Licensing For Dummies

Seeing as there have been a few recent posts about the NASD/FINRA Licensing exams, I thought it would be prudent to discuss them with you guys, since most of you monkeys looking for full-time employment on the street will need to take them in some way, shape or form.

Very simply, the licensing exams are a necessity across the board for almost everything you do on the Sell-Side. If you work for a broker/dealer or for a firm that inventories their own assets you might need a license. If you're in sales and trading or do equity research, you will need it. If you're doing any sort of client interaction, you need it. If you're in banking, you'll need it.

While you won't need most of the exams offered, I'm going to cover the basics of what you will and will not need to know about these before you sit down to take them.

FINRA License Exams Guide

This post will cover:

  • The Series 3
  • The Series 7
  • Series 63, Series 66, Series 65
  • The Series 79
  • The Series 86/87
  • The Series 55


FINRA, or The Financial INdustry Regulatory Authority, is the governing body behind all of these exams. They are the successor to the NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers) and are one of the biggest SROs on Wall Street. An SRO, for those that don't know, is a Self-Regulatory Organization. An SRO acts as a regulating body over an industry; however they do not necessarily derive any of their power from the government or any federal body. They make the rules we follow that are not mandated by the SEC. They also enforce government regulation like Blue Sky Laws, or state registration as it is also known as, and the Investment Advisor Act of 1940. In addition to acting like a regulator, they are also in charge of all of these licensing exams that you might need to take if you work on the sell side. Not all people will be required to take sell side exams, but most will be expected to upon full time employment. Everyone from Investment Bankers, S&T Folk, Portfolio Managers, Equity Research to the Wealth Management guys that most of you monkeys talk down on and even the guys in the Back Office are required to take these exams. I am going to stick with the absolute basics and avoid discussing the "Limited Rep" and Management exams that are required if you plan on only hawking one product or are considered to be a principal or a manager for a desk.

IF YOU ARE AN INTERN, YOU WILL NOT BE REQUIRED TO TAKE THESE EXAMS. Look back a sentence and reread that statement. It's highlighted for a reason. Again, if you're an intern, you're not required to have your licenses. There are a few reasons. First, there is cost and nomination. The exam requires the firm to pay for your costs of registration and the costs to take the exam, as well as the need to sponsor you for most of the exams. Simply put, taking an exam is a commitment by your firm in you for at least 2 years of your life. Plus there are the carrying costs for registration. It's not just a one and done deal or a onetime fee, as your firm pays to carry your registration on their books. Second, there is the simple fact that unless you are employed by the firm, if you're an intern and you end up not getting invited back, you walk away ahead and the firm is left with being out money because of you. Finally, as an intern, you will not be doing anything that would require you, by law, to need these licenses. You will not be executing trades. You will not be discussing "things" with clients. You will not have any responsibilities that require the use of these licenses.

Now, on to the important stuff.…

The Series 3: Commodities, Futures and Forex

The Series 3 is the exam required for anyone who wants to trade Commodities, Futures and Forex as an "Associated Person", "Commodity Trading Adviser", "Commodity Pool Operator", "Commodities Broker", "Futures Trader on a Commission Basis", or a Forex trader under the jurisdiction of the NFA (National Futures Association). Basically, this is the exam required to trade commodities and futures. You don't need a firm to sponsor you (Meaning you don't need to be in their employment in order to take this exam) nor do you need any other exam if this is your sole job. The Series 3 covers material that is exempt from Blue Sky regulation, as both commodities and futures do not fall under this particular type of jurisdiction, however you are still bound by CFTC and NFA Guidelines. The exam has 120 questions and has a two and a half hour time limit.

The Series 7: General Representation

The Series 7 was the de rigueur standard of the day up until the introduction of the Investment Banking exam a few years ago, because almost everyone on the sell side had the Series 7 if they were on the sell-side. This exam is the "General Securities Rep" exam, meaning that once you pass it, you are able to sell all types of financial products. Unless you are required to have the Series 79 or work in an area that does not require the Series 7, you will have to take it. If you pass, it serves as your general registration with FINRA and as a General Securities Rep on the federal level. It effectively allows you to actually interact with clients and sell any security except for life insurance, real estate, commodities and futures. It is important to note that you cannot trade with the Series 7 alone, as you need to have your state registrations as well. The state registrations will be discussed in detail a little further on.

