What Is a Civil Service Test?
The civil service test is a pre-employment screening procedure. As such, it places your aptitude for the available position under assessment. With its help, employers can quickly determine whether you qualify for the job post. As a result, testing has become a mainstay of the civil service hiring process.
Civil service testing has gained much popularity because of its inherent ability to provide objective and accurate aptitude evaluation. Serving as a pillar of the merit system, it ensures the integrity of civil service personnel selection and promotion. Civil service tests provide you with a bias-free way to prove you are competent enough for recruitment or promotion.
Who Can Administer Civil Service Tests?
Civil service employers at multiple levels can administer tests to meet their hiring objectives. Depending on who your employer is, you will take your test at one of the levels below:
Federal civil service employers have a significant number of job posts available across the US on a regular basis. Examples of such employers include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the United States Postal Service, and any federal office building that requires any clerical staff to operate. Two popular federal civil service exams in the US include the FBI Special Agent Exam Phase I Test and the Secret Service Special Agent Entrance Exam.
Individual states across the US are major civil service employers as well. For instance, the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission announces a variety of available jobs across the state. At the same time, it administers its own civil service examinations through the Pennsylvania State Integrated Computerized Examination System. As a result, applicants, regardless of the county within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, take the same civil service tests.
In some states across the US, counties and cities can be major civil service employers too. In the case of California, the California Department of Human Resources announces a significant portion of civil service job positions. At the same time, it administers its own civil service tests for these positions through the Merit System Services.
Regardless of the level at which you are pursuing employment in civil service, the psychometrics of the examinations remain similar. Therefore, most exams fall within a few categories that share similar test formats.
Most Common Types & Formats of Civil Service Tests
Most civil service assessments tend to fit within the following types of formats:
- Written Examinations
This type of exam format is a computerized, time-limited and multiple-choice assessment of your aptitude. Typically, these exams evaluate the aptitude areas that are key to optimal performance at your future civil service job and require no prerequisite knowledge. The most common aptitude areas that undergo assessment include:
- English language proficiency.
- Reading competence and proofreading skills.
- Ability to express yourself accurately and clearly in writing.
- Interpersonal communication skills.
- Ability to follow written and verbal instructions.
- Situational judgment ability.
- Logical reasoning skills.
- Data entry aptitude.
- Supplemental Questionnaires
Within this format of civil service exams, you will have to provide your answers to a set of questions. These questions will inquire about your prior training, education and work skills. For instance, you can specify that you are a graduate with a relevant degree or possess valuable work experience. As a result, supplemental questionnaires compliment other civil service tests by additionally determining whether you are a qualified candidate.
- Performance-Based Assessments
Sometimes, it is not feasible for one civil service test to encompass all aptitude areas necessary for the job. For instance, police exams tend to assess your overall aptitude for the job accurately, however, your physical aptitude can not undergo assessment within a written civil service test. As a result, to demonstrate your physical driving skills you will have to take a special driving test.
- Structured Interviews
These civil service assessments take place in the form of face-to-face interviews. Their purpose is to additionally evaluate your aptitude for your future job in front of civil service examiners. In the course of this assessment, you will have to provide your answers to their structured questions. These questions will follow a certain logic depending on every new answer you give. You may have to provide your answers in the form of an essay or an oral presentation as well.
Most Common Types of Civil Service Aptitude Questions
It is not feasible to predict all the content a civil service exam may test. After all, the preferences of your particular employer alone may significantly influence the content of your test. It is possible, however, to categorize the questions that make up most civil service tests based on their psychometrics. As a result, one can distinguish between the following types of aptitude questions:
- Logic-Based Reasoning Assessments:
This type of aptitude question evaluates your ability to use logic. It does so by assessing the conclusions you arrive at based on your comprehension of factual information.
First, this type of aptitude question presents you with a set of facts that you must analyze. Then, it invites you to determine what inferences are possible based on the initial facts. Finally, relying on your conclusions, you must choose the most appropriate answers out of the available multiple-choice options.
Logic-based reasoning assessments are a mainstay of civil service tests by agencies like the FBI and the Secret Service.
- Situational Judgement Assessments:
This type of aptitude question evaluates your situational judgment ability. It does so by assessing how you handle yourself in circumstances you are likely to face on the job.
As part of these assessments, you face a scenario that you appraise. Then, you must choose one of the possible response options that aligns with how you would respond to the situation. Your answer should reflect how you would react to such a situation in real life.
Situational judgment assessments are part of many civil service tests such as police and firefighting exams.
- Specific Aptitude Areas Assessments:
This type of civil service test question evaluates specific areas of your aptitude.
For instance, suppose you apply for an administrative assistant position. In this case, your civil service test questions may focus on the evaluation of your performance in areas such as:
- Familiarity with the most common office practices and procedures.
- English language proficiency.
- Writing and proofreading competence.
- Basic math aptitude.
- Record keeping competence.
- Interpersonal communication skills.
Assessments of specific aptitude areas are a common part of the civil service hiring process for a diverse set of job positions.
- Personality Assessments:
This type of civil service test question places your general behavioral tendencies and individual work style under assessment. It does so in an attempt to evaluate how much your personality style matches the demands of the job.
As part of a personality assessment, you will have to analyze statements about yourself. You will then have to rate or rank them based on how accurately they describe you as a person. Often, this type of civil service exam question uses adaptive approach psychometrics. This means that your responses to the previous statements determine the next statement that you will be presented with.
- Figural Reasoning Assessments:
This type of aptitude assessment evaluates your ability to apply your problem solving and reasoning skills. It does so by asking you to identify the image or shape that logically fits the pattern you face.
A picture is presented, in which one section of the pattern is usually missing. You must analyze the design and select the answer choice out of the available multiple-choice options, that has the missing piece of the pattern. Patterns in these assessments are usually very diverse and may involve a plethora of various characteristics.
Figural reasoning assessments are a mainstay of tests for positions that require problem-solving, such as investigative jobs.
How to Pass a Civil Service Exam
Most civil service employers use eligibility lists or eligibility boards to rank their potential job candidates. As ranking mediums, they help your potential employer to determine the most capable candidates for the available job positions. The rank you receive on your employer’s eligibility list results directly from your capacity to perform the job’s duties. You let your employer notice your aptitude for the job through the test scores that you achieve during the examinations. In this regard, the scores you get on your civil service exam have a profound influence on your employment chances.
Most civil service tests adhere to similar passing criteria. You must achieve the scores of at least 70% on the test to make it to the eligibility list. Test scores lower than the 70% threshold will disqualify you from pursuing further employment for the available job position. On the contrary, scores higher than this threshold may significantly increase your chances of successful employment. Higher exam scores can place you higher on the eligibility list. In its turn, higher ranking gives you a higher employment priority and helps you get the job you want.
How to Prepare for a Civil Service Test
It is no secret that one of the most common problems people have to face during examinations is anxiety. Being hard to control for most people, it can hinder the exam performance of even the most capable candidates. Luckily, you can alleviate much anxiety by focusing your exam preparation on gaining familiarity with the exam in advance. In this endeavor, a few study tools can be helpful:
- Civil service practice tests with sample questions and answers.
- Online practice with free example questions.
- Civil service sample exam study guides with detailed explanations.
Regular practice with these study tools will help you to prepare for your civil service test well in advance. Familiar with its format, you will experience greater confidence during examination and will make the most of your knowledge. With no anxiety restraining your potential, you will manage to achieve the test scores you are truly capable of.