police exam

What’s Tested on the Police Exam?

As with all parts of your application process, it is important to pay attention to what you are told by the program you are applying to. When you register to take your police exam, get as much information as possible about what will be on your exam so you know how to prepare in advance. As with all standardized tests, preparation is the key to success.

However your written test is designed, it almost always takes the form of a standardized multiple-choice test, around 100 questions long. Once the test starts, you will open up your booklet and read and follow all the directions precisely. Whatever the directions may be—whether the section is timed and tells you when you can advance to the next page or particular instructions on how to answer certain topics or sections—you must follow them. Police work is about following directions and paying attention to all the details. Doing well on your exam is not only about choosing the correct answer, but also doing what is asked of you and paying attention to details.

Your police exam will test your aptitude in several categories. Let’s look at the basic categories found on most exams nationwide.


English language skills, reading comprehension, and verbal expression

Your police exam is sure to contain questions that test your grasp of the English language, and specifically, law enforcement language. Questions that fall under this umbrella might ask you to do the following:

  • Recognize the correctly spelled word within a group of similar words
  • Select the best vocabulary word to complete a sentence or choose the best definition of a selected word
  • Select a sentence out of a group that is correctly or incorrectly punctuated
  • Read a passage and answer questions about identifying details and making inferences from what you are given
  • Interpret a police report
  • Understand law enforcement vocabulary and identify where it is used correctly

As we’ve mentioned, before you dive into any question, read the instructions carefully, and understand what the question is asking before selecting an answer and moving on.

Mathematics and logic

Some tests will test you on your knowledge of basic math. Rest assured, you will not be doing any advanced trigonometry or calculus. Besides the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, you may find questions on topics like percentages, fractions, and basic geometry as well. The math questions you face will probably be presented in word problem format, where a scenario will contain mathematical information for you to solve.

Logic questions on police exams test your ability to read and interpret given information. These questions might ask you to do the following:

  • Read a set of laws and an action taken by an officer, then determine whether the officer acted correctly or incorrectly
  • Read a report about crime in a certain area, with times of crimes committed, and select the best time to patrol certain areas
  • Interpret information given in tables, charts, and graphs
  • Define a crime committed with the appropriate statute
  • Select the most relevant details when given a report

The questions in this section may be police related, but will not test you on police procedures. All the information you need to answer the questions will be given to you on the exam.

Spatial orientation, visualization, and memorization

This exam question category tests your skills of observation, visual logic, map reading, and ability to remember what you see. You will likely be asked to complete some or all of the following tasks on your police exam:

  • Observe a street scene, then answer questions about it after it is taken away
  • Find efficient routes when given a map or paragraph description of directions to interpret
  • Identify differences and similarities in faces
  • Decipher complex patterns of rotated or shifted shapes
  • Identify visual depictions of traffic incident descriptions

The best way to excel on this question type is to become familiar with what typical questions look like so you’re not caught off guard on Test Day. You don’t want to waste time trying to figure out what you’re being asked to do.

Information management and problem sensitivity

Questions in this category test your ability to read and understand job-related information and also to make commonsense decisions. Like all test questions, you are not expected to know anything that is not given to you on the test. What is being tested here is whether or not you can read a given police situation and have a good idea of what occurred, and if your instincts will guide you to make sound policing decisions. These questions might ask you to:

  • Place a scrambled witness statement into proper, logical order
  • Select the best police response to a given scenario
  • Identify the most and least important details when given a description of a scenario or a crime scene

Remember: Everyone knows you are not yet a police officer! These questions are testing your common sense and logic skills.


The academy or training program you hope to join, large or small, can only accept so many people. While you may think it is easier to be accepted by a bigger department, as they will need more people, you need to take into consideration that thousands to tens of thousands of people may file and take the test every year. No matter what program you are aiming for, the exam is the one standardized part of the evaluation process programs can use to keep or eliminate people from the running.

The average passing score is 70 percent of all questions answered correctly. When you take the practice exams in this book, you’ll want to aim for at least 70 percent—anything under that means a program might not even consider your application. However, though 70 percent is passing, merely passing may not guarantee you will be selected. As with any test, the higher you score, the better: you will probably need an average of 85 percent or better just to be in contention for admittance. Remember, this is just an educated guess—each academy, school, or training program is different, so speak to your specific program for more concrete rules about the score you will need to reach.

Prior to taking any exam, try to find out how your particular program scores its test. You might have additional benefits that can bump up your chances of being accepted. A great example of this would be to find out if the program gives out any extra points for military experience or residency in a certain area. In some areas, if you have military experience when you file for the test, you will let the program know you are an honorably discharged veteran. They might give you up to 5 bonus points extra on top of your score. In addition, some programs will also give up to 5 extra points for preferred residency. So, if a city agency is looking to recruit candidates from the city or metropolitan area, if you live in the area they are targeting you will receive these bonus points. These extra points are extremely beneficial and helpful—say you scored 85 percent on the test; an extra 5 points bumps you up to 90 percent, which will improve your chances of acceptance.

Knowing the rules of your specific program is key. Do your research on the program to which you are applying, and ask your recruiter if you have any specific questions about the testing process.

Ready to start studying for the Police Exam? Try out Kaplan’s resources.