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Civil Service Tests

Civil Service Tests

Updated May 7, 2022

By Fi Phillips
Fi Phillips

Employment within the civil service means joining a workforce of approximately three million individuals in the US and over 450,000 in the UK, working in non-military and non-political governmental roles.

Civil service positions are wide-ranging, including:

  • Law enforcement
  • Social workers
  • Firefighters
  • Air traffic control
  • Prison officers
  • Internal Revenue or HMRC
  • Border control

The Civil Service Test screens candidates for their suitability to work as a civil servant, assessing their personality traits and cognitive skills.

The form the test takes, and the ideal score, will vary depending on the civil service role you apply for but there are common elements to all formats of the Civil Service Test.

How Does the Civil Service Test Work?

The exact format of the Civil Service Test will depend on the specifics of the role you apply for and your geographical location.

Certain areas of the civil service (for instance, air traffic control and fire and rescue) require additional specialist assessment.

However, all Civil Service Tests, regardless of the job you apply for, will assess the following:

Test questions are multiple-choice. Expect the test to take at least one hour, although many of the Civil Service Tests will take longer depending on the role applied for.

Sample Verbal Reasoning Questions

The verbal reasoning questions will assess your reading, vocabulary and comprehension skills.

Sample Question 1

1. Which of the following words most closely matches the meaning of ‘reliable’?

a) proper
b) predictable
c) efficient
d) dependable

Sample Question 2

Choose the correctly spelled word in the following three questions:

1. (a) incorrigible (b) incorigible (c) encorrigible (d) inncorrigible 2. (a) recomended (b) recommended (c) reccommended (d) reccomended 3. (a) redundent (b) reddundant (c) redunndent (d) redundant

Sample Question 3

In this question, you will be asked to work out the connection between two words and apply that connection to two other words.

3. 'House' is to 'brick' as 'tree' is to:

a) branch
b) leaf
c) soil
d) wood

Sample Numeracy Questions

This section will assess your mathematical and problem-solving skills.

Sample question 4

4. First, calculate the following and find the correct answer for each.

4.1. 134 + 48

a) 180
b) 182
c) 192
d) 184

4.2. 134 – 18

a) 114
b) 118
c) 116
d) 112

4.3. 134 x 3

a) 392
b) 396
c) 412
d) 402

4.4. 176 ÷ 8

a) 21
b) 23
c) 24
d) 22

Now, choose the correct sequence of answers from the following:

a) a, b, c, d
b) b, c, d, a
c) b, c, d, d
d) c, b, a, d

Sample question 5

5. In a school class, there is a ratio of 4:3 of boys compared to girls. If there are 42 children in the class and the boys represent the 4 in the ratio, how many girls are there in the class?

a) 20
b) 18
c) 24
d) 21

Sample Situational Judgment Questions

The purpose of the situational judgment questions is to assess:

  • How you might react and perform in a civil service work environment
  • Aspects of your personality that would work for or against a career in the civil service
  • How you might develop into a future leadership role

These questions do not necessarily have a right or wrong answer but by answering honestly, you will demonstrate whether your personal tendencies are a good fit for the position.

Sample question 6

6. You are part of a team working on an urgent project. You notice that one of your team members has taken important information home with them and then reported in sick. The completion of the project relies on that information. What do you do?

a) Report the incident to your supervisor
b) Speak to a trusted team member and ask them what you should do
c) Contact the team member who is off sick and ask them to forward the information to you
d) Work around the missing information until it becomes a problem, or until the team member returns to work

Civil Service Tests
Civil Service Tests

If c) is your answer, this would suggest that you are happy to take the initiative on behalf of your team.

Option d) is probably the least helpful choice because it suggests a lack of decision-making or problem-solving.

Competitive vs Non-Competitive

Competitive Civil Service Tests compare your scores with other candidates who have applied for the same role. Your score will be represented as a percentile and your chances of recruitment will therefore partly rely on who you are competing with.

Non-competitive tests do not compare your scores with other candidates. Your success in landing the role is based completely on you and your test score.

How Much Does the Civil Service Test Cost?

In the US, the cost of the test will depend on the conditions set by the relevant US state. This may include both an exam fee and a filing fee.

In the UK, the Civil Service Test is generally free of charge.

How Can I Prepare for the Test?

Whatever format the Civil Service Test takes and regardless of whether your score is pitted against other candidates, it is always advisable to put as much time and effort into preparing for the test as possible.

Practice Papers

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for the Civil Service Test is to use practice papers to build your familiarity with the format of the test, the type of questions and the test time limit.

For the Civil Service Test, you can source test papers and sample questions from the following:

Some practice papers are available free of charge, while others include a cost.

Make sure that you use the practice paper that is relevant to the civil service position you want to apply for.

Try to source the most recently published practice papers to ensure you are working with the correct, up-to-date format.

Timed Practice

Find out the time limit for your Civil Service Test and use that as a guideline for timed practice.

Timed practice will give you an understanding of how long you can spend on each question, and also how long it will take you to solve a problem, read a question or carry out a mathematical calculation.

Timed practice will sharpen your ability to effectively work at speed.

Sharpen Your Skills

However confident you feel about the Civil Service Test, give yourself the best chance possible of achieving a successful test score by taking the time to sharpen your skills.

Beyond the practice papers, seek to improve all areas of your skills that will be tested – verbal reasoning, numeracy and situational judgment:

  • Read widely and reflect on what you have learned, especially anything that may be relevant to a career within the civil service.
  • Find ways to use your mathematical skills in real life.
  • Use puzzle books/websites to develop your problem-solving skills.
  • Consider the type of personal attributes that might be suitable for the civil service job you are interested in and how those could be demonstrated in a work environment.