In order to take the Series 7, your firm needs to sponsor you. Traditionally, it's taken within the first three months of employment, as that is the period, as defined by FINRA, of apprenticeship where you are supposed to learn and take your exams. The exam itself is a 6 hour long exam, comprising of two sections, each 3 hours in length and a break of between 30 minutes and an hour between the two halves. The exam has 250 questions. The two largest portions, Municipal Securities and Options, comprise about 100 questions on the exam. Knowing and acing those questions will only get you so far though. The Series 7 also covers basic regulation, analysis, the markets, KYC/Account and Ops related information and a few other topics. You need a score of 70% or higher to pass this exam.

The Series 7 is still the standard prerequisite exam for just about every major FINRA/NASD exam you will take outside of the Series 3. All of the principal exams, with the exception of the Commodities and Futures Principal – it requires the Series 3 – that you might take further down the line will require you to have the Series 7 license.

The Series 6X: You're my Blue Sky, You're my RIA

The Series 6X is an exam with 3 different flavors, the Series 63, the Series 65 and the Series 66. The Series 7 serves as a prerequisite for both the Series 63 and the Series 66. The Series 65, I wouldn't worry about, but will discuss briefly for completion sake.
The Series 63 is the Blue Sky Laws exam. Passing this exam allows you to be registered at the state level per Blue Sky regulation and enables you to sell securities in whichever state you or your firm, as the case may be, choose to register in. The name of the law comes from the following quote:

The name that is given to the law indicates the evil at which it is aimed, that is, to use the language of a cited case, "speculative schemes which have no more basis than so many feet of 'blue sky'"; or, as stated by counsel in another case, "to stop the sale of stock in fly-by-night concerns, visionary oil wells, distant gold mines and other like fraudulent exploitations." Even if the descriptions be regarded as rhetorical, the existence of evil is indicated, and a belief of its detriment; and we shall not pause to do more than state that the prevention of deception is within the competency of government and that the appreciation of the consequences of it is not open for our review.

This quote is attributed to US Supreme Court Justice Joseph McKenna as part of his opinion on Hall vs. Geiger-Jones Co. (242 U.S. 539 [1917]) despite the fact that he was not the first to use this quote.

As to the exam itself, this exam covers state securities regulation, laws and ethics. It has 60 questions and is 75 minutes long. You need a score of 72% or higher to pass.
The Series 65 is the Registered Investment Advisor exam. This exam is required for money managers, investment advisors and anyone that manages funds on a non-commission basis. While this exam is still around, most of you will not be taking this exam, as your firm will require that you have either the 7/63 or 7/66 if you are in a position that requires those exams. The only exception is if you plan to market yourself as a Registered Investment Advisor, but that's another post for another day.

Series 66 for Dummies

The Series 66 combines both the Series 63 and the Series 65. It combines the Blue Sky Laws and Registered Investment Advisor exam into a smaller, 100-question test that allows the candidate who passes to both manage money on a discretionary basis and receive their state registration. This covers everything from the Series 63 as well as Investment Strategy, Investment types and an in-depth look at knowing your client. There is no overlap from the Series 7 material that you would find on the other two exams. In general, all three of the 6X exams are known to be trickier, as it tests how well you know the rules you are being tested on and their uses. The Series 66 is two and a half hours long and requires a passing score of 71% or higher.

The Series 79: The Original Bankster

I will admit, I am least familiar with the Series 79, only because I was exempt from needing to take it, but it's the licensing exam for all of you wannabe Bankers. If you were lucky enough to be grandfathered in, that's awesome. If you weren't, I wouldn't sweat it. The Series 79 covers just about every IBD and ECM/DCM function there is. Basically, this exam covers two key areas:

  1. Capital Markets Advisory for Debt or Equity securities
  2. Traditional IBD Functions from Advisory Work to Restructuring and everything in between. And yes, your product group under IBD falls under traditional functions. It doesn't matter whether you're in FIG, TMT or SSG, you're still just a sucker who will need to get his Series 79 if you work at a sell-side shop.

This exam, while new, was created as a result of the problems that arose from the latter part of the last decade and is now required if you plan to do IBD. This exam serves as the IBD equivalent of having the Series 7/66 combo. The exam is 175 questions and is five hours long.

