The Key to Passing the Customs Broker’s Exam

One of the most difficult professional exams in the United States is the Customs Broker Exam.  The pass rate over the last couple of years has been around 20%.  Some tests the pass rates have been as low as 2% though.  Why is the test so difficult?

The first thing that test takers need to understand is that the exam does not test your practical knowledge as a broker.  It is more of an exercise in research.  The exam is open book and one must have the recommended resources to have any hope of passing the exam.

In order to pass the test taker must be able to locate information is the Code of Federal Regulations and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule very quickly.  There is some interpretation involved, but most of the time the answer is pretty well aligned to the information in the reference material.

Where people struggle, at least in my opinion is that they feel like they are a knowledgeable entry writer and as such should have no issues passing the exam.  This approach is all but certain to doom you to failure.

To prepare for the exam you should spend time to organize your reference material.  I recommend buying a catalog rack so  you can keep everything all in one place.  Then tab all of the chapters in the HTSUS and regulations so you can find your citations quickly.  Finally, use the questions from past exams to practice.  Lucky for us CBP publishes the past exams so these are easy to find.

Group the questions into sections and as you practice highlight where you found the answers.  This will make it easier to find answers in heavily tested areas.  Here’s an interesting video discussing this strategy that is sure to be a big help.


As you practice get in the habit of writing down your citations to reference later.  This helps in understanding the answers in review, and also will help you know what you were looking at after the exam should you need to protest any questions.

My final recommendation is to sign up for a course like the one over at http://customsbrokergeek.com.  Having someone guide you through your study program will save you a great deal of time, and it’s always helpful to have someone to answer questions and provide further explanations.