The real estate exam is challenging, lengthy, and only about half of all candidates will pass on their first try. Let’s make one thing clear: This is not the type of exam you should expect to ace, relying purely on what you learned in your pre-licensing course to carry you to a 70%+.
The real estate exam is a 100+ multiple-choice question test lasting 2-4 hours, covering both national and state concepts. To ensure you pass, it’s essential to invest in an exam prep program, take practice exams, learn to focus on question wording, and skip questions to come back to later.
Anyone planning to take a state real estate exam should be studying like their licensure depends on it—because it does. Excellent exam prep comes from having a firm grasp on real estate concepts and knowing how to be a good test-taker. Keep reading to learn about what to expect on your real estate exam and how to prepare for the real estate exam.
What the Real Estate Exam Is Like
You can’t earn your real estate license without passing your state exam first. However, you’re only doing yourself a disservice if you register for a testing appointment without taking the time to learn about the exam. Understanding the content, format, and difficulty you’ll face on the exam can reduce surprises on test day and prepare you better during study sessions.
Let’s dive in headfirst and discover what the real estate exam is like.
The Test Format
Considering some states require at least 100 hours of pre-licensing education, you likely have first-hand knowledge of just how complex and wide-ranging these concepts can be. However, your biggest hurdle on test day probably won’t be the content, but rather how the test is formatted.
Here’s what to expect.
The state real estate exam usually has between 100 and 200 questions, with most questions being lent to national real estate concepts—the remaining questions are state concepts.
All exam questions are multiple-choice with at least three answer choices and only one correct answer for each. Do not expect any open-ended questions where you’ll be able to explain your answers in-depth.
Most states require candidates to complete the real estate exam at an approved testing facility within the state that hosts a computer examination. However, some states may still administer a traditional hardcopy of the exam.
During the exam, you’ll be able to go back and forth between questions and sections before ultimately submitting the entire test. Regardless of the format and number of questions, your state will likely require a 70%+ to pass.
The Types of Content
Generally, assume that any content you reviewed in your pre-licensing course is “fair game” on the state real estate exam. Like your classes, your exam will include both national and state concepts, with some states even dividing the test into two distinct sections to reflect that.
- 15%: Property ownership & land-use regulations
- 17%: Agency laws and fiduciary relationships
- 14%: Property valuation tactics
- 9%: Financing options (mortgages)
- 8%: Property transfers
- 25%: Real estate practices and disclosures
- 12%: Contracts
You should generally expect ten or more questions on each major real estate topic when you take your exam. That means you should have a firm grasp on everything to ensure you pass.
However, getting a gauge on how many questions you may see for each topic can help you better plan your study sessions to target the areas worth the most.
To drive home just how challenging the real estate exam is (or how poorly many candidates prepare), it’s critical to understand the average real estate exam pass rates.
Hint: It puts to bed the idea that you can show up on test day and pass with no prior studying.
In many states, the pass rate hovers around 50-60% on the first try, though this pass rate drops to a mere 47% in states like Florida.
If you fail your exam on the first attempt, you might think it’s no big deal—that you can keep scheduling testing appointments every 24 hours until you eventually pass.
That’s already an iffy idea. But even more worrisome is the idea that many states put a cap on how many times you can attempt and fail your real estate exam. You may have to retake your pre-licensing course as a sort of remedial education.
So here’s what you need to know:
- You may get questions where you’re sure there is more than one correct answer (to clarify, there’s only one right answer).
- The test is quite tricky if you struggle to focus for hours, dislike sitting still for too long, or struggle with eye strain when looking at a computer for too long.
- The questions don’t always follow a logical order or theme, so you may go from a mortgage question to an easement question to a question on the Fair Housing Act.
- You’ll have about 1-2 minutes to dedicate to each question, on average.
The worst thing you can do is go into the real estate exam, assuming it’ll be an absolute breeze. That’s precisely why proper exam prep is so crucial.
