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March 29, 2023 - 04:02am

9 Surprising Facts about Notary Public Exams

We thought we knew something about notary public exams, but then we compiled this list of nine surprising facts, and we were a little surprised ourselves.

Not all states require tests!

This fact is more than a little surprising when you remember that notaries protect U.S. citizens from fraud in the broadest sense of that word. Most of us come into contact with a notary when we need to prove that we are the person signing a particular legal document. We notarize mortgages, ballot applications, and sign affidavits. If we didn't have notaries, it would be easier for people to dispute a document signer's authenticity. One would think that requiring an exam that covers the responsibilities of such an important public servant would be obvious. In reality, however, only 13 states require notaries to pass an exam: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah. Washington, D.C. provides an orientation session in lieu of a test. By the way, Nebraska's test is open book and Wyoming suggests an at-home test but does not mandate testing. That leaves 37 states that do not mandate notary public exams. Even the states that provide exams, base their tests on notary law but not the more practical situations in which a notary may find her or himself. In practice, that means that notaries are most likely unprepared for what they are going to encounter on a day-to-day basis.

Not all states require education before the notary exam.

State attitudes toward notaries public form a strange landscape, indeed. Some states that require exams, do not require training or education (Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming). Some states that do not require exams, have some level of education requirements (Delaware, Florida, Missouri, Nevada and Pennsylvania). Presumably, Washington D.C.'s orientation session replaces both the exam and an education requirement.

Education or training is important.

We need to look no further than the "robo-signing" debacle in 2010 to see how critical training is for notaries. When the housing market crashed, thousands of homes went into foreclosure. Inundated by paperwork, lenders hired third-party contractors to assist staff in the foreclosures. Staff and third-party contractors used improper notary procedures like sharing notary stamps and notarizing blank documents they filled in later. Staff ignored the cardinal rule that the signer must present himself when asking a notary to attest a document. Eventually, 49 state Attorneys General sued over the loose foreclosure practices. They obtained settlement terms that included a requirement for the training of lender staff and third-party contractors. Anecdotal evidence seems to show that notaries do the wrong thing because they do not know any better -- as good a case as any for education and training.

And the toughest notary exam is...

New York has the toughest exam to become a notary with a minimum passing score of 70%. The disconnect is that New York does not require any training requirements which leaves the individual on his own for preparing for the exam from one of the online exam preparation materials. The one hour exam is heavily proctored and permits no notes, books, other reference materials, or wireless mobile devices.

The state with the toughest application requirements is...

California not only requires an exam, it also requires mandatory training up to 6 hours, a background check and a minimum exam score of 70% in order to obtain a notary commission. The exam bases questions on the Notary Public Handbook which is available online and there are other resources available to prepare for the exam.

The state with the toughest minimum score is...

North Carolina. This state requires a passing score of 80% in order to receive a commission, among the strictest in the country. Applicants to renew a commission also have to take a test. The renewal test is only 30 minutes and they only have two times to retest within 30 days. Failure at that point means the state will deny the recommission.

To read more about notary exams and training, read David Thunn's article "Most States Don't Think Notaries Need Any Training" in the National Notary Association bulletin which was an inspiration for this post.