Civil Service Exam

The Civil Service Exam is a competitive eligibility test required of some, but not all, government candidates. The exam is used by federal, state, and local governments to determine the ranking of candidates on a merit system. Not all civil service positions require the exam, but those that do require an applicant to pass the test before moving forward with their application. However, passing the Civil Service Exam does not guarantee that you will be offered a position. The test is an additional method for human resource personnel to evaluate and eliminate candidates from their application pool.

What agencies require the Civil Service Exam?

Jobs in the federal government that require the exam include the United States Post Office, the Foreign Service, customs, air traffic control, and law enforcement. Jobs at the state or local level that may require a form of the Civil Service Exam include law enforcement, corrections, fire departments, emergency medical and dispatch, social services, and public works. Accounting, engineering, health services, clerical, and information technology positions may require a Civil Service exam as well.

Are there any eligibility requirements to take the Civil Service exam?

Eligibility requirements vary from position to position and government entity to government entity. Basic eligibility includes a minimum age of 18 to 21, a legal resident of the city or state where you’re applying (often waived if it is a tight job market), and a legal resident of the United States. Additional requirements may be imposed.

The job I am applying to requires the Civil Service exam. How do I register?

Your exam will be held at a civil service testing center in the governmental area where the position is open. If you advance to the testing step in the application process, the employer will provide the information you need to register. You may be asked to pay a non-refundable application processing fee at registration, which varies by location. For example, Erie County in Pennsylvania charges a $20.00 application processing fee.

How many questions are on the exam?

The number of questions on the Civil Service exam varies from occupation to occupation. The average test contains 165 to 170 questions, and you have between two hours and forty minutes to three hours to complete the exam.

What is the test format?

The Civil Service exam is delivered either computer-delivered or pencil and paper. The content of the exam depends on the position you are applying to. For example, a post office candidate’s test covers subjects such as distinguishing similar addresses, ability to read and decipher handwriting, and customer interaction. Information on your particular test is provided when you register for your exam.

How is the test scored?

Your raw score is determined by counting the number of questions you answered correctly. Your raw score is converted to a band score, which is a range of scores in five-point increments. A passing score ranges from 70 to 100. If your score is below the minimum passing score, you are reported as “failed.”

What does my score mean?

Scores are used to rank applicants based on their success on the exam. Even if you passed the exam with a score of 80, you are ranked below someone who received an 85. The Civil Service exam is used to limit the applicant pool. The higher your score, the better your chances are to move on to the next step in the application process.

I am a Veteran. Does that automatically make me eligible?

The short answer is no. You are still required to meet the minimum eligibility requirements for the position and pass the Civil Service exam. Your preference points (five or ten points) are added after you take, and pass, the exam. If your score is 70 and you have ten preference points, your official score becomes 80. A non-Veteran who scored a 90 on the exam would still be rated before you.

There are positions within the federal government that hire Veterans in a non-competitive status. “Non-competitive” means that the human resource department does not have to go through the regular procedures to hire for a position and can appoint a qualified Veteran without a competitive application process. When this occurs, the Civil Service exam is not required.

How long will it take to receive my score?

The length of time it takes to receive your score varies drastically between government entities. Results could take as little as a few weeks to as long as one year. Your contact should be able to advise you on how long it will take.

I didn’t pass. Can I retake the exam?

Permission to retake the Civil Service exam is determined by the agency. If you are allowed, information is provided to you. Keep in mind that your most recent score is the one considered. If you do not do as well on the retake, you could end up with a worse score.

How Can I Prepare for the Civil Service Exam?

We believe that different learning styles require different tools for success. We have compiled a list of the best study guides that we’ve found on the market. Some of these guides have review videos, for you visual learners out there. Others have practice tests, which have been proven to increase student scores by a whole letter grade (in some cases more than that)!

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Last Updated: August 1, 2019