How to Master Forex Scalping for Beginners

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Contributor, Benzinga
February 29, 2024
verified by Jay and Julie Hawk

If you’re interested in making quick trading profits, you may want to consider using the forex scalping trading strategy.  This active and fast-paced day trading style involves taking advantage of small price movements to make quick profits. 

Even if you have trading experience and some knowledge of the forex market, scalping has a dynamic that may not be suitable for all traders. The type of trader who tends to excel at using the scalping strategy typically hyper-focuses on the market to take advantage of as many short-term profit opportunities as possible.   

With the right technique, knowledge and tools, even new traders can learn to be successful using this exciting and potentially profitable form of trading. So, where would you start scalping the forex market, and what would you need to watch for as a beginner?

In this comprehensive article, Benzinga guides and teaches you everything you need to know about forex scalping, from understanding the basics to developing your own winning scalping strategies. So get ready to take notes, relax and prepare to dive into the exciting world of forex scalping.

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What Is Forex Scalping?

Forex scalping is a day trading style focused on taking advantage of small price movements in currency pairs over a brief holding time. The objective of forex scalping is to make small, numerous and frequent profits throughout the trading session, instead of establishing positions in expectation of larger moves that may require a substantial holding period. 

By doing so, traders hope for magnified profits in their overall returns through the power of compounding. To achieve this, forex scalpers look for opportunities to buy or sell currency pairs based on various factors, such as technical indicators, news events and market sentiment.

Keep in mind that while forex scalping trading profits may be magnified through leverage, the same is true for losses. To achieve consistent profits using the scalping strategy, sound money management and position sizing techniques can limit losses and maximize profitable trades

How Does Forex Scalping Work?

Forex scalping involves opening and closing positions within minutes or even seconds to capture just a few pips (the smallest unit of measurement in currency trading) for quick profits. Traders typically use tick charts or one-minute charts to monitor price action and spot potential entries and exits. 

They then attempt to scalp between five and 10 pips from each trade using high leverage to achieve magnified profits. While risks are involved in using high leverage ratios because losses are also increased, it does allow traders to amplify their trading gains when applied correctly.

To make the most of forex scalping, traders must be prepared to make multiple trades per day during peak trading hours when liquidity is highest. Major currency pairs, such as EUR/USD and USD/JPY, tend to offer the greatest opportunities because of their deep liquidity pools. 

Knowing when the major trading centers, such as London and New York, open can significantly improve a trader's chances of success. Selecting the optimum time frame for scalping the forex market can be crucial to making profits. 

The best times to scalp the forex market tend to be during the European and American sessions when liquidity is at its highest. Some currency pairs, such as the Australian and New Zealand dollars and the Japanese yen, often see more liquidity during the Asian session.  

How to Scalp Forex

Before diving into the world of forex scalping, it's essential to set yourself up for success by considering several key factors. Here are some tips for getting started:

Choose a Forex Broker

Selecting the right online broker to start trading forex with is vital for anyone looking to become a profitable scalper. When evaluating potential options, keep an eye out for the following features:

  • Competitive spreads and low costs
  • Efficient high-speed execution of orders
  • Reliable order execution quality
  • Regulation by reputable financial authorities
  • Secured funds storage with trusted banking partners

These elements play a significant role in determining whether a broker is suitable for scalping. For instance, high-quality order execution ensures that trades are filled promptly at the desired price levels, reducing the likelihood of slippage. 

Similarly, tighter spreads translate into smaller transaction costs and improved profit margins. Finally, being regulated by recognized bodies provides peace of mind that your funds are safe and secure.

Optimally, your potential forex broker should offer negative balance protection, so that your losses never exceed the amount of funds in your account. Also, a responsive and knowledgeable customer service department could make a big difference if you encounter an issue trading or need trade confirmations in a fast market. 

Understand the Broker's Platform

Once you've chosen a forex broker, make sure to familiarize yourself with its trading platform. Spend time exploring all of the software’s available functions and tools, paying particular attention to those relevant to scalping, such as advanced charting capabilities, technical indicators and customizable layouts. 

Most importantly, practice scalping using the platform with a demo account until you feel confident enough to commit real capital to your trading business. Remember, even minor errors can lead to substantial potential losses in high-frequency trading styles like scalping. 

