How to Practice Futures Trading with a Demo Account

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Getting started on the journey to becoming a successful futures day trader, but afraid of risking real capital? The idea can be both exciting and daunting for new traders. But there’s no need to risk your real money if you’re still learning. Practicing with a demo trading account is one of the most effective ways to develop the necessary skills for trading.

Successful trading requires a level of discipline and focus that most people will not have on day 1. The required skills have to be cultivated and built through persistence and good habit-building strategies. A demo account is a powerful tool that allows you to gain valuable experience in a simulated trading environment before risking your hard-earned capital. Some call it “paper trading”, but they refer to the same thing: using virtual money to trade a live market.

It may help to imagine trading as a video game. You get some information from the chart, and input keys on your controller (mouse or keyboard) in response to the information, trying to earn profits and “win”. If you can visualize this, it’s easy to see how demo trading is like a practice session in your favorite video game. Instead of facing opponents in a stressful battle, maybe you take on computer-generated bots, or explore an empty map instead. The stakes are lower, no one is watching (except a very bored broker, maybe), and you can do whatever you want, really.

But there’s a problem with taking this visualization too far. Many traders do this, and completely undermine the purpose of demo trading altogether.

In this article, we’ll delve into the concept of demo trading, explore its importance, and provide valuable insights on how to make the most of this powerful resource.

What is Demo Trading?

Demo trading, also known as paper trading, is a practice method that enables traders to simulate real trading scenarios without the financial risks associated with actual trading. A demo trading account is typically provided by a futures broker and mimics the features and functionality of a live trading account, complete with access to real-time market data, charting tools, and order execution capabilities.

The primary distinction between a demo account and a live account is that a demo account uses virtual money instead of real capital. This allows you to experiment with various trading strategies, hone your skills, and familiarize yourself with the nuances of futures trading without the fear of financial loss.

Why We Demo Trade

There’s clearly several reasons to demo trade, when you consider how much you can gain without any real financial risk involved.

Skill Development

Just like in any competitive game, day trading well requires a certain level of skill. Day trading futures involves a steep learning curve, and if you attempt to tackle this with a live account, you will surely rack up several thousands in “tuition” as you do so. Demo trading provides an invaluable opportunity to develop the necessary skills without putting your capital at risk. By practicing in a simulated environment, you can gain experience with order placement, position management, and technical analysis techniques that are essential for success in the futures market.

Strategy Testing

Before implementing a new trading strategy in a live market, it’s crucial to test its effectiveness and viability. Demo trading allows you to do this in a risk-free environment, providing insight into how the strategy might perform under real market conditions.

Platform Familiarization

Futures brokers offer various trading platforms with a range of features and tools. Demo trading enables you to explore these platforms and identify the one that best suits your needs and preferences. By becoming proficient with the platform’s features and tools, you can execute trades more efficiently and comfortably when transitioning to a live account.

Building Confidence

Confidence is a critical component of successful trading. Demo trading allows you to build the self-assurance required to navigate the often volatile futures market. As you gain experience and refine your skills, you’ll develop the mental fortitude needed to handle the stresses and challenges of real trading.

Emotional Control

Trading can be an emotional rollercoaster, and learning to manage those emotions is essential for long-term success. Demo trading helps you develop the discipline and emotional control required to make rational decisions in the heat of the moment, a skill that will prove invaluable when you start trading with real money.

The Wrong Way to Use a Demo Trading Account

Not Taking Demo Trading Seriously

Probably the most common mistake made by traders is not treating their demo account as if it were a real account. To gain the maximum benefit from demo trading, it’s crucial to approach it with the same level of seriousness and commitment as you would with real trading. This involves multiple things, none less important than the others:

  • Setting realistic goals
  • Have a good plan
  • Maintain a routine
  • Adhere to your trading strategy and your plan
  • Assess results and analyze your performance

Developing Bad Habits and Carrying Them to Live Trading

This problem goes hand in hand with not taking a demo trading account seriously. In a risk-free environment, it’s easy to develop bad trading habits, such as taking excessive risks or disregarding stop-loss orders. You might notice a fast-paced momentum play, which was not part of your plan. Without considering your plan, you casually place a trade just to “see what happens.”

Demo trading is the perfect environment to experiment with new ideas, but it’s easy to see how this becomes a slippery slope. Suddenly, you’re taking multiple unnecessary, poor-quality trades just for the thrill. Later, when you look back on your day, you made some money, but didn’t really test your strategy at all.

Bad habits can be detrimental in any pursuit that demands consistency and discipline. To avoid this pitfall, treat your virtual funds as if they were your own money, and maintain strict risk management practices.


Trading requires a never-ending supply of confidence. For some traders, this is easier said than done, and every morning fills them with nervousness. Others show up at the market open with a full head of steam, believing the market will obey their will.

Struggling in your demo account may give you confidence issues. How are you supposed to succeed if you can’t even make virtual money? But success in a demo environment can lead to overconfidence just as easily, causing traders to underestimate the challenges ahead.

