If you are a courageous and dedicated person who cares about justice and your community, becoming a police officer may be an excellent fit for you. Competition for open positions is intense, and preparing for the hiring process can improve your chances of landing the job.
What Is the Police Hiring Process?
Not everyone is suited for the demanding and stressful nature of police work. Therefore, the application process includes several steps to determine your eligibility. The process varies between states and between individual police stations, but you can expect to experience most of the steps below.
There are several requirements to become a police officer in the United States. You should be a U.S. resident and citizen and have a valid driver’s license. Age requirements vary by state, but you generally need to be at least 18. Depending on your state and the specific police station, you may need a high school diploma or G.E.D., or a certain amount of college education.
You should have 20/20 vision, although it’s usually acceptable if you need glasses or contact lenses. The application process may include a test for colorblindness. If you are colorblind, the station will decide if your condition is too risky, depending on how severe it is.
Many stations require an application before you can move to the written exam, but some request that you take the written exam first. You will need to fill out information about yourself and your previous experience. Start by finding an opening that you wish to apply for. There are many online job boards specific to police work.
The next step in the process is often a written exam, which includes sections on reading comprehension, math, logical reasoning, spatial reasoning, and more. The exam is covered in more detail below.
Physical Ability Test
The Physical Ability Test, or PAT, is sometimes called the Physical Agility Test. It determines whether you are in good enough physical shape to meet the demands of police work. The PAT usually includes a 1.5-mile run, an obstacle course, and a strength assessment. For the strength assessment, you will perform push-ups, sit-ups, bench presses, and other strength exercises.
This step of the recruitment process includes a background check into your credit, driving, and criminal history. Most police stations do not allow you to proceed if you have been convicted of a felony. The station will also review your employment history and may interview references as well as previous employers, family members, friends, and neighbors. Some stations work with a third-party investigator to review your background and ensure the information you provided in your application is accurate.
The oral board is similar to a panel interview, in which you sit before three or more police officers, usually of varying ranks, and answer their questions. The board aims to determine how you handle pressure, your communication abilities, and how well you will work with colleagues and the public. In addition to sitting before the board, you may interview individually with the police chief at the station where you are applying. This step may occur at the same time as the oral board interview, or later in the process.
A lie detector test is sometimes given toward the end of the process. Its purpose is to ensure that you have answered questions about yourself, your background, and your mental health honestly and accurately. The test is given by a person who is trained to work with the polygraph device and to monitor you as you answer questions.
The questions are about your background and other information you have provided. Some of them are about drug use, criminal behavior, any history of violence, and other factors that might impact whether you are a good fit for police work.
The psychological evaluation typically consists of two parts: a written personality test and an evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The goal of these tests is assessing whether you can handle the stress of the job and ensuring that you would treat people fairly as a police officer.
The purpose of the medical exam is to ensure that you are healthy enough to perform the duties of a police officer. It typically includes tests of your vision, hearing, blood pressure, and other aspects of your health. There is often a drug test during this step, although it may be given separately.
What Is the Police Officer Exam?
There are different companies that offer entry-level police exams, so there is no one standardized test. You may be able to confirm ahead of time which test your police station will administer.
The written test is timed; you will typically have between one and three hours to complete it. There are between 100 and 200 questions. Scoring may be based either on the percentage of correct answers or pass/fail. Many police stations require a score of 70% to move to the next stage of the hiring process, though a higher score can help you stand out from other candidates.
Depending on the specific exam you take, you may encounter some or all of the following test sections. Note that the name of each component varies slightly depending on the testing company.
This numerical reasoning section assesses your understanding of essential math functions. These include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, ratios, and fractions. There may be word problems based on real-life scenarios.
The deductive aptitude section requires you to read several statements or rules and draw a logical conclusion. Your answer will usually involve identifying if a separate statement is true, false, or if there is not enough information to answer. This test section measures your ability to think logically, as well as your attention to detail.
While deductive reasoning questions allow you to determine if a statement is true or false, inductive reasoning questions ask you to use the information provided to make an educated guess or to establish a likely outcome. Inductive reasoning skills are often related to your ability to notice patterns and similarities between seemingly unrelated pieces of information.
This section involves reading texts and answering questions to demonstrate your understanding. The texts vary from a few sentences to several paragraphs.
Spelling, Grammar, and Vocabulary
There are a few different question formats for these topics. For spelling and grammar, you may need to select the correct sentence from four options. You may need to identify the right punctuation mark for an example sentence, or the correct spelling of a word to fill in a blank in the given sentence.
For the vocabulary section, you may be asked to choose the best word to fill in a blank in a sentence or to identify the synonym or antonym of a word. You may read a passage and then identify a word’s definition in the context of the passage.
You are asked to view an image or a short video and remember as much as you can about it. Then, you will answer questions about the image or video without referring back to it and without referring to any notes.
Some questions in this section involve looking at an image or object and identifying it from different angles. Other questions may involve viewing a map and choosing the most direct route between two locations. On some tests, map-reading is a separate section.
For this section, you will review several statements or other pieces of information and put them in a logical order. The statements often relate to police work, but questions may also be based on sequences of numbers, letters, or symbols.
For the essay, you will respond to prompts in writing. Your response should include an introduction, a body with points that support your overall thesis, and a conclusion. This section measures your writing abilities and your ability to make a persuasive point.
You are asked to identify a problem in a realistic scenario. For example, you may read sample witness statements from two different witnesses. The problem you identify is that the information given by one witness contradicts the other witness’s statement.
How to Prepare for the Police Officer Exam?
As you can see, there are a number of different skills covered in the police exam and a variety of sections. Preparing beforehand will help you feel confident and avoid becoming overwhelmed on test day. You’ll also know what to expect, and whether there are any areas of knowledge you need to work on if you give yourself the opportunity to prepare.
Online practice tests are one of the best ways to get ready for the exam. There are practice tests that correspond to each of the different sections you’ll encounter, so you can practice in a way that is realistic to the actual test. Practice assessments specific to police testing are helpful since you know the questions will be relevant, but you can also look for tests based on the sections listed above, such as mathematical reasoning and reading comprehension.
Remember, a good score on your exam can go a long way in helping you stand out from other candidates and land the job. Appropriate preparation will make a big difference in achieving a good score.
There are some sample questions below to help you get started. Good luck!