish there was an ability to take notes in the program itself, but it doesn’t look like any other program has a note taking feature either.
Memory Progress is essentially a flashcard application built into the product, and you unlock Review flashcards every time you complete a subchapter. These flashcards are super simple, typically just asking you to regurgitate what you already learned, but they say that their flashcards are this way on purpose so that they can track what you know more discreetly. The creators of Achievable claim that through this approach, these flashcards optimize for your memory, and that by studying on time you can maximize your memory strength. Whether or not you buy that, having Reviews tied to everything you just learned was extremely helpful. I realized while doing this that most of the time you study for something, you learn Chapter 1, and then you don’t look at Chapter 1 again until the very end when you’re reviewing everything. Achievable’s system forces you to revisit the old material constantly as you’re learning the new material, which I found to be much more effective in the end.
Once I had finished the content and felt pretty good about my progress with the Reviews, I started to take practice exams – the finale of any SIE exam prep work. Achievable has its own Practice Exams which were a really strong option, especially for the math-based questions. This was all you needed, probably, but I like to take tests from different providers as well make sure you’re getting the questions from multiple different perspectives. I recommend taking FINRA’s official SIE practice test in addition since they are written by the actual providers of the SIE Exam, then buying some additional practice exams from other vendors to get a broader range.
While I was studying, I sometimes found it necessary to have a second or third take on a topic, especially options. For this, I would often go to Youtube or Investopedia. I looked up Brandon Rith’s channel since he wrote the Achievable course, and found his videos to be good. In the future, they should incorporate his videos into the actual course.
In the end, I passed the SIE on my first try with Achievable. I found Achievable’s SIE exam prep course very effective – they guide you through the content and tell you when and what to review, so you never have to worry about whether you’re doing the right thing. This helped me with my anxiety when studying because I knew I was on a set course that worked.
I think the SIE is worth taking for other college students or new grads looking to get into finance. There’s no pre-requisite and you can take it without sponsorship, so you can take it now and it looks really good on your resume. It shows you care about finance and can pass these tests, which are a part of life now in this industry.
I hope this guide was useful to you and that you enjoyed reading it. Happy studying!
Editor again, thanks for reading. If you found this interesting, we’d love for you to check out our website or try Achievable’s SIE course for free at https://achievable.me