How to Prepare To Pass the Real Estate Exam
When was the last time you sat for a test or took on the role of “student?” If it’s been a while, taking your real estate exam may come with a bucket of nerves. You know very well that one question can be the difference between proceeding onto the next step of licensure and having to reschedule another exam for a retake. Proper preparation removes the risk of surprises on your big day.
Let’s review what to expect at your testing center and how to prepare best.
Arrive Early On Test Day
If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re very late. You must aim to arrive on test day 15-30 minutes before your scheduled exam time.
After all, you won’t be the only one at the testing facility taking your real estate exam on that day and in that specific time slot. That means you have to account for the time it takes facility employees to check in all test-takers, sometimes 20 or more.
If you arrive late, you won’t be permitted to take your exam. So leave the house early to account for traffic and avoid rushing around on your big day.
Bring the Necessary Documentation
All states have guidelines regarding the type of documentation you must bring with you. The last thing you want to do is arrive at your testing facility, only to realize that you have to rush back home to get a form of proper identification to finish checking in.
You must check your state’s requirements regarding documentation.
Plan to bring the following with you on exam day:
- Entry permit (a ticket verifying you’re scheduled for that slot)
- An official document with your signature
- Photo verification, such as your driver’s license
- An additional form of identification (required in some states)
- Proof of pre-licensing completion
Hand Over Your Possessions
For security purposes, many testing facilities will prevent test-takers from taking any personal possessions into the exam room (unless you have a medical note). You may even be assigned a locker to store your belongings in until you submit your exam and leave the testing room.
Being found in possession of any of the following in the exam room will immediately void your test for that session:
- Smartphones or cell phones
- Tablets and computers
- Unapproved calculators
- Textbooks and study materials
- Purses or handbags
Bring What You Need
Many testing facilities will provide you with the instruments you need to prevent security breaches while taking your test.
That includes #2 pencils, pens, scrap paper, and a calculator.
However, you may want to bring these with you on test day in case your testing facility is low on stock or doesn’t provide test-takers with these tools. It’s better to bring more with you and leave it in your locker (or in the waiting room) than not have them at all during your test.
Eat a Healthy Breakfast & Stay Hydrated
Nothing will cause you to lose focus or clarity when taking your exam as much as hunger pangs or extreme thirst. It’s essential to fuel your body and mind for test day by eating a healthy breakfast the morning of and staying hydrated with water.
Some of the best “brain foods” for test performance and an energy boost include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, avocados, eggs, and milk.
Try to avoid eating heavy foods and not go overboard with the water consumption early in the day. You don’t want to be dehydrated or feel lightheaded during the exam, but you also don’t want to be so hydrated that you’re off to the bathroom every hour. Frequent bathroom trips may distract your focus.
The Best Ways to Study for Your Real Estate Exam
Study, study, study! After learning about what to expect on the exam, there’s a good chance you’ll hold off on scheduling your test and take a little extra time to review. But that’s much easier said than done given the sheer amount of content. It’s not about how much you study, but rather how you study and prepare.
Let’s talk about a few tried-and-true ways to ensure you show up on test day 100% ready.
Take Your Pre-Licensing Seriously
Your pre-licensing course won’t teach you how to sell real estate like many prospective agents would hope. However, it would be best if you took your pre-licensing coursework seriously, as these are the exact concepts you’ll be facing on the real estate exam.
Set aside time where you can dedicate your undivided attention to these lessons. That means finding a location where you learn best (whether that be your living room, home office, or car) and ridding your environment of distractions (like cell phones, TV, and music).
Depending on how you learn, it may also be a good idea to take handwritten (or typed) notes as you progress through the online module, complete any optional assignments, and spend a little time each day reviewing the content from the days prior.
That way, you won’t have to relearn dozens of chapters worth of tricky topics the night before, and you’ll be more confident in the material.
Invest in an Online Real Estate Exam Prep Program
Some of us have forgotten how to study after graduating from high school or college, and some of us were never taught the best study methods to absorb complex content at all.
