Getting promoted: Top 10 dos and don’ts for test day

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series by Jim Guffey, who began his Law Enforcement career in 1977 with the Pennsylvania Capitol Police and rose through the ranks to ulimately serve as the Chief of Police for Blairsville Borough (Pa.) until his retirement in July 2004.  If you missed part one, where Jim wrote about “doing the right things to make promotion through the ranks a strong possibility for you,” check that out by clicking here. 

How do you prepare for the promotion you’ll one day seek? I’ve always thought that the three parts of the promotional process were the officer, the test, and the politics. In this three part column, I’ll discuss the three parts of the promotion process and, hopefully, help to guide you on your way. In part one, I talked about the officer — most important part of the triangle — here I’ll discuss the testing procedure itself.

The first problem you’ll encounter is the number of different types of tests out there. There are the traditional tests which focus on areas such as analytical thinking, math, memorization, and writing. These tests have been around for a while and have been the backbone for police promotions for years.

Recently some new types of tests have become more common. My opinion on these tests is that they can be biased against officers who read more slowly and this should be taken into account if your Police Association has a say in what form of testing is used. 

Some of the new testing procedures are as follows:

• The In-Basket Test: You’re given a packet with a scenario built into the packet. You have a given amount of time, usually 90 minutes, to complete the entire scenario. A panel discussion then follows with a review board. Can be very difficult if you do not prepare.
• Video Presentation and Oral Board: I like this better than the In the Basket simply because it doesn’t penalize anyone for slower reading skills. You watch a scenario then are quizzed by the oral board as to how you would handle the situation.
• Situational Scenario and Oral Board: Here, actors’ role play with you after you have been given a briefing on what the scenario entails.

Added to all the above is the fact that there are a multitude of companies out there that are involved in police testing and each will tell you that their testing method is the best.

What’s an officer to do?
The first thing that needs to be done is the type of testing that will be used, and what company gives it, should be identified for the officers. Don’t go buy a bunch of books on promotional exams and studying for them until you do. If you get a book written by one company and the test is given by another, you’ll probably bomb the test.

Once you know what test is going to be given, start studying immediately. Do not wait until the last moment to study. You’ll only get yourself confused and cause yourself more harm than good.

Don’t be satisfied with a single source of study material. Research the tests that will be used on the internet and see if you can get some tips that will help with the testing.

Here is my “Top 10 List” of dos and don’ts for test day:

1. Don’t drink the night before the test. Alcohol can keep you awake.
2. Don’t try to cram the night before the test; you’ll only get yourself confused.
3. Spend a relaxing night at home. Read a book, watch TV, play cards. Do anything to take your mind off the test.
4. On the day of the test, arrive early — running in at the last minute is a bad thing for many reasons, not the least of which is that it doesn’t give you time to compose yourself.
5. Don’t take stimulants like caffeine pills, etc. These can cause a crash at a bad moment. If you smoke, have a couple of cigarettes before going into the testing room. This might stop you from having a nicotine reaction to the stress and cause your mind to wander because you want a cigarette.
6. Try not to sit near a window or door — movement can distract you.
7. Read all instructions carefully before you begin.
8. Learn ahead of time how the test will be scored. Some tests have only one right answer. Other tests have a graduated scoring for each question. For instance answer A might be worth four points, C worth three points, etc.
9. Don’t spend a lot of time on each question. If you get stuck move ahead and come back to it, but be sure to put a little mark next to any skipped question so you can find it when you go back for it.
10. If you skip a question make sure you answer the next question in the correct box. It is very easy to answer in the space you skipped and all your answers thereafter will be one off and therefore, very likely to be wrong.

Be creative in finding help
There are dozens of articles on this topic right here on Police1, but you should also search the Internet using different search criteria such as “police promotional tests,” “oral board testing,” etc. In just one such search you may find many free items on the Internet that can be helpful as you prepare for tests. For example, I discovered an overview of the different types of oral examinations can be found on Further, I found a free copy of a Police Sergeant Exam from Learning Express this way and it has a lot of good information on traditional testing and how to figure out the right way to answer the questions.

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