Police Officer Test Preparation: Understanding the Written Exam (page 3)
A written examination is required for almost all police departments in medium-to-large cities. The type of examination can vary from an essay examination to one that has reading comprehension, mathematics, and memory skills. Medium-to-large cities are likely to have in-depth written examinations, while smaller agencies may substitute essay exams, video exams, oral interviews, or in-depth background checks. This article focuses on the most commonly given examination: the written multiple-choice exam.
Preparing to Take the Written Law Enforcement Exam
When preparing to take a written law enforcement exam, remember that the main objective of the exam is to test your ability to memorize and to solve problems. Usually, the test is timed to prevent you from thinking too long on any given question. While timing the test is an effective way to simulate the stress under which law enforcement officers must make most of their daily job-related decisions, it creates an additional problem for test takers: the need to read and decipher quickly.
Many of the questions on law enforcement exams present a large amount of information that must be read and then sifted to find the appropriate answer to the question. The information may be relatively technical, or it may seem straightforward, yet require you to recognize minor details. With unlimited time many of the questions might be worked out and seem almost easy, but under strict time constraints, the questions are more likely to seem long and difficult to understand.
There are two critical steps that you can take to minimize the stress and difficulty of taking a law enforcement written exam. First, you should contact the agency or agencies to which you are interested in applying. Most law enforcement agencies will provide applicants with a packet of pretest materials. The packet informs the applicant of the specific ability areas tested and of a few potential testing formats that are used on that agency's exam. It may also provide pretest materials that must be studied prior to taking the written exam. In addition, the pretest materials include any information that the testing agency needs applicants to know prior to taking the written exam. These materials should be obtained from the agency as soon as possible after they become available.
Second, you should sharpen your test-taking skills. Most law enforcement exams focus on the same general ability areas: memorization, visualization, spatial orientation, verbal or written expression and comprehension, problem sensitivity, mathematics, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, and information ordering. While pretest packets provided by law enforcement agencies provide a list of the specific ability areas that are tested, the materials do not provide examples of every potential question format that is used to test those ability areas. Although it may not be possible for a candidate to know every potential format that a question may be presented in, it is possible to prepare for more formats than are presented in the agency's pretest materials. Learning to recognize the ability area being tested and the common question formats used in that ability area can help you become quite comfortable with the law enforcement testing process.
To help you achieve this goal, the authors of this book provide a description of each of the ability areas commonly tested and include a broad range of the question formats that may appear on different agency's written law enforcement exams. Some tips for answering the different types of questions associated with each ability area are also included.
Applicants should review every practice test included in this book to become familiar with the wide variety of methods that are used to test each ability area. Remember, preparation and practice are the best ways to ensure a higher score on this type of exam.
General Tips for Taking Examinations
Before learning about the details of the written examination, you should review some general tips on taking the examination.
- Rest appropriately the night before the exam.
- Eat breakfast before the exam. Avoid foods that make you sleepy or provide a quick burst of energy but then leave you feeling drained.
- Bring several sharpened No. 2 pencils with you, as well as any additional tools that were listed as permitted in the pretest materials, such as scratch paper or calculators.
- Read all directions carefully. Sometimes the skill being tested is the ability to read and follow directions.
- Listen to directions concerning the answer sheet.
- Keep track of your time.
- If you find you have less than five minutes left and too many questions to answer within that time, begin guessing. Leaving a question unanswered guarantees an incorrect answer. Guessing provides at least a chance of a correct answer.
- If you have time remaining, make sure that your answer sheet shows that you have answered the correct number of questions. It is not uncommon to skip a line on an answer sheet and find that there is one more or one less answer than is necessary. This is easily corrected if it is noticed in time.
- Ask questions immediately if you are unable to hear or understand any of the directions.
- Determine if you will be allowed to mark in your testing materials, if scratch paper is allowed, or if all work must be done in your head.
- Use basic testing strategies. Begin by answering all the questions for which you feel confident about the answer. Then, in your remaining time, go back to the more difficult questions and eliminate all the answers choices you know are wrong. Then, make the best possible choice from the answer choices that are remaining.
- Use the answer sheet carefully. Most questions on law enforcement exams are presented in a multiple-choice format with four possible answers. A sample answer sheet used to mark responses to multiple-choice questions has been provided for you to review. Remember to fill in the answer circle completely without going outside the lines. These forms are graded by a machine that may misread answers if the circle is not completely filled in, or if stray marks go outside an answer circle.
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