Getting A Real Estate License in California: What Test Takers REALLY Need To Know

I can sell your home

I can sell your home

I recently passed the last hurdle in my quest to get my California real estate license. In retrospect, the final exam seemed like trying to pass an entrance exam to get into Harvard Law School or qualify to become a secret agent for the CIA. It was that daunting.

At the start of my odyssey, I enrolled in the Kaplan Real Estate School.  I studied my little tushie off. I was in it to win it. I studied the material and attended interactive online classes. It didn’t take long before I started to think it was too easy so I purchased every prep course that promised to return your money if you didn’t pass the final exam on the first try. As it turned out, for the most part, they were a waste of money, but I can’t ask for my money back because I DID pass the final exam.

On practice tests I was getting over 90% correct and feeling drunk with power. Ask me anything about encumbrances, appurtenances, prescriptive easements, lis pendens, capitalization, trust deeds, the significance of the Unrah Act or Rumford Act. I had the answers down cold.

Nevertheless, in the back of my head I kept thinking that knowing what I knew was not enough. There HAD to be more because the word is that only 50% of those taking the exam pass on the first try. Many take it multiple times.


My intuition was correct. There WAS more — A LOT MORE I needed to know which I discovered on examination day.

For example, I was not prepared for the stress involved in just getting into the examination room and having to follow precise, detailed instructions about what had to be done before actually taking the test.

You are instructed to arrive at the test center half an hour early. I arrived 45 minutes early and had to wait for the door to be unlocked EXACTLY at the appointed time. Once allowed inside, you are told what to do in the EXACT ORDER you are required to do it.

First, you are instructed to go to the rest room. (This is optional, of course,  – you are not required to go.) I went. May as well go while the going is good, right? The exam may take up to 3-1/2 hours to answer 150 questions. If you want to leave the exam room for any reason you must follow a specific procedure and be accompanied by a proctor. (For some reason, a vision of the “soup Nazi” character on Seinfeld came to mind.)

Upon exiting the restroom you are instructed to go to a locker and deposit into it EVERYTHING on your person except your ID. You are not allowed to have a pen, phone (you must turn it off — which I had trouble doing. People looked at me like, “what a moron!”). You may not wear a watch, have a purse, wallet, or drink. NOTHING in pockets. You are under the watchful eye of an official the entire time. (I was concerned that a strip search might be imminent.)

After depositing EVERYTHING into the locker, you go to a desk and show your ID. Your hands and arms are inspected to make certain there are no crib notes. A young man seen with a “care” label hanging out of his jeans caused a stir. I expected to see flashing red lights,  a blaring siren and perhaps even a SWAT team barging in.  (And rightly so, I suppose. Can’t be too careful — a clever  criminal could get a lot of crib notes on that one inch piece of cloth.)

I found a possible chink in the security procedure: hearing aids — you are not required to remove them. Given advances in technology who knows what information hearing impaired test takers might have access to. With my hearing aid, I hear voices giving me secret information all the time. (The rumor that I have been told what’s in Hillary’s secret emails is not true.)

You are given a numbered mouse that corresponds to the number of your assigned computer and assigned desk. You are instructed to place your ID and your locker key in the upper right hand corner of the desk where it can be seen by constantly circulating proctors. I failed to place my ID in the PRECISE position so it was quickly adjusted by a proctor. I was hoping this infraction would not disqualify me.

You are supplied with a calculator, white board, and a useless worn out broad tip Sharpie. Fortunately, I didn’t need the calculator or the Sharpie.

Fully inspected, relieved of your possessions, and outfitted with allowed test-taking necessities, you are escorted to your assigned desk and assigned computer.

I began the exam and quickly realized my intuition was spot on. Very few prep test questions were on the exam.

The majority of questions were lengthy, complicated, and loaded with “gotcha” elements, as were the potential answers. For example, it was easy to miss the significance of the word  “only” in a question and as a result, answer a question incorrectly. There were terms and concepts I’d not seen before. (An armful of crib notes would have been useless) I figured I was in trouble because a score of 70% is needed to pass.

I finally finished and was escorted out of the room. (Being escorted really makes you feel special — know what I’m sayin”? The atmosphere was so tense I felt like a prisoner on death row being led to my last meal.)

Again, everything happens in precise order. You are immediately told to go to the rest room (optional, of course). I went, totally dejected and angry that I had invested so much time and money on prep tests. I thought to myself, “If I don’t pass this, I simply can’t invest as much time and effort  to try again.” I was THAT convinced I had not passed.


Upon returning from the rest room, your fate is revealed in a sealed piece of paper you are given. You are told you may not unseal the paper while in the building and you may not discuss the test when you are outside.

Imagine my shock when I tore open the sealed paper and saw “CONGRATULATIONS!” It took a while to sink in. A young man standing next to me was in tears, looking at his paper and holding his head. He muttered, “OMG, this can’t be happening again.” I felt his pain.

I don’t know — perhaps I AM qualified to get into Harvard Law School or qualified to become a secret agent for the CIA. It can’t be much more challenging than trying to get a real estate license in the People’s Republic of California.


  1. Congratulations! If I ever lose my mind and decide to sell my house. you’ll be the first person I call. Don’t go betting the farm on this, I plan to be removed feet first.

    • Elaine, thank you so much for your confidence. If ever you do lose your mind and decide to sell your abode, I promise, I am a pit bull. I will get the job done to your complete satisfaction and even, restore your sanity. Yes, I am that good. 🙂

      BTW, I hope you are doing well with all the onerous prescription regulations.

  2. Linda J. Brown says

    Oh, Barbara! You do ALL OF US proud! Just that sample list of Latin-sounding names would have had me choosing another profession, right off the bat. And now, you have proven to be expert on all of them and then some! That is some wonderful accomplishment, all right. Heck, the actual selling a client on a house that is perfect for them will be sooooooo easy, now that you have gotten through the thick, protective skin of California’s Real Estate Board. I’ll bet, that it indicates your immunity to intimidation, as well.

    Good on you! Linda

    • Linda, thank you so much for the kind comment!!! Look, learning all those Latin sounding words and phrases was pretty much a waste of time. Yes, I’m glad I know what they mean but I am sure I will never encounter them again. I don’t know if I now have immunity to intimidation because of what I wrote, and if I don’t have immunity, it will be fun to make fun of that, too.

      Still waiting on an article from you 🙂

  3. OMGosh, Barbara, this is the funniest piece I’ve read – by you or anyone else – in a long time! I’m delighted that you passed, but sorry for the 50% who didn’t – or at least the honest people among the group. There sure must be a lot of cheaters out there today.

    Not ever having been to jail – phew! – the proctor-guards made me think of the type of kids in grade school who loved being hall monitors.

    Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Thanks, Eileen! I’m glad you saw the humor in it. I understand the need for measures to prevent cheating but honestly, the questions were so complicated and convoluted that no one could have had enough crib notes that would have been helpful.

      I’m glad it’s over so I can get on with the next challenge in my life.

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