Your guide to midterm exams

Midterm exams are not the only opportunity for a student to showcase their knowledge and understanding of a particular course, but they are often the first indicator of how well a student is absorbing, processing and retaining the class material.

For students, midterms can offer an accurate barometer for judging if your current study strategy is effective, or if changes are required.

Do all classes have midterm exams?

All courses at Brandeis International Business School are either two or four credits. Four-credit courses last the whole semester and are more likely to have midterms, while two-credit or module courses are a half-semester long and typically do not. While final exams vary in four-credit courses, as some may have final projects or capstones instead, the norm for these classes is to have at least one midterm exam.

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When are midterm exams and what should I expect?

Midterm exams are typically held, unsurprisingly, in the middle of the semester. During the fall semester, which runs from late August to early December, midterms typically occur in October. During the spring semester, which starts in January and ends at the beginning of May, midterms are typically administered in March.

Unlike final exams, which are scheduled by the university’s Registrar, midterm exams are typically scheduled during class time by the professor. Some classes may have two midterm exams, in which case they are spread further throughout the semester. Professors outline these exams in the course syllabus, so they will not come as a surprise. The weight of each midterm exam on the final grade is also usually provided in the course syllabus. Many instructors are open to telling students about the format of the midterm exam, as well as the topics or themes that the exam will cover.

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What is the best way to prepare for a midterm and what resources are available to students?

The most effective way to feel prepared for a midterm exam is to first attend each class, and complete all of the homework assignments in a timely manner. One should also take advantage of the professor’s and the teaching assistant’s office hours when the class material is challenging or unclear. It is easier to correct these issues before a minor struggle becomes seemingly insurmountable.

It is smart to review previous homework assignments, go through the course’s slides and materials, and consult notes taken during each class. Typically, teaching assistants and professors hold additional office hours during the midterm period to allow students to raise their concerns and to get clarifications they might need on class material. It is also useful to know the duration and the format of the questions — whether they will be short answers, problems to solve out, multiple choice questions, etc. — so that students can cater their study guides and process to match.

How do you proceed after the midterm?

After the midterm exam, students who did well can be reassured that they have mastered the material. They should continue to work at the same pace on the material that follows to prepare for the final exam or project. They should also make sure that they understand any mistakes, to ensure they do not repeat them. It’s also a good idea to see if there were any gaps in their study strategy.

If students did not do as well on the midterm as they hoped, there are still ways to ensure success moving forward. Most professors will hold a review of the exam, and students should take advantage of one-on-one time with their professor and teaching assistant to make sure they fully grasp the material. The sooner this is done the better, as the pace of the course may pick up as the term progresses.

Sometimes it also helps to connect with friends in the class who may have done better on the exam, just to get a different perspective on the material. Students may also seek out a tutor to work with them on the material they are struggling with, but the important thing is that they do something. The ultimate goal is that they have a tailored study plan to ensure they will not repeat their mistakes. This is also important because the final exam might be cumulative, meaning it might cover the material from the beginning of the course, which includes the material on the midterm. Therefore, preparation is key. 

If after a conversation with the professor and a student’s academic advisor, they still feel like the course will pose an insurmountable challenge, they may elect to drop the class and take it in a later semester, or, depending on the timing, elect to take the course pass/fail, or switch to auditing the class.

What is the impact of the midterm exam on the final grade?

The impact of the midterm exam depends on the weight it is assigned by the professor. Generally speaking, this can be between 20 to 35%, leaving 65 to 80% of a student’s final grade on other components, such as homework assignments, class participation, final projects, etc. Receiving a bad grade on the midterm may not be an indicator that a student will do poorly overall. Students who did not do well on the midterm, however, will have to work harder to ensure they grasp the new material while addressing the concerns raised by their midterm performance. While this requires dedication and a lot of commitment, it is certainly possible to come out on top.

Student Insights features blog posts and videos produced by current students and recent graduates of Brandeis International Business School. The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here belong solely to the author.

Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) Exam

The qualification tests for several occupations in the financial services industry, formerly known as the Series exams, have been streamlined into one initial exam called the Securities Industry Essentials Exam—or the SIE Exam. Passing this exam qualifies you to pursue a career in the financial services industry.

Back in 2015, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) streamlined its testing structure by consolidating the fundamental knowledge shared across several of the Series exams into the SIE. Candidates can then take an additional "top-off" qualification exam for the specific field they hope to enter.