The Series 86/87: Learning to Dig Deeper

The Series 86/87 combination is for Equity Research. If you do any sort of ER Work for a sell-side shop, you will need this in some way, shape or form. The Series 7 and 63 are required before you can even be considered to sit for this exam. This has to do with the fact that in order to talk with clients, you need to have the Blue Sky Registration. The exam itself is broken up into two parts, the Series 86, Investment Analysis and Valuation, and the Series 87, Legal Regulation and Best Practices for Equity Research. They cover topics pertinent to exactly what it sounds like in order to make sure that you are at least competent in how you perform your valuations and are more than capable of being able to understand the basic regulatory framework. Seeing as these are a combination exam, you are required to pass the 86 before you can sit for the 87 even though they directly related. The Series 86 has 100 questions and a four hour time limit. The Series 87 has 50 questions with a 90 minute time limit.

Here's an interesting fact for anyone doing Equity Research. If you have passed your CFA Level 1 and Level 2 exams, you can use that in lieu of taking the Series 86 exam due to the high degree of overlap between the two exams. It's just something worth noting…

The Series 55: Equity is a Bitch

The Series 55, the last exam we will be discussing, is Equity Trading Desk exam. If you plan to be an equity trader or trade in convertible debt securities on a trading desk, you need to take this exam on top of its prerequisites, the Series 7 and the Series 63. This exam covers a slew of topics including the markets themselves, trading practices for different markets and different types of securities, rules and regulations and electronic trading, all things you need to know if you work on an Equities Trading Desk. The exam is 3 hours long and has 100 questions. You need a 70% or higher to pass.

Some Last Minute Thoughts and Advice

Just so you are aware, the major shops will pay for the exams if you are required to take them. However, there are other shops, particularly some of the shadier ones, which will make you pay for the registration costs. Although I hate my former roommate, I know he had to pay his registration costs out of pocket so this way if he failed, his employer was not the cash for registration. So be careful if you're going to shop with a less than reputable reputation.

Before you go and ask about prep time and all those other fun questions, let me leave you with a bit of advice. It sucks having to take any of these exams more than once. Overkill, while more time consuming, is better than being under-prepared. I know of firms that have a one and done policy for the Series 7, where passing it must be done on the first attempt or you're fired. This isn't necessarily the case for other exams, but I have seen cases where people have failed the Series 66 multiple times and have been given ultimatums where they are gone if they fail it again. Just so you are aware, your firm will pay for study materials for you to use and possibly a class along with it. My advice for all of these exams is to take all of the practice exams until you're comfortably scoring in the high 80s and you should be able to pass them without much difficulty.

As always Monkeys, fire away with questions if you have them.

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Comments (62)

Jan 15, 2011 - 4:56pm

So, if I am an intern, do I have to take these exams?

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford
  • 2
  • 1
Jul 1, 2011 - 6:36am
So, if I am an intern, do I have to take these exams?

No IF YOU ARE AN INTERN, YOU WILL NOT BE REQUIRED TO TAKE THESE EXAMS. Look back a sentence and reread that statement.
Jan 15, 2011 - 5:04pm

Happy, let me refer you to the rather clear line that says IF YOU ARE AN INTERN YOU WILL NOT NEED TO TAKE THESE EXAMS

Jan 15, 2011 - 5:06pm

That would be why I asked so silly

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford
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Jan 15, 2011 - 7:10pm

I'm currently an intern at a wealth management firm and I don't do anything here that would require the licenses, however I am interested in getting the series 7 and 66 to help me get a job after I'm done working here. It would cost about $1,300 in upfront fees to get the licenses and a small monthly fee afterward (and annual renewal fees). They aren't looking to hire and I will be leaving there in about 2 months. I inquired about the licenses and they said they can sponsor it and hold it for me until I find a job but I would have to pay for it myself. So my question is: How beneficial would it be to already have the series 7 and 66 licenses? If a company has multiple candidates, do you think they will probably want to hire the guy that already has the licenses? Most of the jobs that I'm interested in say: "series 7 and 66 preferred upon hire, but required after 3 months after getting hired". Is it worth paying for it? Are my chances going to be better if I obtain them?

Jan 15, 2011 - 8:15pm

What nothing on the 24? Why not?

