If you have decided to pursue a job in law enforcement, you need to be prepared to prove that you are a worthy candidate. This means taking several tests to show that your physical skills, psychological readiness and knowledge make you an eligible police officer candidate.
The police entrance exam comprises of several sections: written exam, oral interview, physical agility test, medical and psychological check, and a background review.
The police written test is a crucial step in the hiring process that makes some of the candidates quite nervous, while others underestimate its importance. If you know what to expect and how to prepare properly for the written exam, you will avoid both. So, let’s have a look at what the police written exam consists of and learn some tips how to score a better result.
What is the police written exam?
The written portion of the police testing process is meant to determine if the applicant possesses the foundational skills necessary to perform the work of a police officer. The police academy will provide training in search and seizure, probably cause, and reasonable suspicion. However, there is not time in the academy to teach basic skills such as math, spelling, grammar, and reading comprehension. It is expected that applicants bring these basic skills with them. A police officer who has such poor spelling that they cannot write a legible police report will find it difficult to do the job. Therefore, a police department says come to us with basic skills and we will teach you the rest.
Police written tests are not unlike college entrance exams such as an ACT or SAT. In general, police written exams cover reading comprehension, spelling, math, grammar, and analytical skills. The written test can also include a report writing test. Generally, a passing score is 70% or better. A higher result will place you better in the following stages of the selection criteria. Therefore, it is advisable to invest some time and money in your proper preparation. Many departments have a study guide that can be beneficial as a starting point. Below, you will find more ideas on how to prepare.
What does the police written exam include?
The police written exam as well as the content and length of the questions vary throughout the USA. They may depend on the size and location of the police department and the test provider can be different. One of the common tests is the POST that is provided by the state-run organization for Peace Officer Standards & Training. It is known as the National Police Officer Selection Test (NPOST). Some police agencies will use tests developed by third-party companies or develop their own tests.
No matter who has prepared the test, it aims at checking five main groups of skills: math skills, reading comprehension skills, language skills, writing skills and observation and memory skills.
Lieutenant Paul Patti, author of the book Deadly Mistakes Police Applicants Make, divides the test questions further into eight categories that you need to practice. These are:
- Reading comprehension
- Situational judgment and reasoning
- Directional orientation
- Report writing and grammar
We can sum up that the written test measures basic intelligence and the applicants are tested for 12th grade knowledge. Many candidates assume that you either know it or you don’t and never prepare for the test, which is the reason many fail. Knowing what to expect and practicing answering similar questions is of great help for better results in the actual exam.
So, here is what type of questions you will find on the police written exam:
- Testing your math skills – this section requires basic arithmetic knowledge. You read a word problem and then you have to use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division or determine a percentage in order to get the right answer. Then you need to select the correct multiple-choice answer out of four possibilities. You are given scratch paper to make calculations if you need to, however no calculators or similar gadgets are allowed.
- Testing your reading comprehension skills – this part consists of sentences or paragraphs that test your ability to read and interpret a text. Most often the passages are related to police duty. To answer them, however, you are not required to have specific law or law enforcement knowledge. This is something that you will learn at the Academy. What you need is rather basic idea of potential rules and routines of police work. You can expect three types of questions in this part of the exam:
- True/false questions – you have to determine whether the statement given is true or false based only on the information provided in the text above;
- Multiple-choice questions – you have to choose which is the correct answer based only on the information provided in the text above;
- Which answer best completes the sentence type of questions – you have to determine which alternative is the best to complete a sentence based only on the information provided in the text above.
- Testing your language skills – this section tests your ability to identify grammar, punctuation or spelling mistakes. You will be faced with two types of questions:
- Which answer best completes the sentence type of questions – you have an incomplete sentence and you need to choose the word that best completes it
- Spot the error type of questions – these are multiple-choice questions. The sentence contains a misspelled word and you need to identify which one it is. You choose the right answer out of four options.
- Testing your writing skills – this section checks your ability to write with grammatically correct sentences and correctly spelled words. It consists of two parts:
- Open-ended questions – you need to answer some questions after reading a sample police report. The answers should be in full sentences following all grammar, punctuation and spelling rules;
- Writing an essay – you are given a certain topic and you have to produce an essay on the topic within the given time limit. This section checks your ability to write a coherent text as well as your grammar and spelling.
- Testing your observation and memory – this type of questions checks your ability to pay attention to detail, give or identify directions and memorize faces, objects, directions, etc. It includes studying photographs, maps or drawing for a given period of time and then answering different types of questions related to them from memory. As we do not answer such types of questions very often, it is good to practice in advance.
