In recent years, the American exam-preparation industry has become increasingly powerful. In order to protect the perceived quality of their members, most professional organizations now mandate knowledge-based entrance exams for aspiring members. The legal profession is a perfect example of the power of knowledge-based examinations: The various state bar exams exist to prevent unqualified lawyers from practicing in the jurisdictions that they govern. Many professions use a combination of skills-based and knowledge-based exams to control access even further. For instance, state medical boards and specialists' guilds require aspiring doctors and nurses to submit to complex examinations that measure practical skills as well as accumulated knowledge.
This emphasis on rigorous testing has lately "trickled down" to professions once perceived as less exacting. The insurance industry is a case study in this trend: These days, aspiring insurance agents must take massive state-level exams that measure their grasp of virtually every facet of the profession. Individuals who wish to become actuaries must submit to even more rigorous testing procedures.
If you're planning on going into the insurance business, you'll need to take pass a comprehensive exam in the state in which you'd like to practice. If you can't pass this exam, you won't be able to obtain a practice license in your state. This will effectively bar you from holding a position of serious responsibility in the industry.
As such, it's important that you take your exam seriously and make a considerable effort to prepare for it. You'll need to take at least one practice course before sitting for the exam. In addition, you'll need to purchase at least one study book that covers the topics that you're likely to encounter on the exam. While each state exam is slightly different, there's likely to be considerable overlap between them. National test-preparation companies like Kaplan offer general resources that you'll find valuable regardless of where you wish to practice.
Unfortunately, these resources can be extremely expensive. Since you'll already have to pay several hundred dollars in order to sit for the exam, you might be reticent to shell out even more money to cover the cost of your preparations. If this is the case, you may be able to find some limited test-preparation resources that won't cost you a significant amount of money. Since these resources may vary by state, check with your state's insurance licensing board for more information. Regardless of where you live, chances are good that you'll be able to find some free exam questions online.