"Oh the ladies ever tell you that you look like a fucking optical illusion" - Frank Slaughtery 25th Hour.
Jan 15, 2011 - 9:36pm

Above, you mentioned a 2 year committment by the firm. Is this binding, and am I locked into working at the same firm for he next two years like when a company pays for an MBA? Should I forgo getting the 7 until I'm at the new job?

I started in boutique BO, now interviewing for BB MO while working and studying for I going to get in trouble or something if I jump ship in a few months?

Get busy living
  • 1
Jan 15, 2011 - 11:41pm

Good article, hopefully this will provide a good basis for folks on the sell side. These tests are really not measures of how smart you are, but how much time you are willing to put into the test.

Remember.. if you are taking these tests and you hate it, ask yourself whether this is a job or a career. If it's a career, you need these tests -- especially for entry level stuff.

Not to nit-pick, but the Series 66 has a minimum passing score of 75% now, as of Jan 2010.

Sep 5, 2011 - 2:49pm

Ok for all monkeys that plan on taking the 79, DO NOT take it lightly. The 79 is 5 hours and 185 questions, 10 of which are random test questions that are not included in your grade. You need a 73% or better to pass nowadays. If you fail, you have to wait 30 days to retake and get made fun of at the office. Also ignore this advice:


Remember.. if you are taking these tests and you hate it, ask yourself whether this is a job or a career. If it's a career, you need these tests -- especially for entry level stuff.

Maybe I misunderstood, but the 79 and 63 suck and everybody hates it. Even people who were born to be investment bankers hate studying for it. Just pass on the first try and you are done until continuing ed comes around.

Sep 22, 2011 - 8:13am
Ok for all monkeys that plan on taking the 79, DO NOT take it lightly. The 79 is 5 hours and 185 questions, 10 of which are random test questions that are not included in your grade. You need a 73% or better to pass nowadays. If you fail, you have to wait 30 days to retake and get made fun of at the office. Also ignore this advice:

Remember.. if you are taking these tests and you hate it, ask yourself whether this is a job or a career. If it's a career, you need these tests -- especially for entry level stuff.

Maybe I misunderstood, but the 79 and 63 suck and everybody hates it. Even people who were born to be investment bankers hate studying for it. Just pass on the first try and you are done until continuing ed comes around.

Yeah, and by the time continuing ed comes around.. you'll have intern(s) at the office to take it for you. At my shop they call it "study prep".

Patrick Bateman would eat Eddie Morra's lunch (and probably his brains).
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Best Response
Jan 16, 2011 - 1:50am


Where do I begin... T4S, the reason I didn't discuss the 24 is that it's a "Branch Manager" exam and is beyond the scope of what most monkeys here will be doing.

cjohn, I when I took it, the pass rate was a 71%. Scores change at the whim of the NASD, so use this guide accordingly.

Toughluck, no. Do not shell out the cash if you are working for a firm that will sponsor you as a full time employee. As an intern, it does not pay to get yourself licensed. Seeing as you have a 3 month window upon employment, at which point your firm should pay, assuming your working for a reputable shop, take it when you get hired.

UFO, I wouldn't worry about it. Continue getting your Series 7 accordingly and if you jump shops before getting registered, explain the situation to your new firm, as they may or may not require you to be licensed. Depending on what you do in the MO, you may not be required to have a license, although I would assume that they will have a requirement for one. As to the comment regarding 2 years, most hires have a contract, particularly at the undergraduate and associate level, that lasts two years before being renewed on a yearly basis after the completion of the first two years. This case holds true in most areas except for Wealth Management which depends on more factors than I really wish to discuss.

Gamenumbers, that may be, but you are still expected to pass both the Series 86 (or the CFA Level 1 and Level 2 exams) and the Series 87 in order to engage in Equity Research. From what I have seen, most people take the 86 before they take the 87, hence my referential order.

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Jan 16, 2011 - 11:17am
Good stuff ! really interesting ! One question, do you know what are the equivalents for europe ?

What would you like to know about the FSA exams?

Jack: They’re all former investment bankers who were laid off from that economic crisis that Nancy Pelosi caused. They have zero real world skills, but God they work hard.
-30 Rock

Jan 16, 2011 - 9:59am

16rl, unfortunately, I don't. I do not know the FSA, The UK's version of FINRA, at all, nor do I know if there is any reciprocity between licenses in the US and in the UK.

