I Failed the Real Estate Exam; Now What Do I Do?

August 18, 2023
Unlicensed Individuals

We begin with a few thoughts

You thought you enrolled in a decent real estate class. You thought you studied as much as you needed to before you tested. You thought you arrived at the testing center properly rested and in a good frame of mind. But, in spite of everything you thought, you did not pass the state exam. Now, what do you do? Maybe it’s time to re-think these thoughts.

As the co-owner and education director for NCI Associates, Ltd, Michigan's premiere provider of real estate education, I am frequently contacted by a wide range of frustrated students for help passing the state exam. Most of these students took a license preparation course from another school and are not receiving the guidance they need. This article covers the exam coaching recommendations that I give them.

Take a breather

At this point, the exam is over and you cannot turn back the hands of time. You did not pass it as you had hoped which does not feel good. In fact, it probably feels downright awful. Well, take comfort because you are not alone. Some of the most successful real estate professionals in the business have taken the state exam more than once.

As part of the reset process, settle into your favorite chair, take a few slow, deep breaths, and acknowledge that your feelings are perfectly normal. This is the first step to getting back on track. I then recommend a course correction (pardon the pun). After carefully reading this article, you may discover that you are closer than you think to passing the exam and obtaining your real estate license.

Steer clear of the “Blame Game”

When a person has trouble passing the state real estate exam, he or she may react by playing the blame game. He or she may think, “The school I attended didn’t teach me what I needed to know to pass; nothing on the exam was discussed in class.” Or, “My instructor didn’t teach me anything; I had to figure everything out on my own.” Finally, the test itself may get the blame with, “The state exam is full of trick questions and is unfair.”

Regardless of whether blame is appropriate or not, you still have to retake the exam. Before doing so, let’s reevaluate how you prepared and make changes where necessary. You cannot continue to drive down the same road and expect to arrive at a different destination. Here is your new roadmap:

  1. Accept that you did not pass the exam and are unhappy, frustrated, or _____ [fill in your thoughts and feelings].
  2. Shift your attention to the present and put the suggestions in this article into practice.
  3. Be aware of your thoughts regarding having to retake the exam. Replace any thoughts of fear, frustration, or apprehension with determination and resolve. These new thoughts will be translated into positive action. Positive action, thereafter, results in a positive outcome.
  4. Channel the motivational wisdom of Knute Rockne. Knute was a player and then highly successful coach of the University of Notre Dame football team in the early 1900s. He was widely known for his inspirational style and determination. He is credited with the famous quote, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

What to change, where to start?

After settling in with the idea of retaking the exam, it’s time to analyze what you might need to do differently. Do not assume the problem lies with the state exam, because it does not. You have no control over what is on the exam. You do, however, have control over what you study and how you study. Let’s see if there are any contributing factors to address here.

Examine – Did the school provide professionally-produced written learning materials (if any at all)?

The content on the state exam is set forth by the testing company, PSI. Their Content Outline is identical for all real estate education providers. What is not identical is the textbook or other learning materials that each provider uses to teach their respective course. Here are some of the textbook-related issues that can result in a student being under-prepared for the exam.

Did the education provider teach from an actual textbook?

Issue: It’s hard to believe, but some education providers do not supply or teach from textbooks. Instead, the student is forced to take furious notes during class. This is the least effective way for a student to learn.

NCI addresses this need by making two professionally-produced learning tools available to each student: A comprehensive, over 470-page textbook titled, Michigan Real Estate Law & Practice, and a 175-page supplemental Test Prep Outline & Glossary. NCI’s self-paced, online students gain electronic access to these exceptional resources. We will address the value of learning from books versus videos later in this article.

Action 1: If you obtained textbooks, but did not actually take time to read and study from them, do so this time around. There are no shortcuts to passing the state exam. If you completed a self-paced, online program, make sure you spend time reading the written text supplied by the education provider.

Action 2: If you attended a course from a provider who did not supply a textbook, NCI’s textbooks can be purchased by clicking here. NCI also has an excellent Real Estate Exam Review that can be purchased here. If you purchase NCI’s textbooks, thoroughly read the Preface in the larger of the two textbooks. It gives you an excellent 5-step strategy for tackling exam questions. This strategy alone can make a huge difference when you retake the state exam!

Action 3: If you completed a course from a different provider than NCI, but are still having trouble passing the state exam, another option is available. NCI’s Online Self-Paced Salesperson Course delivers the targeted information needed to pass the state exam. It can be purchased by clicking here. The author of NCI’s textbooks fully narrates the entire program. It’s like getting personally-tutored by one of Michigan’s top real estate education experts!

Did the school use a national textbook rather than one that is Michigan-specific?

