Memory and Observation for Police Officer Exam Study Guide

Updated on Jul 5, 2011

Memory and observation questions may be based on photos or drawings (similar to maps) or on reading passages followed by questions to determine whether you remember or understood what you read. Since a number of other portions of this book provide sample reading passages, this section will focus on memory and observation questions based on photos or drawings. As you prepare for these questions, keep in mind that people remember much more than they think they do. We are all quick to say we do not remember something when we are really just having trouble bringing it to our immediate recall. Your mind is like a computer: Although information may be stored there, your recall system may not be operating at top efficiency. Rather than panic that you do not remember anything, relax and draw on the mental connections you made using the tips provided for each type of question. By studying these chapters and taking the practice exams, you are also at an advantage because you know to expect these types of questions.

Memorizing Wanted Poster Information

Quite often, the drawings you will be asked about in memory questions center on wanted posters. Although other questions that involve photos or drawings may sometimes permit you to look back at the artwork to answer the questions, memory questions involving the wanted posters almost never permit you to look back at either the drawings or the information accompanying them.

Generally you will be given four or five drawings of the wanted individuals along with pedigree information (age, sex, race), descriptions (height, weight, hair and eye color, and distinguishing scars or marks), and why and by whom they are wanted. Some agencies send you this material to study in advance of the actual exam but advise you not to bring the material to the exam site. If this is not done, the material will be presented to you either as a handout or on video for a period of time (generally 15 minutes) and then removed when you answer the questions.

There are a number of memory aids you can use for wanted poster questions.

  • Remember details about the individuals. What are their names; do their names have ethnic associations that match their photos to help keep them separate in your mind. Do they have aliases that could form the basis of questions? Are the aliases logical and reflected in other information? For example: Does someone with an alias of Hawkeye have a tattoo of a hawk? Is this person's family name Hawk or Hawke? Names, aliases, and tattoos are often closely related, as are aliases related to one's work or whether one is described as belonging to a gang, or other group.
  • Group the individuals logically. How many are men; how many are women; how many are juveniles? Are they all wanted for crimes or are some missing persons? How many have scars or tattoos or are described as possibly armed? While this may seem to contradict remembering details about the individuals, it complements it because you will be able to quickly answer questions that draw on comparisons among the individuals. For example: How many of the individuals have tattoos; how many are believed to be armed?
  • Look at the names and types of agencies seeking the individuals. You might be asked how many are wanted by a local police department, or by a federal agency.
  • Create associations. It might be helpful to associate some of the individuals with names or facts that are familiar to you, but this strategy works best when you are given the material prior to the test. If you view the photos for the first time at the test site with only 15 minutes, you might spend too much time making associations and not have time to look closely at the details of each poster.

To get you in the mindset to answer wanted poster questions, study the two wanted posters and accompanying information and answer the five questions that follow. Remember that in the actual test you will be given four or five posters, which means that there is more to remember and the questions will cover more information. For now, though, two will give you a sense of how to prepare for these types of questions.


Thomas Torellini

    ALIASES: Tommy the Turtle
    WANTED BY: New York State Police
    CHARGES: Robbery, Motor Vehicle Theft
      Age: 55
      Race: Caucasian
      Height: 6'1"
      Weight: 195 lbs.
      Hair: Brown
      Eyes: Brown
    IDENTIFYING SCARS OR MARKS: Missing right eye is generally covered by a patch; tattoo of turtle on left bicep; sometimes shaves head.
    REMARKS: Hitchhikes on interstate highways; robs those in vehicle at knifepoint and on two occasions fled in the vehicles, leaving the driver on the side of the road.
    CAUTION: Known to carry a knife; has a record of violent crime and is a parole violator.


Marvin Romano Mackey

    ALIASES: Mack the Knife
    WANTED BY: Minneapolis, MN, Police Department
    CHARGES: Burglary
      Age: 29
      Race: Caucasian
      Height: 5'7"
      Weight: 165
      Hair: Black
      Eyes: Brown
    IDENTIFYING SCARS OR MARKS: Scar on left cheek from a knife-fight, tattoo of Italian flag on right calf.
    REMARKS: Positively identified from surveillance cameras as having committed three burglaries in the Mall of America, suspected of at least two additional burglaries; has relatives in St. Paul and is believed to ride a Honda 750 cc motorcycle.
  1. Who is/are described as armed?
    1. Thomas Torellini
    2. Marvin Romano Mackey
    3. Thomas Torellini and Marvin Romano Mackey
    4. none of the above
  2. Who is/are described as having a tattoo?
    1. Thomas Torellini
    2. Marvin Romano Mackey
    3. Thomas Torellini and Marvin Romano Mackey
    4. neither of the above
  3. Who is/are wanted by a state police department?
    1. Marvin Romano Mackey
    2. Thomas Torellini
    3. Marvin Romano Mackey and Thomas Torellini
    4. neither of the above
  4. Which wanted individual is the older of the two?
    1. Marvin Romano Mackey
    2. Thomas Torellini
    3. They are the same age.
    4. The information is not provided.
  5. Of the identifying scars or marks provided for Thomas Torellini, which is likely to be the most useful in identifying him without conducting a search?
    1. a missing right eye
    2. a shaved head
    3. a tattoo on his left bicep
    4. a scar on his left cheek
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