Taking the time and commitment required to master your chosen platform and practice implementing your trading plan on it before committing any real money to trading is a key element of success when getting started as a forex scalper.

Using Liquidity

Leveraging liquidity is another critical aspect of successful forex scalping. Currency pairs with high liquidity generally experience tighter bid-ask spreads and more stable pricing, thereby allowing traders to enter and exit forex positions rapidly without worrying about excessive slippage. 

Some of the most popular currency pairs among scalpers include the major currency pairs such as EUR/USD, GBP/USD, USD/CHF and USD/JPY, which benefit from consistent transaction volumes across the various global trading sessions. 

Also, regional differences in liquidity exist because each of the major trading centers tends to specialize in making markets in their local currency versus USD and other major national currencies. For example, this means that AUD/USD tends to be more liquid in the Sydney session, while USD/JPY tends to be more liquid in the Tokyo session. 

The table below shows the time frame in coordinated universal time (UTC) for each trading session, what currencies are local to that session and what currency pairs are best for scalping trading strategies during that session. 

Trading SessionDurationLocal CurrenciesBest For Scalping During This Session
Asian Pacific Sessions21:00 – 8:00 UTCJPY, AUD, NZDUSD/JPY, AUD/JPY, NZD/USD, EUR/AUD, AUD/NZD
London Session7:00 – 16:00 UTCGBP, EUR, CHFGBP/USD, EUR/CHF, GBP/EUR, USD/CHF, GBP/JPY
New York Session12:00 – 21:00 UTCUSD, CAD EUR/USD, USD/CAD, EUR/CAD

Understanding the flow of liquidity throughout the day can help inform strategic decisions regarding when to initiate or close positions. The London and New York market openings can result in significant changes in forex market liquidity and volatility, while trading volume often drives the less liquid forex markets of Wellington, Sydney and Tokyo.

Guaranteed Executions

Securing guaranteed executions is vital for forex scalpers seeking consistency in their trading results. Slippage is the difference between the expected and actual exchange rate achieved on an executed forex order, and it can erode scalping profits and undermine a trader's ability to maintain the discipline needed to keep to their trading plan. 

As a scalper, you will generally want to look for online forex brokers that prioritize order fulfillment and even offer guaranteed executions at the level specified in your order. Some brokers use sophisticated algorithms designed to minimize order slippage under normal forex market conditions, and they will typically be preferable to brokers that do not for traders using scalping strategies. 

While no solution to the slippage problem is foolproof, minimizing the occurrence of unexpected exchange rate discrepancies between your order level and execution rate can go a long way toward boosting and preserving your hard-earned profits as a scalper.

Entering and Exiting Trades in Various Ways

Scalping often requires entering and exiting trades rapidly, sometimes within mere seconds. Using limit orders, stop-limit orders and other conditional entry methods can streamline this process and ensure timely execution. 

Employing techniques such as scaling in and out of positions can mitigate risk and enhance control over individual transactions. Experiment with various approaches to determine which ones align best with your personal preferences and goals.

The trading maxim “cut your losses, but let your profits run” can significantly improve a scalper’s bottom line. The most important elements of implementing a scalping strategy consist of maintaining the discipline required to take losses quickly and cultivating the patience to let winning trades develop.

It also makes sense to develop a scalping strategy that includes established money management techniques like sizing positions based on putting a prudent proportion of your trading account at risk. 

Finally, performing a quick risk/reward assessment for each trade and having a clear exit strategy in the event the market moves unexpectedly in the wrong direction are important components to include when planning how to make trade entries and exits within your overall scalping strategy. 

Choose a Charting Time Frame

Last but not least, selecting an appropriate charting time frame to use when reviewing short-term charts in your scalping trading system plays a central role in technical analysis for successful forex scalping. 

Given the rapid pace of trading based on relatively brief exchange rate movements inherent to this trading style, many practitioners opt for shorter timeframes ranging from tick charts to one- or two-minute intervals, although some scalpers prefer to use charts with a longer time frame like five-minute charts. 

These chart time frame settings enable traders to react swiftly to emerging trends and patterns when scalping, thereby increasing the probability of realizing quick profits. With that noted, keep in mind that adopting too short a timeframe might result in unnecessary market noise that can obscure valuable insights and hinder your decision-making as a trader. Thus, finding a balance tailored to your unique needs and objectives remains important to scalpers.