Issue: There are several real estate textbooks on the market that have the word “Michigan” printed on the cover. These textbooks could, however, be national in scope. In other words, the student may have to sift through what applies in Michigan versus other states. This can be quite confusing.

Action: If you are an NCI student, please get back to your textbooks. If you attended a non-NCI class, you can use the link above to purchase our industry-leading textbooks and enroll in our Real Estate Exam Review.

Did the school teach from outdated materials?

Issue: Laws, rules, and practices change from time-to-time. If the school’s textbooks and materials are out-of-date, this can cause problems for the student on the state exam.

Action: Make sure your textbooks and materials have been fully updated. If not, NCI's textbook set can be purchased.

Examine Did you invest the study time needed to pass?

This is where “the rubber hits the road” for the majority of test-takers who have difficulty passing the state exam. The answer to this question requires total honesty. As you think about your answer, take a fearless, searching, personal inventory of your test preparation efforts. If you skip this step or are less than honest, you may be missing the key to passing on the retake. If a lack of exam preparation was part of the problem, here are some recommendations:

Study early and study often.

Issue: Some students choose not to invest the time necessary to study from the beginning of their course. Instead, they procrastinate and then burn the midnight oil the day or two before the exam in a forced cram session. This is an ineffective study strategy and can lead to undesirable results.

Action: Most students learn and retain information better by studying in shorter bursts of time, multiple times throughout each day. Put study reminders in your cell phone, electronic calendar, or digital assistant and stick to the schedule. Remember that studying and procrastination are both choices. You get to decide which one will help pass the exam retake.

Also, if you burn the midnight oil in lengthy cram sessions, you risk burning yourself out come test time. Studies have shown that performance suffers if students are tired when they take an exam. Make sure that you get a good night's sleep the evening before exam day. Get up early so your morning routine is not rushed. And, leave a little early so your drive to the site is relaxed. 

Be disciplined and focused while studying.

Issue: In the digital age, we are all tethered to our cell phones and other electronic devices nearly every waking hour. Each day, we are bombarded with a steady and overwhelming stream of distracting information. For most of us, we habitually reach for the cell phone the instant it chimes or dings with an alert. We surrender so much of our precious time to these devices that we no longer realize what we sacrifice.

Students think they can multitask between using their cell phones and staying engaged with their learning materials. I’ve heard students say, “I know how to walk and chew gum at the same time!” What the student fails to understand (or acknowledge) is that learning and memorizing detailed information is not the equivalent of chewing gum. Different parts of the human brain are actually involved in learning, memory, and recall versus other functions that require less focused attention.

Action: I’ll let you decide what to do with your personal time. However, when it comes to studying for your exam retake, heed these recommendations. Without exception, the most effective way to study detailed information is without distractions.

This applies equally to having the TV on or playing music while you study. If you insist on having background noise while you study, turn the music volume low enough that it does not draw your attention away from your materials. Better yet, consider turning a portable fan on low as your source of background noise.

Examine – Did you study what was recommended?

When I’m asked to assess why a person did not pass the state exam, I always explore the following questions:

Was your attention elsewhere during class or while completing your online course?

Issue: Paying attention in class or to the content delivered in a self-paced, online program is essential to learning. This is where you get introduced to the concepts. It‘s where your interest gets stimulated. This is also where your cell phone derails the process.

When I observe students in a physical or virtual classroom, I can often tell who is likely to pass and who may have difficulty. Some students have their heads up and are fully engaged with the instructor. Others are staring at the cell phones in their laps. Guess which group has the best chance for success?

Students who use their phones during class often think they can “catch up” at home by simply reading the materials. They do not realize that the work in the classroom is the set-up for more effective studying at home. This applies equally to self-paced, online courses.

Action: If your school offers you the opportunity to retake the course within a certain time window at no charge (as NCI does), consider doing so. Apply these recommendations as you re-engage with the program and your course materials.

Did I study the wrong information or in the wrong way?

Issue 1: This is a new and growing problem for students in the digital age. Some students choose to ignore their school-provided textbooks and materials in favor of Internet-based resources, especially videos. They incorrectly think (or were led to believe) that watching videos and plowing through hundreds of Internet practice questions is better than learning from their textbooks. Wrong!

We are awake for a limited number of hours each day. When this time is devoted to Internet resources, it is stolen from time that could have been better spent studying actual course materials. I get it–watching something on a screen may be easier than reading from a textbook. I also understand that some students prefer videos. And, before you dismiss textbook-based studying as “old school” thinking, please continue reading.

When a student reads the written word in a textbook versus watching similar content on a screen, the brain is triggered in different ways. The act of reading from a textbook actually increases and strengthens the neural connections in our brains. Reading promotes comprehension and stimulates imagination. Reading also has a calming effect on the brain which facilitates your ability to focus.

