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    The Civil Service Exam: Everything You Need to Know

    By Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Posted: July 1st, 2024
    The Civil Service Exam: Everything You Need to Know

    Civil service exams can be a critical component of the hiring process for those pursuing public service career paths. The application process for jobs is stressful enough, but adding a test in addition to that can make things feel almost impossible. So, let’s get into everything you need to know about them, how you should prepare for them, and what a civil service exam actually is to help put your nerves at ease! 

    What is a civil servant? 

    First, let’s talk about who needs to take a civil service exam. Typically these tests are designed for those interested in civil servant careers. A civil servant is someone who works for the government at a local or federal level. Their jobs serve the general public, think of things like firefighters, police, sanitation workers, TSA, and even FBI and CIA positions.

    Also see: Public service student loan forgiveness

    What is the purpose of a civil service exam? 

    So, what’s the point of this exam? Being employed by the government comes with some serious benefits, such as job security, great retirement plans, possible access to student loan forgiveness programs, and more. This means that the various government departments take hiring very seriously. These exams are meant to assess candidates and help rank them during the hiring process. 

    When do you take a civil service exam? 

    Typically candidates will first apply to the job they would like, and once their application is assessed they will be given the information for the civil service exam. Once a candidate has taken the test, they will be ranked against all the other candidates and the hiring agency will decide whether or not they will be brought in for an interview. 

    What’s on a civil service exam?

    Okay, now on to what you really want to know, what is on a civil service exam? Well unfortunately it’s not like the ACT or SAT. Although the civil service exam does function like a standardized test of sorts, each civil service exam is a bit different. The content  depends on the position you are applying for. 

    For clerical jobs the test may focus on reading comprehension skills, grammar and light math. While another test may focus on how well you can memorize information quickly, speaking skills and critical thinking. Based on the job you are applying for, you can look up more specific study materials to help you prepare. You might even be able to ask the agency you’re applying to what you can expect. 

    Check out: Student loan income driven repayment programs

    When can you take a civil service exam? 

    Unfortunately, civil service exams aren’t available to take at just any time. Typically when a job needs to be filled, the application will open and subsequently so will the test. Applicants will have a time period to apply to the job and then be given the test date. Unfortunately, this does mean the hiring process can be a bit prolonged. You may apply for a job and not be able to take the test for a few months. It also means the hiring process may follow a strict timeline. Missing any important dates may disqualify you from being able to apply. 

    What happens after you take a civil service exam? 

    Once you complete an application for your prospective position and the civil service exam, you’ll move on to the interview process. The interview process can vary from position to position, but it’s likely something you would have been given details about when you applied, or when you were first requested to come for an interview. You may need to complete multiple interviews with different hiring personnel. 

    How is the civil service exam scored?

    The exam itself is scored on a 100 point scale. It is generally said that you need to score above a 70 or higher to be considered “passing.” However, just like with other standardized tests, your scores are relative to the applicant pool you tested with. This means that some tests may be more competitive than others due to the nature of the applicants. While a 70 may be passing, you may need a 90 to remain competitive with those you’re running against. 

    Don’t miss: Top 10 tips to reduce test anxiety

    Earning extra points

    Aside from getting test questions right, there is actually another way you can earn points on a civil service exam. Things such as prior military service, previous educational training and even where you live can earn you extra points. Make sure you ask about these things before you take your test. They can help you add points to your score, which will boost your ranking! 

    Civil service exam test prep

    And last, but not least, let’s talk about where you can go to get some test prep help! Just like any other big test out there, there are tons of test prep options that you can buy to help you study for this test. Mometrix even offers a free example test to give you an idea of what might be coming! 

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • The civil service exam is an exam used to help assess applicants applying for public servant jobs in the local and federal government 
    • The civil service exam functions like a standardized test, though the material does vary depending on the job position you are applying for 
    • Civil service exams are not available to take at any time, but rather only open when the application for specific jobs open
    • Before taking your civil service exam be sure to inquire about any extra points you may be eligible to receive and check out test prep resources to help prepare you

    Frequently asked questions about the civil service exam

    What is the goal of the civil service exam?

    The goal of civil service exams is to help employers narrow down large pools of job applicants. Jobs like firefighting, postmen, FBI positions and other civil service jobs typically have a lot of interest when openings become available. These tests are just a way to help employers assess the candidates by comparing them to one another with some sort of standardized metric.

    Can you prepare for the civil service exam?

    Yes, you can prepare for civil service exams. What you should focus on studying though depends on the job you are applying for. If possible, inquire about what your civil service exam may entail by asking when you apply. If you know anyone who currently works in the position you’re applying to, ask them what their experience was like. They may be able to tell you what to expect. You can find civil service exam test prep books on websites like Amazon, as well as some free resources from companies like Mometrix.

    What is a passing score on the civil service exam?

    It is generally said that you want to score at least a seventy on a civil service exam. However, a passing score does not guarantee you’ll move on to the next part of the hiring process. You need to score well compared to the other applicants who took the test. That means that some civil service exams may be more competitive than others just based on the nature of the applicants.

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