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Peak performance on the oral boards

In some cities the oral examination counts for up to fifty percent of a candidate’s final average score

My previous articles dealt with how to achieve a high score on the written component of a promotional examination. After the written exam (the cut off score is usually 70% to go forward in the process) most cities use some form of oral examination as part of the promotional testing process. In fact, oral tests are used more than any other evaluation instrument to “predict” the future ability of people to successfully perform the job. It’s also the type of test police officers spend the least amount of time preparing for, even though they have more personal control over the outcome of this type of testing than any other, with the possible exception of assessment centers.

In some cities the oral examination counts for up to fifty percent of a candidate’s final average score. Other cities assign a “weight” to the scores on the written and oral examination and add points for seniority, performance evaluations, police training and experience, etc.

Receiving a high score on the oral examination is largely dependent on three things:

1. Your understanding of how oral examinations are constructed and graded.

2. How much time and effort you put into preparing for the examination.

2. Your performance on test day. Can you bring it? As in the world of sports, it’s what you do today that counts. Your past performance, the fact that you ere names officer of the year won’t matter if you can’t verbally communicate the right answers to the questions on test day.


A promotional test is a systematic process to identify expectations of acceptable proficiency at the level the test is designed to measure. The written examination was designed to test your ability to apply analytical thinking, demonstrate practical judgment, analyze facts, and use deductive reasoning to prioritize. The oral examination is designed to measure knowledge, skills, and abilities which the written examination can’t test for. What the written test lacks is the ability to accurately evaluate your intrinsic qualities-such as leadership potential or organizational integrity. Written tests are incapable of recognizing “doing behaviors”, such as verbal communication skills or appearance. Doing behaviors are a combination of verbal responses, body language, gestures, and appearance factors which are observable to those administering the examination.

Oral examinations provide the tester the opportunity to:

1. Meet the candidate face-to-face and ask open-ended, role-playing type questions.

2. Ask questions which probe the content and reasoning behind a candidates answers.

3. Determine a candidates beliefs, attitudes, maturity, intentions, and depth of understanding.

4. Observe a candidates lack of knowledge or confusion in specific areas.

4. Observe whether a candidate does or does not possess a wide range of qualities-such as, stable behavior, ethics, and personal integrity.

You can exercise a great deal of control over your score in the oral examination. Knowing how these tests are constructed and the process used to conduct and grade the oral examination will help you prepare for the test.


An oral board is a testing process used to access and rank order candidates according to abilities which have been predetermined to be necessary for successful job performance. Normal personnel from outside of your department will serve as panelists on your oral board. Typical oral boards have three panel members. If there are many applicants, several boards may be convened with each handling a fraction of the pool of candidates. Each board will ask exactly the same questions and use the same criteria to grade their candidates. Oral boards testing for the position of Police Sergeant usually consists of Lieutenants or above.

The oral panel can convene in any facility large enough to accommodate a long conference table and four or five chairs. It should not be located in your own police department. The oral board is often held at city hall, a local high school or college, or another government building in your community.

The people chosen to be on your oral panel may have a great deal of experience serving on oral boards or very little. None of them will be professional interviewers. Regardless of who is chosen to be on the board, they will have received material from your cities personnel department containing the following:

1. The position description.
2. An organization chart of your police department.
3. The procedure to be used to conduct the oral examination.
4. Interview techniques and instructions.
5. Instructions on how to rate and score the candidates.


In most cities, oral board panelists attend a class on the various aspects of conducting the oral examination. Other cities merely have the people who have been selected arrive several hours before the first candidate to receive a briefing on the oral examination procedure used by your city. The meeting is usually conducted by the test administrator assigned to oversee the process.

During that time, the panelists get to know each other and review the questions they’ll ask the candidates at the oral test. Most cities allow panelists to construct their own test questions, although the city reviews them to make sure they are both appropriate and job related. Inappropriate or illegal questions are discarded. Areas which must be avoided include race, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, political party membership or activities, religious affiliation, or church attendance.

