From the July 2010 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Testing

I hate taking tests. It's not that I'm worried about not passing the test. Actually, what I really hate is studying to take the test. When you're in school, it's not so bad. You have to be there anyway, so you might as well listen to the teacher or read what you were supposed to have read the night before. There is a time for study and as long as everyone else around you is stuck doing it, it is acceptable.

The trouble comes when you're chronologically an adult, but have the attention span of a child. Mix that with a self-study course and I am a dead man.

As I later learned, the financial services industry is a bad industry to work in if you hate to take tests. None of that mattered 20-plus years ago when I was making $5 an hour playing elevator music at WKEI radio. This pimply-faced kid with college loans needed to find a real job.

My older brother worked as a financial advisor and I was pretty sure he was making more than $5 an hour. That was all I needed to know. I figured out how to tie a tie and I was off for an interview. The fact that I was hired showed just how little pre-screening of employees was done back then.

Before I was officially an employee, my new company sent me some "study materials" so I could get prepared to take a little test known as the Series 7 exam. When I saw the size of the binders, I knew I had made a horrible mistake.

Thankfully, the firm sent all of us to a Series 7 cram school. By some fluke of nature, I passed. Even though I was massively in debt and had successfully avoided any math or math-related courses since my junior year in high school, I was now qualified to invest other people's money.

Eventually, I got into wholesaling and recruiting. At some point, my Series 7 lapsed. For about 15 years I was able to navigate the financial services world without it. Then, just when I thought I had made it, my employer informed me that I couldn't receive any commissions unless I had my Series 7. Damn.

About a week later, two huge binders arrived. I made it all the way through the table of contents and quickly realized this wasn't going to work. As I was about to upload my resume to Monster.com, I found a website with an online class to prepare you for the Series 7 exam. It cost $125. One quick Paypal experience and I was back in school.

I couldn't wait to see all the fancy digital multimedia effects that would make learning this material fun and exciting. What I got was a gray haired guy named Clark standing in front of a whiteboard. He obviously didn't have a script and his jokes could have used a laugh track.

Since I'd already paid, I decided to give it try. Clark's voice went to work on me like a hypnotist. When I zoned out (every 2 or 3 minutes) I could simply rewind Clark back a little and close my eyes again.

The class was broken up into nice bite-size pieces so the enormity of the material didn't overwhelm you. There were multiple practice tests and if you needed, you could always go back, light some candles, have a glass of wine and listen to Clark again.

By the time I took the test, Clark had turned me into a securities expert and an alcoholic. I zipped through the test and passed with an 88 percent. Shortly after my triumph I was downsized and once again, my Series 7 license hangs in limbo.

It's good to know that, should I ever need to take that damn test again, Clark and his whiteboard have got my back.

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