What to Look for in an Online Trading Simulator

People who take up trading are often seen as gamblers or risk-takers. But trading is not just rolling dice and hoping for the best. Many people decide to trade before they get the right education for it, sometimes simply because they don’t realize there is an education to be had. But when it comes to trading, trading without knowing how can be costly.

Ask any successful trader what tools were most helpful in their training, and they are sure to mention a trading simulator. Trading simulators are designed to mimic what it’s like to trade on the market, without the risk of losing real money.

Simulators aren’t just for new traders. Experienced traders who are trying out new strategies can use simulators to prevent losses and practice the strategies until they are comfortable with them. Simulators are also a helpful substitute for when traders get the urge to overtrade their live accounts. But not all online trading simulators are the same. Below are some things to consider when choosing a trading simulator.


The best things in life aren’t always free. There are free simulators out there, but keep in mind that paying $0 for a service often comes with sacrifices. Many amateur traders will benefit from a free simulator to get very basic knowledge, but to further their education it is usually a wise choice to look for more advanced settings than what most free simulators can offer.

Whether you choose a free or paid simulator, check if data is included in the price. And as with any purchase, be aware if a free trial renews to a paid subscription, or if a paid subscription renews automatically. Also, be on the lookout for an upsell: is the price that you are getting a sale price for the first trial or is that the ongoing rate?

Platform Software

Ideally, you want a platform with an interface that is clean and user-friendly. If you are opening an account with a specific broker, it is often helpful to practice on their simulator if they have one, since it will familiarize you with their platform before you trade in it with real money. If considering a platform from a non-brokerage company, it may pay to ask if their platform resembles that of any brokers in particular.

What You’ll Trade

One of the first questions you should ask yourself when looking for a trading simulator is what you want to be trading: US stocks? Canadian stocks? Penny stocks? Forex? Currencies? Options? Will you be day trading or holding stocks overnight? Basically, ask yourself: Does this simulator allow me to practice trading what I will trade when I go live?

How You’ll Trade

You should also consider if the simulator has any limitations with the types of trades you make. You may want to place a variety of order types like market orders, limit orders, and stop orders, and you may want to practice trading both long and short. Hotkeys are another important factor to consider. If you want to learn to enter and exit trades quickly, a platform compatible with hotkeys is important.


You should always consider what data the simulator uses. Some simulators use past data to demonstrate possible trends while others use real-time data, so that traders can actively trade live without real money.When simulators utilize previous data, look for ones that utilize at least several months’ worth. Data based on just a few weeks of market trends can produce biased market patterns.

You should also consider the speed of the data. A platform with data that refreshes every 10 seconds will not prepare you well for when you invest in the stock market, which can be quick and volatile.

Account Settings

For many traders, the default settings of their virtual accounts matter. Are you able to choose how much your account is funded with? What is your buying power? Does the simulator factor in commission rates? Settings that mimic real accounts are best to work with, since you want to be as prepared as possible when your real money is on the line.


Make sure that the company of whichever service you choose to utilize is willing to help you. If you run into issues or questions, how will you get assistance?

Also, it pays to get a platform from a company that can teach the market. Does the company provide resources that you can use to get the trading education you need?Having a simulator will not help if you don’t know how to use it. Look for a company willing to teachwhile you are trying to learn.

Tools Provided

While it is not necessary to use every tool available on the market, being able to use the ones that are essential to your trading strategy is important. Some available tools to consider are screeners, charting, and indicators.

Does the site provide any market news? In real-world trading, the market is affected by news, so having resources for market news will help you determine how to choose stocks in the real world.

Progress Reporting

Learning is about progress, not perfection. Does your simulator or learning method allow you to track your progress? Having the chance to review your trades and see where you might have gone wrong will better your ability to learn from your mistakes. While some simulators incorporate competitive elements to track your trading against others, being able to see yourself progress is what is most important. Progress will allow you to see if you are getting better or if you should change your strategies (keeping in mind, of course, not to over-analyze).

Pick and Choose

Not all simulator platforms may have everything that you are looking for, but there are many strong ones out there. Though many traders have different opinions about what qualities in simulators are most important, most will agree on the overall importance of trading in a simulator before you trade live. One of the most important lessons of trading is risk management; don’t let risking your money by not practicing safely first be a mistake you make.