Several experts and researchers in education sciences have found that learning is enhanced when reading versus watching videos. Further, test scores tend to increase when studying this way. Bottom line: The apparent ease and convenience of receiving information via video often comes at the cost of impaired comprehension and recall on the state exam.

Action 1: Invest the time you need studying your textbooks and written notes. Students who do so are better prepared to comprehend the material they learned. This is not to suggest that you should never use an Internet-based resource. Just make sure you clearly understand that paying attention in class and focusing on your textbooks at home are your best bets for passing.

Issue 2: Another potentially huge problem arises when a student uses Internet resources to pass the state exam. First, there is no way to verify that the information in the video is accurate, up-to-date, and applies to the Michigan real estate exam. Second, there is no way to know if the person in the video even knows what he or she is talking about.

Third, even if the video host knows what he or she is talking about, you risk moving into information overload. When you listen to too many different voices, you take in potentially conflicting information. The proverb, “too many cooks spoil the broth,” can be reimagined in the digital age as “too many information sources spoil the state exam results.”

Action 2: As long as you have excellent textbooks, devote the majority of study time to them. If your instructor recommends online exam practice questions, use them ONLY as a supplementary diagnostic tool. And, for goodness’ sake, remember that many Internet resources actually do more harm than good.

Examine – Is testing anxiety an issue?

When a test-taker experiences test anxiety, even the best preparation can be rendered ineffective. Feeling nervous or apprehensive before starting an exam is completely normal–we all experience it. However, for some, these feelings are persistent and highly stressful.

This stress can result in difficulty recalling what he or she learned come test time. Negative thoughts further intrude making it even more difficult to concentrate on the exam. Common causes of test anxiety include:

Issue: History of poor performance on exams.

Action: Since you cannot change the past, it is important to remain in the present when taking an exam. Since you already know that past exams have been stressful, work on this before you take or retake the exam. Whenever a negative thought enters your mind about past exam performance, replace it with a positive affirmation such as, “I look forward to retaking the state exam… and passing it!”

As corny as this may sound, thousands of test-takers have used affirmations and proved that they work. After all, when a person affirms they do poorly on exams, and then they fail one, haven’t they just proved that affirmations work? Why is it so strange to believe that affirming the opposite might produce the opposite (and better) result?

Issue: Perfectionism. This arises when we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. And, these expectations can gnaw away at us before and during the exam. Thinking you have to be perfect in everything you do is a potential impediment to performance. For example, an all-star professional baseball player with a .300 plus batting average actually misses the ball 70% of the time!

Action: Remind yourself that you do not have to score 100% to pass the state exam. In other words, you do not have to answer every question correctly. And, if the pressure to pass relates to someone else’s expectations for you, remember that you are the only person who matters in this moment. So, go easy on yourself. If you catch yourself heaping on the self-pressure, use the affirmation techniques previously discussed.

Issue: Fear of not passing. This factor can arise when we associate the passing of an exam with our sense of self-worth as a person.

Action: Be mindful that your value as a person has nothing to do with whether you pass the state exam or not. Assuming you attended an excellent real estate school like NCI, passing only means that you invested the time necessary to learn the information. Not passing only means you need to approach the retake differently.

Give yourself credit for taking the initiative to obtain your real estate license and improve yourself. Be proud of the courage it took to get this far. And, look at the retake as merely the last step necessary to fulfill your career goal.

Issue: Lack of preparation. It should come as no surprise that preparation is the key to feeling confident in nearly everything you do. For example, a public speaker who has thoroughly rehearsed her lines stands ready to perform. The confidence she feels as a result of her preparation further boosts her focus and ability to deliver the perfect speech. The public speaking analogy applies equally to anyone taking a test.

Action: When you are properly prepared, you feel confident. When you are confident, you feel less pressured. When you are less pressured, you feel in control. When you are in control, your mind processes information more efficiently. And, when your mind is working at peak efficiency, you pass the state exam!

Question posed, Question answered!

The title of this article posed the question, ”I failed the real estate exam; now what do I do?” That question is now answered. Feeling frustrated about not passing an exam is understandable and needs to be acknowledged. Thereafter, looking for excuses or things to blame will not change the results. Instead, apply what you learned in this article and retake the exam with a refreshed and positive attitude.

And remember, you are where you are for a reason. You have chosen to get your real estate license to fulfill a greater purpose in your life. Do not let this bump in the road stop you from realizing this important goal. For now, I’ll bid you good luck on the retake. But, keep in mind that luck is merely the residue of your intention.

Copyright © 2023 by NCI Associates, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Your Real Estate Future is Promising

However, fulfilling the promise of a successful real estate future requires the right choices at the right times. The most important decision to make right now? Where you’ll begin — or continue — your real estate training. NCI Associates, Ltd. remains your intelligent choice for Michigan Real Estate Classes.

Register Today