Check the Details

Find out exactly what the Civil Service Test will include. Remember that the format and content will vary depending on the job you apply for.

It may be that you take a clerical Civil Service Test that includes typing skills, or your test may be accompanied by a work simulation.

Equally, the amount of time you have to sit the test may vary, and the conditions may be different depending on the US state where you sit the test.

Make sure you know exactly where to go on the day, what time to arrive and what you should take with you.

Pay and Register Well in Advance

Pay and register for your Civil Service Test as well in advance as possible. Having a deadline to practice towards can be an effective motivator.

Are You Eligible For Veteran Score Credits?

In the US, veterans may be eligible to receive extra points towards their Civil Service Test score. The Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment rule also removes the need to compete with other candidates when applying for certain civil service positions.

Eligibility includes the presentation of a copy of your DD214 military discharge upon application.

State-Specific Details

In the US, Civil Service Test dates may vary depending on the state you live in. Check your local dates before you apply.

Similarly, the conditions of the Civil Service Test and what exactly is included will be different too.

Look After Yourself

Using practice papers and sharpening your skills are recommended ways to prepare for the Civil Service Test, but you should also look after your physical and mental well-being.

Beyond preparing for the test, take time out to relax too. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet, including drinking enough water to stay hydrated.

Exercise can improve your mental resilience and cognitive abilities, in addition to reducing stress. Do your best to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.

Look after yourself to ensure that you are the best version of ‘you’ on the day of the test.

On the Day

If you are attending an assessment center, make sure you arrive in good time and bring only what you have been told to bring with you, including ID and documents you may be asked to produce and any items you are allowed to take into the test.

There will generally be a clock in the exam room. Regularly check that you have enough time to complete the test.

If you are taking the Civil Service Test online, follow all the instructions you have been provided with, including any allotted schedule or deadline.

Answer all the questions. Generally, you will not be penalized for wrong answers in the numeracy and verbal reasoning sections but do check this for your locality.

Read the questions thoroughly to avoid making silly mistakes because you did not fully understand what the question wanted from you.

Frequently Asked Questions

The civil service test is a pre-employment exam required for all government roles in the US and UK.

The test measures a candidate's aptitude for the skills necessary to fulfill their roles. The civil service test you take will depend on the role you applied for, whether it is a federal or state position, and how competitive the test is.

The topics you are likely to be tested on are:

  • Verbal ability – Reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary and spelling
  • Mathematics – Arithmetic, algebra, ratios, reasoning and interpreting data from charts/graphs
  • Clerical or E-Tray – Filing, typing, coding and name/number checking
  • Decision-making
  • Reasoning
  • Situational judgement
  • Personality

The best site for the civil service test is JobTestPrep as it has role-specific practice tests, as well as the US and UK versions.

For information on the civil service test WikiJob and Test-Guide offer a comprehensive guide.

As the civil service test measures several abilities you can expect to find a mixture of questions.

The mathematics section will ask you basic maths such as addition/subtraction, finding ratios and identifying sequences.

In the verbal section, you are expected to find connections between words, identify the correct spelling, and choose the most appropriate words.

The situational judgment test will ask you to identify your most likely actions in different workplace scenarios and situations.

The best way to prepare for the civil service test is to practice. There are a variety of free and paid online practice tests and guides.

Take advantage of these resources and complete as many tests as you can. The more you complete, the more confident you will feel.

Begin by completing them in your own time and eventually build up to full-timed test conditions.

You should also read all you information you can regarding the test procedure and format. The more you know about the test, the fewer reasons you have to be stressed or anxious.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses so you know which areas you should focus on. Practicing your maths skills daily will help improve your mental arithmetic. Reading every day will improve your vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.

The cost of the test will depend on the conditions set by the relevant state. This may include both an exam fee and a filing fee.

In the UK the civil service test is taken online.

In the US, it depends on the jurisdiction you have applied in as to whether you take the test online at home or at an assessment center.

As civil service roles are highly competitive, you want to score the best you can.

Although there is no pass or fail mark, employers will only take the top scorers through to the next round. As such, you should aim for 70% or higher.

If the role is especially competitive, scoring 80% or above will give you a better chance of success.

Yes, practicing your mathematics is necessary in the preparation for the civil service test.

Your maths skills will be assessed and you will want to perform your best within the time limit. Improving your mathematics will greatly help your performance.

The best site for the civil service test is JobTestPrep as it has role-specific practice tests, as well as the US and UK versions, WikiJob and Test-Guide.

Local and nationwide government websites also offer lots of preparation information.

For firsthand experience and advice, use forums such as Reddit and Quora.

The civil service test consists of a series of questions designed to test your mathematics skills, verbal reasoning and situational judgment.

The exam measures the skills and abilities you will be using in your role. Those in more administrative roles will have more e-tray or clerical type questions.

While those applying for the fire service will have technical and specialized questions.

Depending on the role you are applying for and the state you are applying in, the test will differ. As will the time limits and number of questions.

There are so many different versions of the civil service exam with each role and each state having their own test. As such, there is no standardized number of questions or time limit.

Your recruiter should provide you will the details of the test you are taking.

The use of a calculator will depend on the test you are taking. For example, you are allowed one in the firefighter exam.

In some cases, a virtual calculator will be available.

Before taking the civil service exam, check with your recruiter.

Final Thoughts

Working for the Civil Service, whether in the US or the UK, can be a rewarding and life-long career. Just as civil service posts are incredibly varied, so too is the recruitment route into these posts.

The Civil Service Test is designed to assess your suitability for a specific post or area of the civil service. The test may vary depending on the related job, but the best way to approach whichever version you take is to prepare well in advance, improve your skills and take advantage of the many practice papers available.