Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

Passing the NPOST might be the first step to a long and successful career as a police officer. This is one of the most common entry-level police written test administered around the U.S. and the abbreviation stands for National Police Officer Selection Test. Do not let the name confuse you. In fact, there is no national standard for a written exam for becoming a law enforcement officer and each agency is different. States have adopted certain exams to be valid throughout the state and agencies need to adhere to that requirement. The NPOST, for example, is the state-wide entry-level police officer test for the states of Iowa, Utah, and Wyoming, while 25 State Associations of Chiefs of Police have also chosen to administer the test. 

NPOST Test Prep

In order to pass the NPOST with a good result, 70% being the minimum for each section, it is necessary to know what the exam includes and to how to properly prepare for it. The exam can be used for an entry-level position in local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and it aims to measure the basic abilities and skills of candidates in order to make certain they they have the fundamental skills to become a police officer.  

What is the NPOST? 

NPOST is a test developed by the company Stanard & Associates, Inc., which was establishment in 1976 and has provided testing and assessment systems for public safety agencies in 49 of the 50 U.S. States. NPOST is specifically intended for law enforcement agencies and aims to help them select the most appropriate candidates for the job. 

NPOST assesses basic skills such as reading, writing, comprehension, and arithmetic via questions divided into four sections. In order to pass the exam, the candidate needs to score at least 70% on each individual section. 

It is important to point out that the test contains passages and sample report forms reflecting the actual duties and responsibilities of police officers, however, no prior knowledge of or experience in law enforcement is required in order to pass the test. It is highly recommended, though, to prepare properly for the test, so that you can stand a higher chance of getting a better score and then proceed further with the selection process. 

What does the NPOST contain? 

The NPOST is divided into four sections – Arithmetic, Reading Comprehension, Grammar, and Incident Report Writing, which are individually timed and scored. Each section contains specific questions and you have limited time to answer them. 

The score is based on the number of correctly answered questions and there is no penalty for a wrong answer. Therefore, it is recommended to give even a random answer to a given question in case you are not sure of the correct answer. 

The first three sections of the NPOST, Arithmetic, Reading Comprehension, and Grammar, contain multiple-choice or True/False questions, while the last section, Incident Report Writing, demands answers written in complete sentences without grammar, punctuation or spelling mistakes. It is not allowed to use a calculator throughout the test but you will be given scratch paper that you can use for calculations or writing. Note that you are not allowed to make any marks on the booklets or the answer sheets.  

The overall test duration is 1 hour and 45 minutes, which includes 1 hour and 15 minutes for answering the questions and an additional half an hour for giving instructions, providing and then collecting booklets and answer sheets.  Learn how to prepare for the test with the NPOST Practice Test & Study Guide.

The individual timing and requirements for each section are as follows: 

  • Section I – Arithmetic 

The first portion of the NPOST tests your basic arithmetic abilities. You need to know how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, determine the percentage, and calculate averages. The section contains 20 multiple-choice questions that may have only one correct answer. You are given 20 minutes to complete this section. 

  • Section II –Reading Comprehension 

The second part of the test contains 25 multiple-choice questions that aim to check your ability to read and understand written text. You will have a passage and/or a sample report form followed by three types of questions that you need to answer within 25 minutes. You will face True/False questions, multiple-choice questions that ask you to choose the right answer, and multiple-choice questions where you need to select the best alternative that best completes the sentence. All the answers should be based only on the information provided on the passage or sample report form and not on any personal judgment or previous knowledge of the issue. 

  • Section III – Grammar 

The 20 multiple-choice questions contained in this section aims to check your ability to use grammar and punctuation correctly and to spell words. You have only 15 minutes to complete all questions. There are two types of questions:  

  1. Complete the sentence with the best alternative, where you need to choose the word/phrase that best completes the sentence based on the information given before and after the blank.
  2. Spot the misspelled word. You will read a sentence that contains one misspelled word and then you have to choose the answer which shows which is the misspelled word.  
  • Section IV – Incident Report Writing  

Here you need to show your ability to write complete sentences while observing all grammar, spelling, and punctuation requirements. The section contains 10 questions and you are given 15 minutes to provide answers. Note, that you do not have alternatives to choose from but you need to write down the answer yourself. In order to get maximum points, your answer needs to be a complete sentence without grammar and punctuation mistakes and all words should be correctly spelled. The answer should also be accurate in accordance with the information provided in the in a sample incident report form.  

Which states administer the NPOST? 