That’s where an exam prep program, such as the one from Real Estate Express, will save the day. This Real Estate Exam Prep Master has plenty to offer in the way of studying, including:
- Insight into the areas you struggle with
- A “Pass or Don’t Pay” Guarantee
- Study guides, practice exams, and question/answer assignments
- Study flashcards
You can also turn to one of the real estate exam administrators (PSI) to learn a little more about the PSI real estate exam questions. The company currently has online practice tests available for purchase in dozens of U.S. states for about $20 or less.
With that, you can get a little bit of insight into how the questions are worded and the topics you may see on your exam.
Take Practice Exams Repeatedly
Most online exam prep modules, particularly the one from Real Estate Express, come with plenty of practice exams and unit quizzes that you can take as often as you want. A few states also require you to complete a practice exam before attempting the pre-licensing course final.
Either way, you should never go directly from pre-licensing to your real estate exam. This will sound tedious, but you should be taking and retaking these practice tests until you can consistently score a 90-95% on them.
When test day finally arrives, and the jitters kick in, you’ll be far more confident in the content and test format. You can then afford to miss a few questions due to nerves and still get that 70%+ passing score.
Focus on the Wording of Questions & Answers
The pressure of having to finish your real estate exam in two to four hours may be enough to send you into a panic, rushing through questions to be sure you don’t go over on time.
- You have a lot more time than you think.
- Speed-running your real estate exam guarantees you’ll miss critical words that change the question and answer entirely.
When it comes to questions, you need to check for both positive and negative terms. Accidentally overlooking the negative wording in a question that asks, “Which of the following is not…” will completely change the answer you select.
Look for words like not, no, nor, shouldn’t, and cannot. Also, words like some, sometimes, all, always, none, and never can change the meaning of a question.
In the same realm, don’t forget to read and reread each answer choice carefully. While exam creators aren’t trying to fool you necessarily, it’s easy to glance over your options quickly and miss critical words.
This is especially apparent in real estate topics with similar terminology (like the different types of mortgages, tenancies, and estates) that all seem to blend into one.
Look for bolded, underlined, and italicized words, as they’re stylized in a particular way for meaning: To draw attention to the word or phrase.
Prioritize Concepts and Areas You Struggle With Most
The real estate exam questions aren’t all going to be complicated, but it’s essential to be ready for anything the test throws at you.
Confidence in one topic, such as mortgages, may help you to get nine questions correct. That’s crucial, but if you don’t have extensive knowledge of contracts and end up getting 12 items on them, that can cause your score to drop significantly.
When you’re studying and taking your practice exams, be sure to prioritize the areas or concepts that you struggle with the most.
Think about it: There’s no sense in spending hours rehashing types of estates when you already know them like the back of your hand. Use your study time wisely and work to mold all of your weaknesses into strengths.
Find a Study Method That Works Best For You
Everybody has a preferred learning style that allows them to absorb content best. Just because some people thrive when taking practice exams, that doesn’t mean you’ll reap the same benefits as them. So work to find a study method that works best for you, such as:
- Practice exams
- YouTube videos (be sure it’s a reliable source, up-to-date, and for your state)
- Reading the textbook
- Researching online
- Diagrams and pictures
- Writing and rewriting notes
- Audiotapes or podcasts
It’s also possible that any of the above learning styles work for you. That means you have the freedom to swap in whatever study tactics you feel most comfortable with depending on the headspace you’re in during a particular day.
Don’t Cram the Night Before
It was entirely possible to spend the entire night before an exam studying and still pass with flying colors in college and high school.
Unfortunately, that’s not a good idea with the real estate exam, as the exam is far longer than most tests you’ve taken (up to four hours), can have 180 questions, and runs the gamut on topics. Add in the fact that cramming before an exam will leave you feeling exhausted and unfocused on test day, and you can see why this is a flawed strategy for your test.
Spread your studying across a period of a few weeks or months and limit study sessions to one or two hours instead.
You may want to do a quick read-through of your notes or take your practice exam one last time the night before or the morning of, but you shouldn’t be relying on an 8-hour study session the night before to reteach yourself everything.