Also, because of the need for ultra-quick reactions, most scalpers lack the time required for in-depth manual technical analysis. The importance of having a scalping system that can be used repeatedly and with confidence to execute trades is substantial. As a result, they might opt to automate their scalping trading plan to identify and respond faster and more accurately to market opportunities while reducing the risk of human errors.

Pros and Cons of Scalping Forex

Like any trading strategy, forex scalping comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Below Benzinga outlines some key points worth considering before attempting to use this unusually fast-paced trading methodology. 

Pros

  • Rapid profit generation facilitates faster profits and accumulation of trading capital
  • Minimal transaction costs owing to typically smaller position sizes
  • Precise market entry and exit point determination enhances your control over trading outcomes
  • Potentially higher profits stemming from the increased trading frequency
  • Positive risk/reward ratios achievable via proper risk management practices

It's important to remember that scalping isn't without its pitfalls. Take a look at some notable downsides to this approach in the following section.

Cons

  • Requires extensive focused screen time and constant vigilance
  • Reduced success rate necessitates proficiency in identifying optimal opportunities
  • Market timing challenges demand skillful anticipation of market swings
  • Emotional resilience is needed to weather inevitable periods of loss

When weighing these pros and cons, keep in mind that every forex trader has unique circumstances dictating which trading strategies will suit them best. Consider your personality traits, lifestyle constraints and financial aspirations carefully before deciding whether forex day trading using the scalping strategy is right for you or if other strategies like day trading, swing trading or trend trading may be more suitable.

Scalping Strategies

Now that Benzinga has covered the fundamentals of forex scalping, it’s time to explore some effective scalping strategies used by experienced traders. Although countless variations exist, most revolve around three primary categories: trend-following, countertrend and breakout strategies. 

Regardless of the actual scalping strategy used, the key principles behind a successful scalping trading plan will include the need for quick profits, high trade frequency and tight risk management.

Trend-Following Strategies

As the name implies, trend-following strategies involve riding existing market momentum to take advantage of prevailing directional market movements. Indicators such as moving averages, the relative strength index (RSI) and the average directional index (ADX) often prove helpful to traders when it comes to detecting trend strength and duration. 

Once a trend is identified, traders can then seek opportunistic market entries aligned with the established trend, targeting appropriate profit-taking levels while maintaining strict stop-loss risk management parameters.

Countertrend Strategies

In contrast to trend-following strategies, countertrend strategies bet against the current market trajectory, hoping to capture market reversals before more mainstream participants recognize underlying shifts in sentiment. 

With respect to supportive technical indicators, some of the more commonly used in countertrend market analysis include the stochastic oscillator and the RSI where countertrend traders often look for divergence that can help in pinpointing potential market inflection points. 

Success in implementing a countertrend scalping strategy typically hinges on accurately predicting imminent market turnarounds and then acting swiftly to trade on observed confirmation signals to generate quick profits.

Breakout Strategies

Breakout scalping strategies typically focus on exploiting the sudden bursts of volatility that can result from exchange rate barrier breaches. Traders can use technical markers such as support and resistance levels, Bollinger bands and Keltner channels to assist them in finding market boundaries that are likely to trigger explosive reactions. 

Once such levels and breakouts become widely recognized, technical traders will collectively jump aboard the resulting new rallies or declines, aiming to ride the initial waves of momentum toward predetermined breakout targets.

Market-Making vs. Scalping

While similar in certain aspects, market-making and scalping differ substantially in terms of risk profile and income structure. In the forex market, market makers typically operate at major well-capitalized financial institutions where they primarily act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers as they earn revenue through charging the bid-ask dealing spread. 

Instead of acting as speculators, market makers tend to minimize their risk by laying off significant positions with other market-makers. Market makers also typically profit from watching, trading around and ultimately executing customer orders. 

In contrast, scalpers can be forex traders of any capitalization level, including retail traders. Scalpers do not watch orders for or make prices to clients, and they pay away the dealing spread whenever they trade. They also tend to take on more risk exposure than market makers proportionally because they intentionally speculate on intraday currency pair exchange rate shifts to extract marginal profits.

