Trending Topics

5 secrets to testing for promotion

Find someone to coach you, it’s worth a few points on the exam and may mean the difference between getting promoted or not

Regular readers of this space know that for many years I’ve created and administered police examinations ranging from Chief of Police down to entry level. I also provide tutoring services for officers from towns which I have elected to not be involved with. Since I’ve been doing this for a long time I’ve developed a keen eye for the intrinsic traits which seem to separate top candidates from those who go through the promotional examination process, but will not be promoted to the next level. So, I thought it might be helpful to readers if I shared some thoughts about why some people excel in the civil service testing process while others fall by the wayside.

Why do officers like “Charlie the Chin” consistently do well in the testing process and rise through the ranks while other are always stuck in the lower echelon? Here are five basic reasons “the Chin” gets that promotion.

1. The testing process has little to do with whether you’re a great cop.
You might be admired by your peer’s and supervisors for your ability to catch the bad guy, but that isn’t what you will be tested for. Why? Because even with assessment centers our testing process can not replicate or test for the variables associated with a “doing” profession. We are still mired in testing people for knowledge about the job, but fall far short of creating examinations which fairly test for the actual doing of it.

This often results in people being promoted to supervisory and managements positions who can quote chapter and verse about what a book says should be done, but can’t do it themselves or even differentiate between academics and real life. Even so, some qualified people do manage to get promoted if the written examination is properly “weighted” against other testing methods which have a higher predictive capability than a paper and pencil test.

2. There is almost always some sort of written examination.
The written examination might take the form of a multiple choice test, essay exam, a combination of multiple choice and essay, or an in-basket as part of an assessment center. Most likely, a reading list consisting of books, state statutes, department policy, and procedures — from which the written test will be created — is provided to candidates. Candidates report to a location and take the test. If all candidates are of relatively equal intelligence, then why do a select few score very high on this type of paper and pencil test while most don’t and some fail to pass at all? Why is it that “Charlie the Chin” is a good test taker and consistently comes out either number one or two on the written examination for Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, and so on?

It’s probable that “the Chin” has a higher reading comprehension level than other candidates. This result in an ability to “study, learn and retain” information from the reading list which other candidates can not. It also allows “the Chin” to have a clear understanding what the question in a written examination is asking and a higher ability to differentiate between two very close answers selections.

In other words, “the Chin” would be able to quickly eliminate answers A and D and realize it was one word that separated selections B from C. He’s then better able to choose the correct answer.

3. Charlie the Chin has had a lot of practice taking written tests.
Because of that, his saw is sharper than yours. Most probably he went to college and has both a bachelor and master’s degree. That’s a minimum of six years’ practice taking tests. After a while you get good at it. Charlie also bought a host of books which had large “test banks” with practice questions for the rank he was testing for and put himself in a position of “readiness” which others fail to do.

4. Motivation!
If there is one single thing that separates “those who can” from “those who don’t” it’s sweat. Charlie the Chin has convinced himself he wants the job and then does what is required to get it. He studies much more than other candidates, he outlines the chapters in the study material in long hand (there’s a higher retention rate using this method) then converts it to computer text and finally to index cards. He takes time off work to study. He’s figured out that there’s a direct correlation between a high score in the written examination and the amount of time and effort he puts into studying the material.

I meet with all candidates in the towns I’m creating and administering a test several weeks prior to the date of the test. I provide them with a copy of the job task analysis and go over with them what it will take to achieve a high score. It’s not unusual for candidates to drop out of the testing process after such a meeting — they realize they are not willing or can’t (due to other obligations) put the time and effort into the process that’s required.

5. Chin hires a tutor.
Like a professional athlete, you can only push yourself so far. A coach will provide you with that extra edge which moves you a little farther. I don’t advertize, charge a high, and am very busy. Guy’s like Charlie the Chin find me. It’s rare that someone I tutor doesn’t get promoted. It’s not that I’m the greatest coach on the planet — it’s the quality of the person that walks through my door.

Men and woman like Charlie the Chin come to me after a high level of preparation — they all love their department and the police profession. All have excellent verbal communication skills, all are very respectful to me and my years of police service, all are class acts-people who have self confidence under control, and all understand policing as a way of life as opposed to a job or career. All I do is sharpen an already sharp saw. Find someone to coach you, it’s worth a few points on the exam and may mean the difference between getting promoted or not.

Be safe out there!
Larry the Jet

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