The Best Test-Taking Tips
Preparing for the content and types of questions you’ll see on the real estate exam are essential to guaranteeing you pass on your first attempt. However, when the test day finally arrives, you want to be sure that you perform exactly how you’ve prepared during the weeks or months prior. That means having a good handle on the best test-taking skills and strategies.
Let’s review some key ways to ensure excellent performance during your exam.
Skip Questions & Come Back to Them
One of the biggest time-wasters when taking the exam is spending too much time on specific questions. There’s nothing that says you have to complete the questions in order. That’s because most test programs will allow you to “flag” questions you want to return to later or simply skip them for the time being.
This is a strategy you should implement from the time you get your first question.
Read through the problem and each answer choice carefully. If you don’t immediately know the answer and none of the answer choices are ringing a bell, skip that question for now. Otherwise, the minutes you waste trying to figure out the solution may prevent you from getting to every question within your time limit.
In addition to flagging the questions you want to return to, you can also jot down the question number on the sheet of scrap paper you get with your exam.
Before submitting your exam, verify that you answered all questions, no matter how confident you are in your answer.
Don’t Overthink Your Answers
The weight of knowing that this exam is standing between you and your real estate license may be all it takes to trigger your nerves and anxiety.
You may get a softball question (like, “What is a joint tenancy?”), and notice that the answer is evading you. Assuming you read the entire question and all answer choices diligently, your first answer is usually the best answer to give.
The last thing you want to do is spend too much time on a question, accidentally redefine a term in your head, and then go ahead with that mindset for the remainder of the exam.
It’s important to note that wrong answers will hurt you just as much as skipped answers. So if you return to a question and still cannot figure out the solution, it’s always better to guess and risk getting it right than guaranteeing a mark against you.
Refer to Your Available Resources
Don’t plan on having your smartphone or internet access when taking your real estate exam. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have tools and resources at your fingertips to help you through the exam while answering questions.
Here are some tips for using your resources:
- Some states will provide all test-takers with a 30-year real estate amortization table to reference for mortgage-related questions, so refer to this when appropriate.
- Use your calculator (or the computer’s calculator function, if applicable) to verify your calculations—not that you struggle with math, but it’s easy to mess up numbers.
- Take notes on your scrap paper whenever possible—note which questions you skipped, which you want to check again, and even mark down which you’re confident in.
Nobody says that you have to use your scrap paper, pencil, or calculator when taking the real estate exam, but they have great potential to be useful for some test-takers. That’s why it’s a good idea to have them with you in case you need them.
Keep an Eye on the Clock
Perhaps the most stressful and anxiety-inducing aspect of the real estate exam is the time limit. With two to four hours of testing and up to 180 questions, you may only have one or two minutes to dedicate to each question.
Your test module will likely let you know how much time you have remaining or how far into the exam you are timewise, so keep an eye on that.
If you’re 90 minutes to the exam and have only answered 30 questions, you’re spending far too much time on each item. On the other hand, if you’re 30 minutes into the exam and have completed 120 questions, you either really know your stuff or you’re rushing.
Slow down and pace yourself, whenever you can.
Double-Check Your Work
By the end of the exam, assuming you studied, you should have some time leftover. Rather than impulsively submitting your test to find out how you did, it’s crucial that you quickly run through each question once more to verify two things: That you answered the question, and that you selected the answer choice that you meant.
While human error is possible and clicking B when you meant C isn’t unheard of, this is not a case the real estate commission wants to hear.
Do you want even more test-taking tips? Check out this video that’ll walk you through how to ace your big test:
While it’s true that only about 50% of people will pass their real estate exam on the first try, that doesn’t mean you have 50/50 odds of passing. Taking the time to prepare for the exam by studying and knowing what to expect can ensure you only have to take the exam once.
Find a study strategy that works best for you, take practice exams to get a clear grasp of the concepts and formatting, give yourself at least a week or two to study, and be diligent and calm when taking your exam.