- The computer-based Patent Office Registration Exam is available virtually every weekday, at a testing site near you.
- The paper-based version of the Exam, which we don’t think is advisable except for people who really cannot take a computer-based Exam, is generally only available a week or so in July, in Alexandria Virginia. It is entirely your option whether you take the computer-based or paper-based Exam. All information specific to the paper-based Exam below is in brackets and italicized.
- There is no deadline for submitting your application to sit for the computer-based Patent Office Exam. You can send in your application whenever it is ready. [There IS a deadline for submitting your application for the paper-based Exam, if you choose to take that instead. That deadline is announced in the General Requirements Bulletin.]
- The computer-based testing system is very well-designed. You will be able to skip questions, mark questions as doubtful, return to questions, change your answer within the Exam time, etc.
- You will not be able to take ANYTHING into the Exam. Not even your MPEP. Not even your own scratch paper. (They'll give you scratch paper, which they collect at the end of the Exam. You'll have access to an electronic MPEP, and any other documents that they are testing.) [If you’re taking the paper-based Exam, the Patent Office will give you a clean hardcopy of the MPEP and other documents they are testing you can use during your Exam.]
1. Requirements to sit for the Exam:
Generally, almost any degree in engineering or the hard sciences (biology, physics, chemistry) qualifies you to sit for the Exam. In many cases (but not all) a Computer Science degree will qualify. Also, about two years of courses in any of the above should qualify (under Category B). See the General Requirements Bulletin for the details. Be forewarned that the Patent Office is not generally very flexible or open-minded about qualifications to sit for the Exam. You really must fit yourself into one of the categories set forth in the General Requirements Bulletin.
2. Application process:
The application to sit for the Exam requires you to show your qualifications to sit for the Exam (as set forth above generally, and in the General Requirements Bulletin more specifically) and asks for general background information, including some “character and fitness” questions.
There are no longer deadlines for submitting applications for the computer-based Exam. You can submit your application throughout the year, whenever you see fit. So, it’s a strategic question as to when you should submit your application (see our advice on timing below). [Because of the fixed date of the paper-based Exam, there IS a deadline for applications to sit for the written Exam, if you choose to do that. That deadline is given in the General Requirements Bulletin.]
Generally, you will hear from the Office within about two weeks with your permission to sit for the Exam if you are a "Category A" applicant, and one-two months for Category "B" and "C" applicants. (See General Requirements Bulletin for the Category descriptions.)
If your application is incomplete when submitted, rather than just being rejected (as it was under prior practice), they’ll just send you a postcard telling you what they need in order to complete your application. They’ll start to review your application once it is complete.
Your application to take the computer-based Exam must be accompanied by an application fee ($100) and examination fee ($200). The applicant will be entitled to a refund of the examination fee ($200), but not the application fee, if the applicant fails to qualify to sit for the Exam. (You’re only out $100 if they tell you you’re not qualified to sit for the Exam.)
There is also a separate fee ($150) to be paid to the testing site before you sit for the Exam.
(All fees are as of this writing. As with all PTO fees, they are subject to change without warning.) [The fees to sit for the paper-based Exam instead are much higher. See the General Requirements Bulletin for details.]
4. The Exam:
An applicant who is qualified to sit for the Exam will be informed by the PTO and given a 90-day (3-month, more or less) window to take the Exam, if you have requested the computer based Exam. The 90-day window will start five (5) days from the date they mail you the letter (so that you have time to receive it). [If you are taking the paper-based Exam, you will be assigned a date within the announced timeframe to take the Exam. You do not have any choice as to the date you will take the Exam. You also have no choice as to where to take it; the paper-based Exam is generally only available in Alexandria Virginia.]
You will be given, in that letter, several ways to contact the test administration company, Prometric, to arrange to take the test. The test must be taken at one of Prometric’s over 400 sites throughout the United States. Once you have received your confirmation, you can use a toll-free number or the Prometric Website to arrange your test date and location within that 90-day window. (If you miss the 90-day window to take the Exam, for any reason, you’ll likely have to start over again to apply for a new authorization.)
The Office is recommending, and we heartily concur that, because of this 90-day window, you should start your preparations even before you submit your application.
Prometric administers many other computer-based exams, so you shouldn’t worry that they won’t handle your Exam professionally. Although there is the occasional “horror story” (usually involving something unavoidable like the examinee kicking out the power plug of the workstation), most takers report positive testing experiences. You can check the Prometric site (above) for further information on their locations, policies, etc.
You must appear at the correct Prometric site at the time you have agreed to. (Late and “no show” policies are discussed on the Prometric site.) You must bring a current photo ID (valid state driver’s license, etc., previously identified in your application) in order to be allowed to sit for the Exam. They may also take an electronic photo of you and/or fingerprints.
No carry-in items of any sort (book-bags, cellphones, laptops, notes, MPEPs, etc.) are allowed into the Exam site. Each candidate will be issued a pencil and scratch paper (or the like) which must be fully accounted for and turned in at the end of the Exam.
Each candidate is allowed up to 15 minutes for a tutorial on the computer (before you start the Exam) to learn the Exam system (e.g., how to skip and return to a question or mark it for later review).