Aug 27, 2012 - 1:03pm
Do you need to be sponsored for the 63/65/66? Or is the Series 7 the only one you need to be sponsored for?

No. I don't believe you need to be sponsored for these.

"Now go get your f'n shinebox!"
Jan 16, 2011 - 11:41am

NFA now requires you to have a Series 34 if your envolved with a fund that sells/trade forex.

Please don't make me talk to you like an asshole...
Jan 24, 2011 - 2:47pm

Frieds I didnt mean to nitpick at you and I still dont.... Series 24 is the general securities principal exam and I was just wondering who would need it.

"Oh the ladies ever tell you that you look like a fucking optical illusion" - Frank Slaughtery 25th Hour.
Jan 16, 2011 - 3:01pm

great post....could you highlight exams needed outside of equity (including fixed income or alternative assets/investments like PE, HFs , VC?) just curious

-- Finance & Consulting Careers [email protected]
Jan 16, 2011 - 4:16pm

you need to be sponsored to take any of these exams. finra will not let you register unless you are sponsored.

and back to your response to my post, i do again say that the two exams (86 and 87) are totally separate from one another and neither is a prerequisite of the other. the series 7 is a prerequisite for both. i've never met a single person who has taken these exams back-to-back. the 86 is a long, tough slog and the 87 is basically pure memorization of rules & regulations. the study materials for the 86 are notoriously bad, so basically if you're scoring in the mid-80s on the STC practice exams you'll probably have enough of a buffer to pass the real exam by a few points. the 87 is like the series 63 - lots of nonsense rules and regs and it's significantly easier.

Jan 16, 2011 - 5:37pm
you need to be sponsored to take any of these exams. finra will not let you register unless you are sponsored.

This is incorrect, not all of these exams require sponsorship, for example neither the 63, 65 nor 66 have that requirement.

Jack: They’re all former investment bankers who were laid off from that economic crisis that Nancy Pelosi caused. They have zero real world skills, but God they work hard.
-30 Rock

Jan 16, 2011 - 4:45pm

T4S, PM me with specifics and we'll discuss it accordingly. I understand you weren't nitpicking at all and it was a valid question. Here's my question, and again, if you want to do it via PM instead of over the forum that's fine, but do you have any supervisory responsibilities for what you do?

FC, I'm a little confused at what you are asking for? Are you asking whether you need any license for the Buy Side or if there are any specific exams for non-equity products? If it's the latter, I would reread the stuff on the Series 7 and the Series 6X. That should answer your question, as you can't transact in any securities if you are on the sell side without them.

Gamenumbers, not true on being sponsored. The Series 3 is the only exam that doesn't require firm sponsorship. Also, you make fair points with the 86/87. I haven't take then, so I can only go by what I know and what I've asked to people who have taken them.

Bravo, thanks for the Info. I'll do my Due Dilligence and post an update in the next day or two to keep this fairly accurate for those that need the Series 3 to trade Forex.

Patrick, it was my pleasure. I just got tired of seeing people asking all of these questions and thought it would be wiser to put some basic guide together that has enough information for people to use.

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Jan 18, 2011 - 9:46am

I would add to what Frieds said and say that the majority of shops will pay for all testing and I'd be very skeptical of places that don't.

Apr 23, 2011 - 3:11pm

If you are grandfathered in or meet the time frame in which being grandfathered in is permissible, then I would assume that you would not have to take the S79, but check with your compliance officer to make sure.

Aug 20, 2011 - 12:17am

Frieds, do you (or anyone else on here) know how much it typically is to take the S79? Also, if it's an AM firm, can they sponsor someone for any of the licenses (like S79) or is it just for things regarding AM (S7, S66, etc)


Aug 21, 2011 - 5:32pm

Unfortunately, I don't know what the cost of the exam is. If your AM shop does any banking (or banking as defined by the criteria set forth for the S79), then you can ask. Traditionally, you are sponsored for the licenses you need for your job. If they ask you to get something else (as is the case with a friend of mine, who was asked to get his 24, 9 and 10 - Principal and Supervisory exams), then the firm will go ahead and sponsor you to take the exam.