Scalpers play an important role in the forex market, providing a significant amount of liquidity by taking short-term speculative positions. At the same time, scalpers pay away dealing spreads, which helps keep market makers in business. 

While forex scalping requires only a minimal initial deposit to get started, a market-maker typically needs to be working at a financial institution to participate in the interbank market, so they will require substantially more capital to operate. 

The risk profile for market making is also generally lower proportionally because market makers benefit from others paying their dealing spread and leaving orders with them, and they generally prefer to offset their market risk quickly. In contrast, scalpers intentionally take on market risk to make a quick profit on their directional trades.

From a regulatory standpoint, scrutiny surrounding high-frequency trading activities like scalping varies depending on jurisdiction, so ensure compliance with local laws governing such practices to avoid unforeseen consequences that could adversely affect your trading career. 

Finally, keep in mind that your ability to use the scalping trading strategy may be forbidden under the policies of certain online brokers, so be sure to check your broker’s terms and conditions carefully before starting to scalp in your live trading account. Some brokers respond strictly to a breach of their no-scalping rules by freezing offending accounts and refusing to allow traders to withdraw profits that may have been generated by scalping.

Conclusion: Achieving Profitability as a Forex Scalper

Overall, mastering forex scalping requires persistence and meticulous preparation as well as the right trader personality type and the ability to dedicate substantial screen time to the endeavor. You will also want to learn to regularly adapt your scalping strategy to evolving market conditions and embrace taking calculated risks with your money. 

Now that you’re armed with Benzinga’s comprehensive forex scalping guide, you should possess a solid foundation upon which to build your expertise. From grasping basic forex market terminology to refining a practical and profitable scalping strategy to put into your trading, each step you take along this path will bring you closer to unlocking the full potential of this unusually dynamic trading style. 

Remember, success does not manifest overnight, so your commitment to developing the patience, diligence and continuous improvement required to scalp the forex market profitably will ultimately determine your odds of this becoming a prosperous long-term business venture. To see whether scalping might work for you, you can get started today by opening a demo account with an online broker and beginning the process of developing a profitable strategy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

Is scalping forex illegal?

A

No, scalping the forex market is not inherently illegal provided it complies with applicable regulations governing financial markets in your region. Because some online brokers do not permit scalping via their platforms, always verify broker policies and local guidelines in your jurisdiction that pertain to high-frequency trading activities like scalping before engaging in any related trading activities.

Q

How much do forex scalpers make?

A

Some forex scalpers make money while many lose money. Earnings derived from forex scalping tend to depend on several factors, including your starting capital, trade frequency, win rate, risk tolerance and expense structure. Because no universally applicable income figure encompasses all scenarios, individual profitability experiences operating as a scalper vary widely.

Q

Is scalping good for beginners in forex?

A

Owing to the need for intense focus and quick reaction and analysis times, as well as the complexity, steep learning curve and heightened emotional stress involved in scalping, this trading strategy may pose daunting challenges for novices who lack the requisite skills and temperament. Beginning forex traders could instead concentrate on acquiring basic concepts, market analysis experience and trading skills by using a longer-term day trading or swing trading strategy. This will let them gradually progress toward using faster trading techniques like scalping after they become adequately versed in fundamental forex market and trading principles.

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About Jay and Julie Hawk

During her financial career, Julie developed world-class expertise in technical analysis, including Elliott Wave Theory, and was deeply involved in initiating research into automated trading and trading signal systems. As a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Guild, Julie regularly wrote trade strategies, educational material, market commentary, foreign exchange newsletters, reports, articles and press releases. In addition, Julie was interviewed for various financial markets magazines and news wires in her professional capacity as a forex and derivatives expert. Since retiring from working at banks, Julie has been writing and editing books and articles about financial markets for companies like Benzinga, as well as trading forex online and mentoring other traders as part of TheFXperts’ financial team.

In addition to trading stock index, forex and commodity futures and options professionally on exchange floors, Jay also has experience trading stocks and options for private investors and trading forex online for his own account. He has also developed extensive experience in performing and using fundamental economic and corporate analysis to inform his trading and investment activities. Jay is also an expert financial writer with particular expertise in reviewing online brokers and investor services.