If you prepare for the NPOST and pass it successfully, you can end up becoming a police officer in a total of 28 states in the USA. At present, there are three states where the NPOST is used as a state-wide entry-level test. These are Iowa, Utah, and Wyoming 

In addition to that, 25 State Associations of Chiefs of Police have partnered with Stanard and Associates, Inc. to use the test in their selection process. These are Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin 

The agency that administers the NPOST has the option to choose between a self-scored format and a format scored by Stanard & Associates, Inc. In the first case, the tests will arrive with a specific manual providing guidance and answers that the agency can use to score the test of each candidate. If the second option is chosen, the completed tests are sent to Stanard & Associates, Inc., who score the test and send the agency the individual results for each applicant.  

If you are browsing the job openings for any of the above-listed states, you may end up having to pass the NPOST. Make sure to double check with the agency you are applying with, which test they administer prior to preparing for it.  Find out about Sgt Godoy’s NPOST Practice Test & Study Guide.

Practical tips for better scores at the NPOST 

While the NPOST checks basic skills that candidates should have acquired through their school years, such as reading, arithmetic, writing, it is still possible to prepare for the test. You can follow the 15 practical tips on how to pass the police written exam as they give general guidance to candidates and are quite useful regardless of the test format. 

If you want to prepare for specifically for the NPOST, you need to pay special attention to the following components: 

  • Vocabulary 

The NPOST uses passages and sample report forms that are typical for the life of a police officer and hence contain jargon specific for the profession. Although no prior knowledge of law enforcement terminology is required, nor experience in the field, there are about 300 to 1000 common words in law enforcement that are good to know. Learning their meanings and how to use them in a sentence will help you better understand the written text you will be given and cope with the questions quicker.  

  • Grammar and Spelling 

Report writing is one of the main duties a police officer has and it is necessary to be able to write clear and concise sentences with no grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, that combine into understandable paragraphs. You should be able to spot errors quickly and identify a misspelled word within a sentence.  

  • Mathematics 

You need to refresh your abilities about the basics of addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, and geometry in order to be well prepared both for the NPOST and the job of a law enforcement officer in general. While the NPOST features no geometry-related questions, the skill may still come in handy for your future duties.  

  • Memory 

While the NPOST does not contain questions that you need to answer from memory, training your memory will help you on the actual exam. If you are used to spotting and memorizing important information such as names or figures, you will be able to answer some of the questions quicker without having to go through the passages or sample report forms again. Given the limited time you have for each section, this ability will be of great help.  

Now that you know which are the elements you need to focus on, here are a few tips to help you pass the NPOST: 

  • Prepare well  

Preparation is the key to success with any exam and the NPOST is no exception. It is good to check some guides with sample questions in order to know what to expect at the exam. You have the option to purchase the prep materials provided by the test developer Stanard & Associates, Inc. that feature an Online POST Study Guide and an Online POST Practice test. They will provide you with detailed information about the NPOST, how it is administered, and feedback about the sample test answers so that you can learn from your mistakes. Alternatively, you can opt for the NPOST courses provided by independent providers such as the NPOST Practice Test & Study Guide by Sgt. Godoy. 

  • Be focused on the day of the exam 

It is necessary to be very focused on the day of your NPOST and to follow all instructions carefully. Here are a few of the important things to keep in mind: 

  1. Listen to the proctors while they explain the structure and timing of the test.  
  2. Keep note of the time that you have for each section.  
  3. Try to answer all questions on the test. The score is based on the number of questions answered and there is no penalty for a wrong answer. Hence, it is better to make a wild guess and mark an answer rather than leave it blank.  
  4. Provide only one answer only since there is only one correct answer to the question no matter how many options are given. If you provide two answers, you will get no points even if one of them was the correct one. If you decide to change an answer, first erase the old one, and then fill in the new answer. 
  5. Use only pencil for marking the answers.  
  6. Do not leave any marks on the booklet and answer sheet. Use the scratch paper you are provided if you need to jot something down. 
  7. Don’t forget to answer the questions in the Incident Report Writing Section with complete sentences that are grammatically correct, have the right punctuation and no misspelled words. Try to use your best handwriting so that the sentences are legible.  

Following these simple steps can help you get a higher score on the NPOST and increase your chances of being selected to continue with the hiring process. 

NPOST Test Prep

The NPOST is one of the common written exams for entry-level police officers at various law enforcement agencies. If you are applying with an agency that has included it in its selection process, it is good to know what to expect and prepare well. With the help of the above-written tips and guidance, you will get one step closer to being hired as a police officer.  

Learn more about the NPOST Practice Test & Study Guide