  • 1
Oct 17, 2011 - 6:03pm

16rl, look at the FSA website. I can't speak for the UK, so you gotta do the research yourself and report back to us with your findings!

Jan 4, 2012 - 10:16am

I know this is an old thread but hopefully you can still help.

I am interested in getting a S7. I work in MO for a BB and have asked HR how to begin. They said it is unlikely that BB will pay for it, but is it possible they will still sponsor me? My understanding is that it is unlikely because they dont want me to move to FO position. Thanks for any advice.

I say fuck change, I don't chase dimes
Jan 9, 2012 - 2:05am

This is binding, and I work in the same company, because he likes to pay when a company's MBA lock the next two years? If I give up in the new work, until my 7?

Mar 14, 2012 - 3:47am

Can anyone let me know if the S79 & S63 is required to conduct advisory services for M&A and Private Equity transactions, including being an intermediary on private equity deals, consulting and co-advisory lead on M&A transactions. How about sourcing deals and getting paid commissions/fees? I'm expanding my financial services shop to focus in on corporate finance?

Dec 4, 2013 - 5:46pm

Hey ML, just saw your post. Did anyone answer you? I have the same question as my shop is expanding and Im doing the same thing. Do we need licenses if we're only using our relationships etc? Any light you can shed would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

Jun 8, 2012 - 10:09am

Stumbled upon this old thread and hoping someone out there has advice for me..

I work in risk at a BB and was selected to participate in the IBD/GCM summer training program. However, I was told that I will not be taking the Series 79 because it's not relevant to my position (but neither is the training I will receive).

If I would eventually like to make a move into a FO position, is having the Series 79 absolutely crucial? Or should I be able to market the training I receive and still make a move and then take the S79?

  • 1
Jun 8, 2012 - 4:32pm

If you make the move, you'll get your license then. I wouldn't worry about getting it before hand.

Aug 24, 2012 - 9:51am

What licenses will the CFA cover? I'm facing the insurance, 65, 86, and 87 licenses in the next year or so and I'm wondering if it's just more efficient to take the CFA.

Get busy living
Aug 25, 2012 - 4:34am

UFO, Insurance is totally separate and unrelated. As for the 86/87, you'd need to pass the CFA Level 2 to get an exemption from the 86 I believe.

Aug 27, 2012 - 1:01pm

What would you say is a reasonable amount of time to study for the 7/66? I know most firms give you about 90 days. Would a month suffice?

"Now go get your f'n shinebox!"
Mar 22, 2013 - 4:26pm

I realize this is a little out of place for the thread but figured I'll give it a shot. The Series 24 (as previously indicated) is the General Securities Principal exam. Once you have passed it, you would be able to approve accounts, transactions, etc. The question I have that has been debated by colleagues is whether or not the 63 or 66 is a prerequisite requirement before you can act in a Principal capacity. They are not prerequisites to take the exam so I would suspect they are not required but it seems to me that you should have one of them before you would be eligible to be a Principal. Does anyone have any knowledge of this?

Feb 24, 2014 - 8:56pm

i'm an undergraduate and i'm preparing early. mainly i want to learn about portfolio management and i find that getting a certification will provide me some solid info while at the same time having something to show. i'd like to take a certification exam that i can complete within 6 months-12 months. i've been trading equities for awhile and have not been doing too shabby. eventually i'd like to go on the buy side (work for a fund).

i know you're going to tell me to do networking, working on other stuff, internships. (i know thats what you guys are going to recommend). beside all that what exam would you take? I was planning on taking the series 65 exam.

Feb 26, 2014 - 9:29pm

Don't. Just don't. Take my advice and let sleeping dogs lie until you actually have a job on Wall Street and are required to take any of these exams. You'll be better off.

Nov 14, 2017 - 4:07pm

I have the 79 and 63 but just moved to a small fund that requires me to have the 65 or the 66. I know that the 7 is a prerequisite for the 66, but I was wondering if the 79 can act as a requisite too (i.e. since I have the 79 can I take the 66? or do I have to take the 65 since I do not have the 7?)

Thanks for the input. I've tried looking online and it's unclear - nobody mentions where / if the 79 fits into all this. If they have then I didn't search enough and figured I could get the info from someone who may know off the top of their head on WSO.

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