Key Takeaways
  • The SIE dramatically altered the structure of the various existing qualification exams.
  • You do not need to be affiliated with a FINRA member firm in order to take the SIE.
  • If you already passed one of the FINRA exams and are registered as a representative you do not need to take the SIE.
  • Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2020 Changes in Securities Industries Essentials Exam (SIE) Qualifications

    The SIE had a major structural impact on the qualification exams. The SIE replaces portions of every previous exam, including the Series 6, Series 7, Series 22, Series 55/56 (replaced by Series 57), Series 79, Series 82, Series 86/87, and Series 99. These tests were shrunken, becoming qualification exams that focus on the specialized knowledge needed for each particular qualification.

    Top-off exams are offered for the following representative categories:

  • Investment Company Representative (IR) – Series 6
  • General Securities Representative (GS) – Series 7
  • DPP Representative (DR) – Series 22
  • Securities Trader (TD) – Series 57
  • Investment Banking Representative (IB) – Series 79
  • Private Securities Offerings Representative (PR) – Series 82
  • Research Analyst (RS) – Series 86 & 87
  • Operations Professional (OS) – Series 99
  • Overall, this was clearly an effort to remove some of the duplicated information in the tests, but it also opened the door to a much more important change to the process of qualification, which is no longer having to be associated with a FINRA member firm to take the SIE.

    Under the former FINRA rules, you generally needed to be employed or otherwise sponsored by a FINRA member in order to take the exams. The SIE removes this requirement, although you still have to be associated with a FINRA member firm to take the top-off exams. This means that an individual can choose to start on the path towards a FINRA qualification on their own.

    Successfully taking the SIE doesn't guarantee anyone a successfully break into the financial industry, but it is safe to say that passing it prior to looking for a job may give you an edge as a prospective employer only needs to sponsor the top-off exam to get you qualified for a particular role.

    FINRA supported the idea that recent graduates and people looking to get into the industry should take the SIE on their own. They’ve made it more attractive by extending the validity of the SIE to four years, giving a generous window for passing participants to then find a firm to sponsor the top-off exams. FINRA member firms are able to see who has passed the exam via the Central Registration Depository (CRD).

    SIE and Top Off-Exams as Replacements

    In their original Securities and Exchange Commission filings, FINRA targeted the fall of 2016 to early 2017 for a rollout of their highest volume exams. This proved to be a bit optimistic. There were several shifts in the scheduling, one resulting from the requests of member firms and industry associations for more time to set their own processes in accordance with the new structure. The SIE and top-off exam rollout took place on Oct. 1, 2018 and was accompanied by the retirement of multiple low-volume exams, such as the Series 42 and Series 62.

    Originally, March 2018 was targeted for the implementation of the SIE and top-offs for Series 6, 7, and 79. Oct. 1, 2018 became the date for a complete overhaul rather than a phased-in approach. Adding to some of the confusion was part of the attempt to modernize; the Series 55 was replaced by the Series 57, although it still appeared in the original notice for the SIE updates. That update was simply a standard part of FINRA reviewing and tweaking curriculum, rather than part of an overhaul of any core knowledge.

    Structure of the SIE Exam

    The SIE exam structure is largely based on the general knowledge components of the exams it replaced that portion for. In January 2018, FINRA provided more details on the structure. The sections and question count are as follows:

    The Makeup of the SIE Exam Section Percentageof Exam Questions Number ofExam Questions (1) Knowledge of Capital Market 16% 12 (2) Understanding Products and Their Risks 44% 33 (3) Understanding Trading, Customer Accounts, and Prohibited Activities 31% 23 (4) Overview of Regulatory Framework 9% 7 Total 100% 75

    The 75 questions are actually 85, since there are 10 randomly distributed pre-test questions that do not count towards the score on the exam. Candidates have an hour and forty-five minutes to complete the entire exam. A full outline of the SIE content is currently available on FINRA's website.

