Ten Tips for the Police Entrance Exam
Dr. Richard B. Weinblatt
While police entrance processes vary widely from state to state, and even from department to department, most law enforcement applicant screening processes begin with the written exam. By starting with the written exam, most sheriffs and police chiefs (having been one I understand this concept) use the written exam as just that: a screening tool. Written exams are a fairly cheap way to knock out numerous applicants before they get to the more costly aspects of the process. Such more expensive steps could include background investigations, physicals and psychological exams.
Some agencies use the written exam as a way to move people out of the process. They don’t use it as a ranking tool. Other parts of the process (such as the oral review panel) may be where placement on eligibility lists originates.
Other agencies may give you extra points to be applied to your exam score. Among the favored stats groups that may be awarded additional points are: military veterans, already employed state certified law enforcement officers working for another agency, bilingual speakers with language fluency in local demand, and children of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. Whatever the use or interpretation of the entrance exam, one thing is clear: it can stop you from advancing further in the process. Here are ten tips to help you through the exam.
1) Getting Additional Points. As alluded to above, see if any group gets additional points. The agency may have identified a need and tried to encourage the filling of the gap by awarding points. You may be lucky enough to be a member of a group that the agency wants badly.
2) Research the type of test. To know what to study, you need to ascertain what type of test is given by the agency. The PoliceLink.com discussion boards are an excellent source of information. Find out what previous members say about the test. Don’t get discouraged by value judgments on the process or bank on a reporting of the actual test questions (that would be unethical). You only want to get a feel for what type of test it is.
You may also be able to check with the testing agency. Many agencies offer or can point you to a study guide. Many of those study guides have sample questions that you can use to gauge your baseline ability to score well.
3) Shore up areas of weakness. Once you have identified the type of test questions being utilized and have done a self-assessment, you need to work to strengthen your perceived areas of vulnerability. For example, some agencies have a math component on their exam. Many people have problems with this section of the exam as it has been years since they have done math problems. The Internet has many sites that you can check out and self-tutor yourself.
4) Eat right. Try to avoid eating heavily or skipping the meal prior to the test. You want to eat light and avoid sugar-laden or heavily processed foods.
5) Mark your answers clearly and erase fully. Clear answer indicators are especially important if the test answer sheet is a Scantron type. With this type of answer sheet, the test taker fills in a little dot (corresponding with an answer letter) using a number two lead pencil. False error readings often result if the Scrantron scanner reader fails to detect an improperly filled in dot. While I don’t advocate changing your answer (as indicated above), make sure that you fully erase the pencil mark in the dot if you decide to do so.
6) Don’t change answers. After years of administering exams, I have found that the old adage holds true: stick with your first answer. In most cases, when you change the answer, you have changed it to a wrong answer. Your gut reaction is probably right.
7) Get plenty of sleep. Cramming the night before and staying up late has proven to bring back very little return for the sacrifice. You want your mind to be alert and fully functional. This is especially true if it is a long exam.
8) Don’t last minute cram. Having taken a few exams in my career, I am amazed by the people cramming in their car just minutes before taking an exam. Studying is best accomplished in smaller increments over time. I have always felt that creates additional stress. If you don’t know it by the time of the test, a few minutes of last minute cramming is not going to help and may even hurt.
9) Read questions carefully. I have observed that many people fail because they neglected to read the questions with due care. This is especially relevant when the test uses terms like “not,” “never,” and “only.”
Look at other questions. If you are unsure of an answer, leave it blank and come back to it later. Other questions may contain the answer that you were contemplating. If you do this, be sure to comply with the advice in number ten below.
10) Proof read test. Before you turn in your test answer sheet, be sure to check it over. Test takers often leave answers blank and that impacts their final score. This also gives you a chance to go back and answer those hard to figure out answers.
The bottom line in taking law enforcement entrance exams is to take the care in preparation and execution that employers want to see in the actual performance of police service duties. With attention to detail, most people should score well and leap over the first of many hurdles in their law enforcement officer career quest.