Career in Law Enforcement Police Test Study Guide

The A-Z of the Police Hiring Process.

Aug 2nd, 2022
police hiring process

How to Get Hired

More police departments throughout the United States are reporting an increase in the supply of candidates to the number of available law enforcement positions. Put another way, competition is high and only the best candidates can make it through to the end of the hiring process.

Therefore, it’s simply not enough to “just pass” the police test. Instead, you must score considerably higher than your competition. The degree of competition among departments varies, but the police hiring process is pretty much the same.

The more you know about the police hiring process, the better and more able you are to prepare long-term in the weeks and months ahead. Today, we review exactly that – going through the nine key stages of the hiring process that you need to know if you are thinking about becoming a law enforcement officer.

Stage 1 – Fill out the Application Form

The initial application form is more important than you might think.

Yes, the application forms are long and detailed. But this is necessary, not least because these forms provide the foundational detail that police departments throughout the United States use to establish whether you are an eligible and credible candidate.

What’s vital is that you accurately fill out the personal history statement.

Remember: later in the hiring process you may be called for a polygraph exam and oral board interview. Many applicants catch themselves out, forgetting what they originally wrote in personal history statement.

The last thing you want to do is come across as deceptive or worse, a liar.

Always be consistent. Ensure that details on your application form are entirely accurate.

Stage 2 – Police Written Test

Also known as the law enforcement entrance exam, the written test is the key parameter used to establish whether you have the knowledge, logic, and common sense needed to succeed as a police officer, correctional officer, or state trooper in the United States.

There are seven core domains tested on the police officer exam:

• reading comprehension and analysis

• vocabulary, grammar, and spelling

• math and arithmetic

• problem solving skills: deductive and inductive reasoning

• data analysis

• map reading, orientation, and situational judgment skills

• short-term memory

Not all seven domains may be tested on your exam, as this depends on which police department you are applying to.

However, as a rule: most of the subjects most of the time are tested on the written exam.

Candidates must score high to ensure that they can continue with the rest of the police hiring process.

Stage 3 – Interview Test

Many candidates struggle with the police interview exam but, with the right preparation, there is no reason why you cannot succeed.

Ultimately, the interview is about establishing whether you have the temperament, decisiveness, knowledge, and practical skill to operate effectively as a law enforcement officer. The panel may include up to 5 personnel – and could include a sergeant, captain, and police chief; and some even include actively training officers.

You will be asked a series of questions: some personal, some police-style situational problems. Whilst you should never rush to answer, you should be confident that you line of reasoning makes sense and remains consistent. Try to avoid changing your mind, as this can give the panel the impression that you are indecisive.

Take a few minutes to learn more about the style of police interview questions asked, and how best to prepare for the police interview.

Stage 4 – Physical Abilities Test

Like the written exam and oral board interview, the physical abilities test varies among police departments; and it remains a vital component in the police hiring process given the sheer importance that physical aptitude has to the many active functions of a law enforcement officer.

That said, most departments combine the following tests:

  • Sit-ups
  • 300-meter sprint
  • 1.5-mile run
  • Push-ups

Many departments also require candidates to work their way through an obstacle course, often in part requiring aspiring officers to carry dummy weights that mimic real-life conditions.

Stage 5 – Polygraph Exam

Not all police departments conduct polygraph exams as part of their police hiring process.

Some departments question the accuracy of such exams, whereas other departments vouch for these tests as an extra precautionary tool to be used alongside other tools to establish whether candidates are telling the truth.

Polygraph exams test your physiological responses to questions – such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and skin conductivity.

A standard polygraph exam begins by asking you a series of questions. Some of these questions are obviously true, and some are obviously false. This could be as simple as asking you to say your name, for example. These “obvious” answers establish a baseline for the polygraph to be performed. How you answer more contentious questions is compared against this baseline, and this result is used to establish whether you are likely to be telling the truth.

Of course, other factors – such as your initial application form detail and any background checks conducted up to this point – will also be used to create an overall assessment of the candidate.

Stage 6 – Police Psychological Exam

Police officers must be mentally resilient.

Given what officers can and do experience, it’s imperative that police departments conduct psychological checks to establish whether a candidate can perform well under the often-intense pressure and circumstances that come with this career.

There is no point hiring a candidate who performs very well on the police written test but is psychologically unsuitable to work as a police officer. Therefore, the police psych exam is an important part of the police hiring process.

Typically, the police psychological test has two elements:

  • personality tests
  • interview with a psychologist

A qualified psychologist will assess all candidates, comparing written personality test results with how candidates behave and react to questions posed during the exam.

We have included a complete module to the police psychological exam as part of our online course. This module can help prepare candidates – both in terms of the written test and how to answer questions during the psychological exam. Furthermore, there are practical tools that candidates can use to ensure they are well-equipped in the weeks and months leading up to the exam.

Stage 7 – Background Checks

Background checks can take time – from weeks to months – but remain a necessary part of the police hiring process.

That’s because of the rigorous and time-consuming nature of many of these checks. From credit checks to contacting previous employers and even past boyfriends/girlfriends – nothing is off the table!

As such, your record must be spotlessly clean.

There are some exceptions that will disqualify you from becoming a law enforcement officer. These include:

  • felony arrests with or without a conviction
  • domestic violence
  • history of drug abuse
  • poor credit history / debt build-up
  • history of driving tickets
  • having been discharged dishonorably from the military
  • history of aggressive behavior
  • false or misleading information on your application form

If you can demonstrate that you have developed, learned from your mistake, and taken full responsibility for your actions – it’s possible that, at a future application date – the police agency will forgive the actions (such as poor credit history). In cases of felony convictions, for example, this is unlikely to happen.

Stage 8 – Medical Assessment

Medical assessments have always been part of the police hiring process.

The need for medical assessments is high. Police officers can only be hired and trained if they are at peak physical and mental fitness. Robust medical tests must be performed to establish whether the candidate has the requisite physical ability to operate effectively as a police officer.

Tests conducted in the assessment include, but are not limited to:

  • vital signs – such as body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate / rhythm
  • full blood test
  • visual and auditory assessments – including a color blindness test
  • physical stress test – typically performed on a treadmill
  • physical tests that examine muscles and joints
  • BMI – to ensure that you are not classified as obese (> 30) or underweight < 18)
  • chronic illness assessment – to rule out diabetes, liver disease etc.

Only the highest performing candidates will make it through to the next stage of the law enforcement hiring process.

Stage 9 – Drug Test

The penultimate stage of the police hiring process is the drug test.

Note that this test is strict. Candidates found to have a positive test result will immediately be disqualified from continuing in the application process.

Furthermore, drug tests are not only used to test the recent past – such as the past couple of days – but also used to test the past couple of years.

There are various drug tests that can sample hair, for example, which may contain drug traces up to several years back. Candidates must ensure that, when they take these tests, that their record is clear – not only over the past week but also over the past couple of years.

Take Home Message

Succeeding at the police hiring process is tough – not only because of the lengthy and extensive process but also because of the high degree of competition for places within US law enforcement at present.

Of course, these 9 stages may vary depending on which police department you wish to apply for. Always take the time to contact your department to learn about any of the latest modifications to the application process. Adjust your long-term study and preparation plan accordingly.

With enough time and long-term planning, there is no reason why you cannot ace the competition and become among the new recruits scheduled to join your target department in the coming weeks or months.


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