The oral examination questions are designed to impartially and objectively evaluate the knowledge, skill, and aptitude of each candidate and to rank the candidates in order of their competence. It’s the panelists’ responsibility to rate the candidates’ responses and rate them objectively.

Since the board only has a short time to spend with each candidate (from twenty to forty-five minutes depending on how many candidates are to be interviewed) they can ask only a limited number of questions. Each panelists selects two or three questions, which then become the mandatory questions. Each candidate must be asked the mandatory questions; however the panelists are free to ask optional or follow-up questions and frequently do.

During this preliminary meeting, the panelists are asked to review a list containing the names and addresses of each candidate to make sure they don’t know any of the candidates personally. If a panelist member does know an individual on the list, the test administrator may decide to excuse that board member from interviewing that particular candidate and fills in for the panelist.

During the meeting, one of the panelists or the test administrator is elected to greet each candidate and introduce him or her to the others. There will be a tape recorder in the room which will be operated by either a panel member of the test administrator. Another panelist or the test administrator acts as a timekeeper to ensure each candidate has approximately the same amount of time with the oral board.


The purpose of the oral examination is to measure a candidate’s intrinsic qualities which the written test can’t adequately evaluate. In order to reduce the
subjective nature of this type of process, a rating device is created which limits factors being tested for so the range of scores isn’t so wide that the test becomes invalid or unreliable. Following are samples of rating forms commonly used to evaluate candidates for management ranks within police departments.


The following are graded on a scale from 40 - 100

1. Appearance
General appearance and mannerisms. Presenting a positive image of the organization.

2. Alertness, Self Confidence
Readiness in grasping the meaning of questions, self-confidence. surety.

3. Interest, Attitude
Genuine interest in the position sought, positive attitude about job functions.

4. Judgment/Problem Solving
Ability to exercise good judgment, make decisions, be dependable, use logic.

5. Responsibility/Maturity
Possession of maturity necessary to handle position, integrity, seriousness.

6. Working Relationships
Ability to handle stress, promote worker cooperation, handle public relations.

7. Job Knowledge
Understanding the duties and requirement of the position sought.

The criteria established in the preliminary meeting, the rating form used by your city, and the predetermined questions selected to be used on the oral examination comprise the test process by which candidates are evaluated. During your oral examination, three panelists will take notes on your performance. Immediately after you leave the room, each panelists privately reviews his or her notes and assigns a numerical rating of each of the categories. After the panelists individual ratings are completed, they discuss any significant differences between their ratings. One or more of the panelists may have observed some performance, positive or negative, that was overlooked by another board member. The board members don’t have to reach consensus, however, and they are not encouraged to alter their ratings unless they are convinced their preliminary scoring was off.

After the board members have thoroughly reviewed your ratings, they total and average the scores and assign a final score, which is your oral examination mark.


The impression you make with the oral board in the first few minutes is critical. The oral board is an opportunity to sell yourself. You never get a second change to make a good first impression. The oral panel will begin forming an impression about you based on what they see, what you say, and how you say it. The moment you enter the room you’re on center stage and the panelists will be influenced by everything about you, either positively or negatively. The image you project to the panelists is largely dependent on:

1. How you walk into and out of the room.
2. Your posture.
3. You appearance.
4. Your speech and its tonal qualities.
5. Your body movements and gestures.
6. The words you choose and how you say them.
7. Your facial expressions.
8. The amount and intensity of eye contact with the panel.

All of these factors communicate information about you to the panel. You must be able to communicate your best and strongest traits with confidence, energy, and enthusiasm. Most accomplished speakers spend hours practicing before they get up in front of an audience. The more you rehearse, the better you’ll perform on test day. If your appearance, body language, and mannerisms are appropriate, the panel will be free to concentrate on what you are saying.

Career expert teaches how to prepare for and excel on police promotion examinations.