In order to know what to expect from the exam it is advisable to contact the police department you are applying in and ask them for a police exam study guide. There you will find exactly what type of questions to expect, how many questions are included in each section and what is the time given to each section.
The passing score is usually above 70%, so if you want 75% out of 75 questions then you have to answer 57 questions correctly. A good trick to use is to first answer the questions that you find easier and then go back to those that require more time. Thus, you will be able to provide more answers in less time.
How to prepare for the police written exam?
If you truly want to become a police officer and serve then it is worth investing some of your time in the proper preparation for the exam. There are several tips and resources that you can use:
1. Contact the police department you are applying for
The first thing to do is contact the local police agency that you are going to apply for and check what information they can give. Is there a study guide that you can download or purchase or any other form of support that is offered, such as free testing resources, paid courses, etc.? You also need to know the dates of the future exams, so that you can plan your training.
2. Choose a police exam preparation course
The next step is to choose the right police exam preparation course. The best approach here is to combine both practice tests with video lessons. There are many free tests that you can practice online. It is better, however, to find a reliable preparation test provider, where against an affordable membership fee you will have access to multiple tests, guides and explanations. JobTestPrep, for example, offers custom made PrepPacks™ to help you prepare for your upcoming exam.
Another option is to buy study books on Amazon or enroll in a course. You can combine this with video lessons from outstanding law enforcement officers who share their experience and give valuable advice on what to expect, how to prepare and even what to wear on your exam day, so that your chances of becoming a police officer stand higher.
No matter what your choice is, remember that it is important to prepare for the exam. About 80% of the candidates who fail to prepare, fail the exam or score average results. Invest in a preparation course that you consider the right for you, in order to ace the police written exam.
3. Develop a study routine
It is very important to develop a study routine and follow it. You can allocate 1 hour a day to doing tests or watching training videos. You can choose to study with a friend or discuss your questions with someone who has already taken the test and is familiar with the process. Pay special attention to the memory part of the test. You can turn it into a game with your friends or family – look at a photo for 30 seconds and then compete who will be able to list more details. Practice solving math problems using only pen and paper. Spend some time every day writing by hand in order to improve your grammar and spelling. Remember that calculators and dictionaries are not allowed at the exam.
4. Prepare for the test day
In order to achieve better results on the police written test, you need to be in your best shape on the exam day. Most probably you will feel nervous, so try to relax with some pleasant activities on the day before. Do something that you enjoy, have a walk or watch a movie. Don’t study on the day before the exam. Have a full night’s sleep and a good breakfast in the morning, but don’t overindulge. Put some nice and comfortable clothes on and a smile on your face to boost your confidence.
5. Pay attention during the exam
During the actual written exam try to remain as calm as possible and follow the instructions you are given. Read carefully the directions before the questions, note how much time you have. Pay attention to specific words in the text, such as except or unless. Make sure to read all the possible answers before choosing one. Don’t attempt cheating as you will be automatically disqualified. Keep in mind that you can be disqualified for looking around or looking in your neighbor’s papers even unintentionally. And don’t forget that a photo ID is required for checking in for the exam.
Six tips to positively stand out at the police written exam
Instead of a conclusion we would like to offer you some tips that will help you stand out at the police written exam in a positive way. In the video below “What to Do at the Written Police Test – The Six Slip-ups”, Chief Russ Ehlers shares six tips that anyone, who wants to ace the exam should follow:
- Sit in the front. If you deliberately choose to sit in the front rows, it sends a message that you want to stand out in a positive manner. Since quite often the written exam proctors are also members of the selection panel you will make a good first impression.
- Choose appropriate clothing. It should not be something too business like, neither too casual. You need to show that you are taking the police officer selection process seriously from the very beginning.
- Keep your voice low if you want to talk to the other candidates before the exam has started. Never talk when the proctor starts addressing the group or during the exam.
- Don’t look around the room when the test has started and don’t draw negative attention to yourself by stretching or yawning loudly. Never look in the papers of the other candidates, even just to check how far they’ve gotten. You might be directly disqualified for that or for looking around the room.
- Try to stand still and calm during the test. Even if you are nervous, try not to show it. Rubbing your legs or tapping with your pen is not pleasant for the other participants.
- Bring your driver’s license and not any other photo ID. This is taken as a good sign by some agencies, so take advantage of it. If you were given an invitation to the written exam, please bring it too. And last but not least bring two pens and two pencils, so that you are fully prepared for the test.
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