Police Officer Exam For Dummies
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The police officer exam actually involves multiple exams and evaluations. The tests are part of a multi-tiered hiring process designed to discover the "best of the best" candidates — those whom police departments consider ready and worthy to enroll in a police academy to train to become police officers.

Tracking the police officer hiring process

After filling out an initial application, candidates vying for a position within a police department can expect to take several qualifying exams. The following table outlines the types of exams and what they entail.

Exam Type What to Expect
Personal History Statement A detailed response to questions about a candidate’s past experiences, including education and work experience
Written exam An exam that may feature multiple-choice, true-or-false, and open-ended questions in a variety of subject areas
Law Enforcement Essay Exam An exam requiring candidates to write several paragraphs in response to a prompt
Physical ability test (PAT) An exam that assesses candidates’ physical fitness — including strength, endurance, and flexibility — to ensure that they’re physically capable to endure the rigors of a police training academy
Background investigation Investigators verify many aspects of your past history, including the places you’ve lived, your education, your friends and family, driving record, military record, arrest record, and credit report
Polygraph or CVSA Two types of truthfulness tests that measure how bodies react to answering questions: The polygraph notes body changes such as blood pressure and breathing, and the CVSA is a Computer Voice Stress Analysis that notes changes in your voice pattern caused by stress.
Oral interview An interview with a hiring panel that usually consists of police officers but may also include police department leaders, local government representatives, and local businesspeople
Psychological evaluation A personality questionnaire and/or an interview with a psychologist or psychiatrist to ensure that candidates can mentally handle the stress of police work
Medical evaluation A complete physical performed by a certified physician to check candidates for a variety of medical conditions and ensure that they’re healthy enough to train to become police officers

Elements of the written police officer exam

The written police officer exam is usually the first step in the hiring process, after a candidate fills out an application. This exam tests candidates in a variety of subject areas. Though the written exam may vary depending on the police department, two common exams are the National Police Officer Selection Test (POST) and the New York City (NYC) Police Officer’s Entrance Exam. The following table outlines the most common subject areas and the types of questions related to each subject area.

Element Content
Reading comprehension One or more passages followed by multiple-choice questions to demonstrate that you understand what you read
Grammar and spelling Questions that test your grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills and your ability to choose a sentence that’s clear, accurate, and complete
Observation and memory Questions that test what details you can remember after studying a photograph; spatial orientation questions about shapes, directions, and maps
Incident reports Questions about information missing from or presented in incident reports
Mathematics Basic mathematics, using addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and determining percentages and averages
Essays An essay prompt, typically about a personal question not related to law enforcement.
Personal History Statement Questions about your education and work experiences

Tips for acing the written exam

Written exams often make people nervous, which can cause them to make mistakes even when they’ve studied and know the right answers. The following tips can help you keep your cool during the written exam element of the police officer exam:

  • Carefully read and follow the directions.
  • Read each question and make sure you understand exactly what it asks.
  • Pay attention to key words, such as not and except, in questions.
  • Read all the answer choices before you select the one you think is correct.
  • Make sure you mark your answer in the correct space on the answer sheet.
  • If you’re unsure about how to answer a question, skip it and come back to it later. (If you still can’t answer it, eliminate the answer choices that you know are wrong and make an educated guess.)
  • Don’t change your answer after you’ve moved on to another question. Your first instinct is usually correct, so don’t be quick to make changes.

Minding your manners for the oral interview

The fear of speaking before a group of people is quite common, which is why many police officer candidates feel stress about the oral interview stage of the police officer hiring process. If you remember the following advice during your oral interview, however, you’ll have nothing to worry about:

  • Always, always, always arrive on time! In other words, get there 10 to 15 minutes early.
  • Be friendly and courteous. Offer a smile and a handshake at the start and conclusion of the interview.
  • Sit up straight and maintain your focus during the interview. Avoid yawning or slouching in your chair.
  • Listen carefully to what the interviewers ask, and ask for clarification if you think you need it.
  • Think before you speak. Carefully consider what you want to say and organize your thoughts before you answer.
  • After the interview, send thank-you notes to the interviewers.

Getting in shape for the physical test

Policing is a physical job that requires strength, endurance, and flexibility, which is why a physical ability test (PAT) is part of the hiring process. Use the following tips to stay in shape for the physical test:

  • Make it routine. Busy schedules and the stresses of everyday life can often distract you from your fitness goals, so try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine so it becomes a habit.
  • Don’t get bored. Repeatedly doing the same workout will quickly grow tiresome, so change it up. Instead of jogging around a track, play soccer or go for a bike ride.
  • Get your cardio up to speed. Being able to run quickly and run long distances takes time. You can’t do this a week or two before the test. Incorporate vigorous cardiovascular exercise into your exercise routine.
  • Work out with a friend. It’s more fun to work out with a buddy. You can talk, laugh, and catch up while motivating each other to keep moving.
  • Eat healthful foods. Be sure to eat plenty of lean proteins and vitamin-rich fruits and veggies. These foods give you the energy you need to work out each day.
  • Drink plenty of water. When you work out, you lose a lot of water through sweat. In addition, water cleanses toxins from your body. So stay hydrated!
  • Get plenty of rest. You need rest to give your body time to repair itself. Doctors recommend seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Tracey Vasil Biscontini is Founder and CEO of Northeast Editing, Inc., a full-service educational development firm specializing in test preparation.

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