What Is the Series 51 Exam?

The Series 51 is a financial exam for professionals wishing to sell municipal fund securities or oversee the sale of such securities.

The exam’s full name is the Municipal Fund Securities Limited Principal Qualification Examination, and it is jointly overseen by two financial regulators: the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB).

Key Takeaways

  • Series 51 is a financial exam administered by FINRA and the MSRB.
  • It is focused on the sale of municipal fund securities.
  • The Series 51 exam typically takes 90 minutes to complete, with successful candidates taking about 20 hours to prepare, on average.

How the Series 51 Exam Works

The purpose of the Series 51 exam is to determine whether the candidate meets the MSRB’s qualifications for professionals engaged in the sale or oversight of municipal fund securities. In practice, this involves testing applicants on their knowledge of the MSRB’s rules and regulations, as well as understanding how those rules have been interpreted in specific real-world situations. To take the exam, candidates must have first passed the Series 24 or Series 26 exams.

The Series 51 was established for principals who do not otherwise deal in municipal securities and do not have the Series 53 supervisory designation. Exam topics will test the taker's knowledge of underwriting, sales office supervision, market terminology, and ethical guidelines. Once they have passed the Series 51 exam and met all additional requirements, candidates will be authorized to underwrite, trade, and sell municipal securities. Other responsibilities, such as effectively communicating with clients about potential trades, maintaining thorough records of past transactions, and training other professionals, are also covered in the Series 51 exam.

The Series 51 exam places special emphasis on tax-exempt investment vehicles such as the Section 529 plan. These investment vehicles, popularly referred to as “qualified tuition plans,” are a popular way to save for future tuition and other educational expenses. Although many 529 plans include equity securities, these plans are nevertheless regulated by the MSRB and are included in the Series 51 curriculum.

The Series 51 exam consists of 60 multiple-choice questions, where each correct answer is worth one point. Because there is no penalty for guessing, candidates are encouraged to fill out all answers in the test. To pass the test, candidates must achieve a score of 70% or higher.

Typically, candidates must dedicate about 20 hours of studying in order to pass the Series 51 exam. The test itself lasts 90 minutes, during which no reference materials are allowed. Although its questions focus mainly on the knowledge of specific financial products, other prominent topics include the supervisory responsibilities of professionals in the field, principles for navigating conflicts of interest, and the industry’s regulatory structure.