    Benefits of the SIE Exam

    Passing the SIE exam can provide a number of benefits to your career:

  • Job hunting: Passing the exam will make you a more appealing job candidate and help you to stand out in interviews.
  • Career: The SIE allows you to register as a representative in the financial securities industry.
  • Knowledge: Studying for and passing the SIE ensures that you have a base knowledge of the securities industry as you begin your work.
  • Specialize: Taking additional qualifications exams allows you to specialize in ways that help you meet clients' complex financial needs.
  • Impact of SIE Exam Changes

    If you already passed one of the FINRA exams and are currently registered as a representative, you are considered to have passed the SIE already. If you passed one of the exams and are not currently registered, you may need to take the SIE depending on how many years elapse between now and your next registration. And, of course, if you passed the exam but your registration has lapsed, you will need to take the SIE and the new top-off for that qualification before being reregistered.

    This is pretty much the same as it has always been, except you would be taking two exams instead of one. In fact, the exams are designed to take the same total time as the previous versions. For example, the SIE and Series 7 top-off exam take the same amount of time as the previous Series 7 exam.

    For member firms, the cost of the top-off exams is less than the previous exams because the content was shifted to the SIE. So, if an individual has passed the SIE prior to joining a firm, it is a good indication that this person already has the basic aptitude and wherewithal to pass a top-off exam. The cost of getting that individual registered is reduced because they paid out-of-pocket for the SIE, which will likely help make a candidate more attractive to a firm.

    What Is the SIE Exam for?

    The Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) Exam is designed to assess your knowledge of the securities industry. It ensures that people entering the industry are qualified and knowledgeable for the work they are doing. It streamlines the previous initial qualification exams into a single test, supplemented by "top-off" qualification exams.

    What Does Passing the SIE Do for You?

    If you want to be registered to work in a securities business, you must pass the SIE and the appropriate qualification exam for the type of securities work you'll be doing. If you already took one of the old exams and your license lapsed—assuming two years have passed since you were last registered—you have to retake the Series 7. You need to retake the SIE only if four years have elapsed since you last passed it or were last registered.

    Is the SIE Harder Than the Series 7?

    The overall content covered over the two tests—the SIE and the Series 7 top-off exam—will be nearly identical to the previous Series 7.

    How Often Do People Fail the SIE?

    FINRA does not share the SIE pass rates. However, various test prep companies state that around 25-27% of candidates fail the exam on the first try. If you fail and want to retake the exam, the wait time is 30 days for the first and second attempts, then six months if you fail the third attempt.

    The Bottom Line

    If you were already sponsored to take one of the qualification exams, go for it. These changes won't impact you at all. If you expect to be sponsored in the future, the overall content you need to master won’t change even though you have to do it in two chunks. If, however, you are not currently sponsored or in the industry, the SIE will open the door for you to start down the path of a financial career without having to associate with a member firm first. This change gives you a choice you didn't have before.

    Exam Information

    An exam proctor will begin reading exam instructions approximately 15 minutes before the exam start time. Students must be in the exam room with their exam at this time. If taking the exam on a laptop, it must be booted up and have passed the security check. Hand writers must not have a laptop with them in an exam room, unless otherwise allowed according to the professor’s instructions. A student entering the exam room after the proctor begins reading instructions will not receive additional time for booting up their laptop, passing the security check, and/or reading exam instructions.

    When instructed by the proctor, write your exam number on the cover page of your exam, bluebooks, and any scratch paper you turn in as part of your exam. Handwritten exam answers must be written in blue books in blue or black ink. Number the bluebooks you use (1 of 1, 1 of 2, 2 of 2, etc.). Proctors will allow time to read the professor’s instructions. Other than counting the number of pages of the exam, students are not permitted to turn the page of an exam past the instructions page until the proctor instructs them to do so.

    When taking a closed-book exam, no books, outlines, book bags, purses, or scratch paper (other than the scratch paper provided) may be at your seat during the exam. These items must be left outside of the exam room or in the front or sides of the exam room. Students may not begin to write anything, including on scratch paper, before the proctor begins a closed-book exam.

    Students taking in-class exams are prohibited from having any electronic communication device, other than a laptop as allowed per the professor's instructions, during the exam. Cell phones and smart watches must be turned off during the exam and placed in a bag or backpack. Violations of this rule may be considered an Honor Code violation. A clock in each exam room will be the official timekeeper for the exam.

    Non-alcoholic beverages are permitted in exam rooms; however, the container must have a lid.

    After the exam instructions have been read and the exam begins, the proctor will remain in the room. Any student who has a question or problem during an exam should see the proctor.

    Students may use the restroom or take a break during an exam. However, all exam materials must be left in the exam room and no additional time will be given. Students must sign in and out at the front of the room with the proctor.


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