The Exam is comprised of two 3-hour blocks of 50, 5-answer multiple-choice questions, with a 1-hour lunch break in between sessions. That is, a total of 100 questions. But only 90 of the questions count. The other 10 are “beta test” questions, which the Office is testing for future administrations. These 10 questions don’t count toward your score. They are only scored for internal, Office purposes. The trouble is that it is not always apparent (and never intentionally apparent) which questions are beta test questions, so you have to give each question its due consideration, but no more…lest you waste time on a question that doesn’t count.
The format of the questions is much the same as the prior, written Exams. Even the content of the questions is much the same, with some notable exceptions that we’ll discuss during the course. Although they may move to another scheme at a later date, currently, the questions are weighted equally, and will be drawn randomly (except for the distribution aspect noted above). The system also does not draw particular questions later in the Exam based on your answers to prior questions. The good news is that they are striving to eliminate the “double negative” questions (i.e., “which of the following is not true…”), and there won’t be multiple questions based on the same fact pattern (i.e., each question will be completely discrete).
There is a clock on the screen that gives you the elapsed time in each session.
The Exam room will be proctored and/or videotaped.
You will have to sign out and sign in for the lunch break, and any other break you decide to take during the day. (You’ll also have to turn in your scratch paper at each break and at the end of the test.)
There will be an optional evaluation form that you can fill out at the end of your Exam (not included in the Exam time), giving your feedback on the test and the test site.
5. Exam Scope:
The PTO posts to its Website what version of the MPEP and what other documents are currently being tested. If the PTO updates that information while you are still an active student with us, we will let you know of any changes to (and provide you with any reasonable updates covering) the testable material. The testable materials will be available in electronic form at the Exam site on the same terminal screen (as in our software). The electronic MPEP is indexed and keyword searchable, but you can only open one document/chapter at a time. (You cannot search the entire book.) The PTO has said that it will not test new laws or rules without at least 90 days advance notice.
In most cases, you will get an “instant preliminary result” as soon as you finish the computer-based Exam. These “instant preliminary results” have proven very reliable. You will get the official letter mailed to you a day or two later.
The passing score on the Exam is 70% correct. But keep in mind that only 90 out of the 100 questions you will see count. The other 10 are “beta test” questions that the Office scores only for internal purposes. You have to get 63 of the 90 questions that count correct to pass the Exam. (Getting the beta test questions right doesn’t help.)
If you pass, you won’t get your score. If you fail, you will get a score, but the only way to find out what questions you got right or wrong is to go to the Patent Office to look at your Exam. They will show you the questions you answered, and the correct answer for each, but there is no explanation and no right of appeal.
If you fail the Exam, there will be a 30-day waiting period before re-taking the Exam.
7. Our advice: When to take the Exam:
The short and easy answer is: when you’re ready! Okay, what else is there? Clearly, being ready means you’ve prepared adequately. Finding the time to study for the Exam is much more important than finding the time to take the Exam itself. (The Exam itself will be over before you know it.) Adequate preparation requires about 200 hours of study, usually in chunks of 3-4 hours at a time, spread over a period of about one to two months. [It usually doesn’t work to start even further in advance; you just forget what you learned first.] In addition, from the end of the preparation period until the Exam day, you need to remain prepared and ready.
Look over your schedule for the coming year, and determine when you can find the necessary time (one month where you can treat this like a full-time job, or two months where you can devote at least 20 hours a week, on average). Next, determine what type of course suits your personality. Some people need the regimen of a live course to study and prepare most efficiently and effectively. Some people learn better by talking things out. For those people, a live course would be preferable. Others manage just as well, if not better, being left to their own schedule and discipline. (Even our homestudy students always have the ability to contact our faculty via phone and e-mail.)
Order your course in time to start studying at least two months before your anticipated Exam date. Even if you’re going to attend a live course, order the materials well in advance of the course so that you can do at least some preparation in advance of the live course. We will ship you the full set of the materials as soon as you order. The more preparation you do in advance of the course, the more benefit you will get out of it.
When the basic course is done (still 50-100 hours from the finish), send in your application to sit for the Exam. (You may need to start the application well before this time….maybe even before you start to study for the Exam. Get the application early, and start to request the documents you will need to complete your application early in your studies, especially if you are a Category “B” or “C” student, or require transcripts from overseas.)
If you time this correctly, you should get the letter with your permission to sit for the Exam at a point where you have completed the course AND done enough post-course questions practice to have valid performance data from Patware®. If Patware® tells you that you are doing well enough (especially in the important, highly tested chapters), you should pick the closest Exam date available. If Patware® tells you that you need more preparation, then pick an Exam date farther out, to give you more time to hone your skills before your Exam day. Your performance data from Patware®, along with our study materials, should give you all of the information and resources you need to put together a study plan that brings you to peak preparation on your Exam date.
Preparation for this Exam will take considerable time. But with the proper preparation that you get from taking our course seriously, our students have always done very well, and the change to a computer-based Exam hasn’t changed that. Some things never change: PLI students pass!
For further details, feel free to consult the Website of the Patent Office's Office of Enrollment and Discipline ["OED", the people who design and administer the Exam] , or email PLI's Patent Exam Office or call us at 888-296-5973.
Click here to view Previous PTO Exams, Answers, and our expert analysis (You MUST have a PLI login and password)
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