Thousands of people fail the US Customs Broker License Exam every year. Historically, the pass rates have ranged from around 3% to over 30% for different exams. So, it is not unusual for a good candidate to fail this exam and you should not feel defeated or unduly pessimistic over a failure. It is normal to feel some disappointment and frustration but the good news is that a failure does not close all doors to your dreams of becoming a licensed customs broker in the United States. Tens of thousands of people have achieved success after initial failures.
Here are several options that you should consider if you failed this challenging exam:
The first step would be to determine whether you should appeal your results. This may depend on the margin of your failure. If you failed by just a few points, it is generally a good idea to appeal your results. Be warned however, that CBP often takes a long time to review appeals and the results of your appeal may not be released before the date of the next exam. So, it is good practice to continue your preparation and be ready to take the next exam, while your appeal is pending decision.
In almost every exam there are usually several erroneous questions, which can be appealed if you attempted them but did not receive credit. Questions may be considered erroneous for several reasons including if they did not contain the full information required to answer the question correctly, the question had more than one correct answer, one or more of the answer choices were incorrect, or for other similar reasons.
For instance, in one exam that I successfully prepared appeal grounds for, there was a question on classification of bicycles. Here, the question provided information on the diameter of a bicycle wheel for classification, while the HSN tariff based its classification on circumference. The correct approach was to convert the diameter to circumference by using a mathematical formula, C = 2πr, where C is circumference, π is a constant generally expressed as 22/7 and r is the radius which is half the diameter of a circle. However, the official answer incorrectly used diameter to determine the classification without obtaining the circumference, and I was able to help several candidates successfully appeal this erroneous question by pointing out the mathematical error. What was odd was that CBP did not accept the obvious mathematical error on their part in the first appeal, but did so on the second appeal which leads me to think that perhaps second appeals tend to receive more serious consideration than the first ones. This may perhaps be due to the limited resources available for review of appeals with CBP and the large number of appeals that may be received in the first round.
There are other examples of successful appeals that I prepared which are available on this blog. If you have strong grounds for appeal, it is generally a good idea to persist at least until the second appeal stage to determine the outcome, for the reason explained in the above example. While an appeal to the CIT is a final option that is available from a denial of a second appeal, you may need to consider the time and expense involved in litigation and balance it with the time and cost of simply preparing for the next exam. However, there are some cases of candidates filing appeals with the CIT and a competent attorney will be able to help you should you choose to pursue that path.
A careful analysis of the question and official answer choice and review with relevant regulations, forms or instructions is necessary to craft a strong appeal. CBP will usually grant an appeal only if there are very strong grounds supported by citations to relevant regulations or instructions. There are two stages of appeal to CBP and there are several cases of candidates who were initially declared to have failed but have managed to subsequently pass their exam by appealing their results.
There is no limit to the number of times that you can take the US Customs Broker License Exam. Further, the degree of difficulty varies across exams. One exam maybe particularly difficult with a low pass rate while the next one maybe easier and produce a higher pass rate. Therefore, it is important to continue to prepare and make further attempts.
Your next option would therefore be to review your answers with the official answers to determine any areas of weaknesses in your preparation. For your next attempt, you should try and focus on strengthening your understanding of those topics where you lost the most points.
It is generally a good idea to take a prep course for proper preparation. The syllabus is quite vast and technical. A good Customs Broker License Exam prep course can teach you the basics of the most highly tested topics and provide guidance, saving you significant time while facilitating your learning process. Once you have achieved a basic level of familiarity with the course material for the highly tested topics, it is important to take as many old exams as possible for test practice. This is actually the most important part of preparing to take this challenging exam and it cannot be over emphasized.
A good strategy is to try and over prepare for this exam. As the pass rate is 75% you should try to achieve a score that is higher than 75% in your practice tests to maximize your chances of passing this exam. If you are over prepared, it gives you a lot of confidence besides which you may have a buffer of a few points that you can afford to lose and still pass the exam. At the same time, be aware that some old tests are more difficult than others and the official answers are based on older versions of the reference material. You should therefore not be unduly worried if you get a few questions wrong and do not perform well on some old practice tests.
Not only will taking multiple practice tests familiarize you with the subject matter and the manner in which the topics are tested, but it will also help you build speed and accuracy as well as practice time management. This will also instill confidence which will help you remain calm during the actual exam. Generally, you should take between 10 to 20 old practice tests, if not more, to be well prepared to take this exam. We have 28 old practice tests on our site to help you prepare for this exam.
Give yourself enough time to prepare for this exam. If you are working full time, you may need to set apart 5 to 10 hours each week to study for six months to a year to prepare for this exam.
This is an open book exam. You are permitted to take the prescribed reference and any written materials to this exam, though no electronic devices are permitted. You will be under time pressure as you have to answer 80 objective questions within the allotted four and half-hours’ time. Therefore, your ability to locate relevant content in your reference material will be key to your success. This ability does not come overnight, but it comes with practice as you take multiple old exams for practice.
It is important to remain calm and work methodically during the exam. Do not spend too much time on any one question. If any question appears difficult, mark it to be answered later, and move on. You may find easier questions later that will help you score valuable points. All questions carry equal weight and so it is important to answer all questions. Leave some time at the end for you to return to unanswered questions. If you find yourself running out of time, make educated guesses and complete the test without leaving any question blank.
Some anxiety or nervousness is normal and may in fact spur you to prepare harder to take this exam. However, excessive anxiety can lead to stress which can inhibit or lower your performance on the test. It is a good idea to have regular exercise, proper diet, and practice breathing exercises, meditation or other recreational activities to lower stress with the help of advice from your health care professional. Regular and systematic preparation tends to build confidence which can also help to lower anxiety and reduce stress. Ideally you should not be studying the day before the exam but should focus on eating right, getting some exercise and proper sleep so that you are well rested and mentally fresh to be able to focus and do your best on the exam with the right clear frame of mind.
Failures are the stepping stones to success. There is no overnight success and success is achieved by proper planning, and diligent work over a significant period of time.
If you follow the above instructions systematically with dedication, you should be able to achieve success and achieve your dream of becoming a US Licensed Customs Broker.