I don’t know the objective line between confidence and overconfidence. But in this business, having too much confidence is just as bad as having too little.

It’s imperative that you have the right mindset when viewing success. Whether it comes in the demo trading environment or in the form of real profits, don’t get ahead of yourself. Those profits can easily end up costing multiple times more in losses due to overconfidence.

Ignoring Fundamental Analysis

As this is a blog on technical analysis, it’s rare that I will mention fundamental analysis. But it’s impossible to trade responsibly without some sense of the underlying market and current events. While demo trading provides an excellent opportunity to develop technical analysis skills, some traders neglect the importance of fundamental analysis.

You don’t have to become a fundamental trader to do this, either. But try incorporating some fundamental analysis into your demo trading to develop a more comprehensive approach. Be aware of the news releases that are coming out. Pay attention to shifts in longer term trends due to geopolitical events affecting the supply and demand of various goods.

Neglecting to Track Progress

Failing to monitor your progress and analyze your performance during demo trading can hinder your growth as a trader. Many traders start their morning, trade, and close their software and trading windows when they’re done. Then, they resume again the following day.

If they’re repeatedly making subtle mistakes, they may not recognize it until several months have gone by. Any progress they do make might be negligible, or misunderstood.

The Right Way to Use a Demo Trading Account

Now that you know the typical mistakes traders make, how do we correct them? Some are self-explanatory, but others may not be so obvious.

Have a Plan

Just like in real trading, you need to have a plan before you begin each day. This plan may be extensive, and will help more if it is, but it doesn’t have to be.

Whatever you’re working on at the moment should be included in your plan. Are you trying to place better stop losses, and not modify them once you’re in a trade? Write that down. What about taking profits at a pre-defined level, even if you feel like the market seems like it will keep going? Write that down too.

Put these notes and “rules” together, and then organize it in a way that makes sense to you.

Consider this article on demo trading plans for more ideas.

Treat it Like Real Trading

Approach demo trading with the same level of seriousness and professionalism as live trading. This means adhering to your trading strategy, setting realistic goals, and maintaining strict risk management practices.

Show up to your desk or office with the same focus and attitude that you will want to have when you are live trading. If it’s possible to somehow be unaware that you are demo trading, it would be ideal. However, this is not easy to accomplish, especially on your own, so you have to convince yourself instead. Use your imagination. You might discover a useful technique by doing so.

Set Realistic Goals: When using a demo account, set realistic goals that are achievable within the constraints of your trading strategy and risk tolerance. This will help you develop a clear understanding of your capabilities and limitations, which is crucial for success in live trading.

Don’t Worry About Profit and Loss

This may not follow the previous step from a logical standpoint. How are you supposed to treat it like live trading without trying to make money?

The key is not to get caught up in the profit and loss part of it. You should be focused on building good habits instead. This means following your plan, even if it results in losing money. If you find that you are consistently losing money, it’s an easy fix: adjust your plan. But if you simply wing it in the name of earning profits, you will end up with a virtual profit at the cost of learning something much more valuable.

Use Demo Trading as a Learning Opportunity

It naturally follows that if you disregard the profit and loss, the only thing to gain from demo trading is experience and education. Demo trading is an excellent opportunity to learn from your mistakes, provided you treat the losses like real losses. If you disregard your mistakes, because it didn’t cost you, you lose out on the wonderful benefits that demo trading provides.

Analyze your trades, identify areas for improvement, and make adjustments to your strategy as needed. Remember that the primary purpose of demo trading is to refine your skills and gain experience, not to achieve short-term gains.

Transition to Live Trading Gradually

Transitioning from one step to the next, gradually, is paramount in long-term success. When you feel confident in your demo trading performance and are ready to transition to live trading, consider staying in the demo environment for a little longer.

Challenge yourself. Trade larger size and see if your plan still works. Trade a different market, time zone, time frame, or all three. Test your technical analysis abilities beyond what you may have become too comfortable with.

Then, start with a small account and slowly increase your position size as you gain experience and confidence in your trading abilities. This will help you manage the psychological differences between demo and live trading more effectively.

Track Your Progress Constantly

Remember that trader who was making the same mistake for months? Don’t be like him. Take notes, both during your trading session, and after. The point isn’t to simply document what’s going on in your account. In fact, I’d argue that it’s much more important to take notes on yourself. By observing your own habits, you can identify the real problems, rather than simply adjusting your trading strategy.

Keep a detailed trading journal that documents your trades, strategies, and thought processes. It will be a massive help in identifying areas for improvement and fine-tuning your approach.


Demo trading is an incredibly powerful tool for traders to master their strategies with no personal risk. When you feel you’ve figured out something new about the market, always consider practicing it in a demo environment at first.

The key is to get it into your head that demo trading is just as significant as real trading. The largest obstacle I have seen with traders’ development is that they refuse to make this mental leap.

If you have the funds to burn while practicing live, you are free to do so. But the habits you build, in demo or live trading environments, will stick with you for better or worse, and I strongly urge you to keep those habits in mind as you work toward mastery.


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