Police Psychological Exam: Tips & Guide for 2023
Updated November 28, 2023
- What Is A Police Psychological Exam
- What Is Being Assessed on the Police Psychological Exam?
- What Does A Police Psychological Exam Consist Of?
- Police Psychological Exam Questions and Answers
- How to Prepare for a Police Psychological Exam in 2023
- Police Psychological Exam Tips On the Day
- Police Psychological Exam Disqualifiers
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
The police psychological exam is one of the final elements of the recruitment process for US law enforcement.
It is a psychometric assessment that examines aspects of the candidate’s personality and behaviors to determine their suitability for the high-risk role of a police officer.
The information is also used to predict how they are likely to perform in that job under stress and over time.
The psychological exam does not test the candidate’s sanity, but it does assess their overall mental tendencies and stability.
The police psychological exam assesses candidates across a range of personality traits and tendencies that are relevant to working as a police officer.
It does not use an academic pass rate, such as the generally accepted 70% pass for the police entrance exam. Instead, success in the police psychological exam relies on exhibiting the correct personality fit for a career in law enforcement.
The following personality traits and tendencies are likely to be assessed in the exam:
The three main elements of personal responsibility are:
- Accepting standards set by society, for instance, US legal policy
- Following those standards to the best of your ability
- Not blaming others should you fail to meet those standards
You will be assessed on how well you can control yourself and if you take time to think through choices or solutions, instead of acting in an impulsive, erratic manner.
Police work can be a stressful career path to follow, so it is important that police officers have or develop emotional resilience.
Emotional resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful situations without experiencing long-term damage or difficulties.
Emotional intelligence can be broken down into the following factors:
- Awareness of your emotions
- Effective handling of your emotions in a way that lessens stress
- Ability to interact with others in a positive manner regardless of your emotional state
Stress tolerance is the ability to remain calm and in control when faced with stressful, tense conditions.
As a police officer, the ability to check your own reactions and impulses, and how you may appear to others, is a useful skill to possess.
A highly self-aware person is able to:
- Manage their emotions
- Maintain their behavior in line with their values
- Understand how others perceive them or their behavior
A compliant individual keeps to the rules and respects authority.
As a police officer upholding the law, compliance is an important personality trait for which to score highly in the police psychological exam.
A career in law enforcement is not simply about upholding the law. It is often a means of supporting the general public and providing advice.
Police officers must also be willing to support their colleagues.
As a police officer, you will be expected to act without bias, that is, without prejudice for or against any demographic or individual.
Your level of personal bias and how easily you are swayed by opinion over fact will be assessed.
Courage is the willingness to face stressful and sometimes frightening situations regardless of the risk of harm to oneself.
The extent to which you adhere to the truth, respect the concept of honesty and have personal integrity will be assessed in the police psychological exam.
The overall psychological assessment will generally be a combination of at least two of the following:
- A self-assessed questionnaire
- A written psychological test
- A one-to-one psychological interview with a qualified and appropriately licensed psychologist
For instance, the NYPD psychological assessment of candidates entails the written test and the one-to-one interview.
The exact specifics of the written psychological exam may vary from US state to state.
The test is either paper or computer-based and consists of questions that ask you to answer within a five-point range from ‘strongly agree/like me’ to ‘strongly disagree/unlike me’.
The time limit for the written psychological test will vary depending on the US state but it may take several hours to complete the entire psychological assessment.
The police psychological exam is generally based on the NEO Personality Inventory test (NEO-PI), also known as the Big Five personality test, or the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI).
The NEO-PI measures the following personality traits:
How open are you to experiencing the world around you? Measured from ‘open’ to ‘closed’.
- High openness traits – Creative, comfortable with abstract concepts and adventurous.
- Low openness traits – Reliable, consistent peformance and cautious.
How dependable, organized and self-disciplined are you? Measured from ‘conscientious’ to ‘spontaneous’.
- High conscientiousness traits – Well-organized, detail-minded and hard-working.
- Low conscientiousness traits – Easy-going, flexible and impulsive.
How do you interact with other people and to what extent do you seek stimulation from others? Measured from ‘extraverted’ to ‘introverted’.
- High extraversion traits – Energetic, assertive and sociable.
- Low extraversion traits – Happy with your own company, reserved and reflective.
How do you behave in relationships with others? Measured from ‘agreeable’ to ‘hostile’.
- High agreeableness traits – Co-operative, friendly and interested in others.
- Low agreeableness traits – Analytical, competitive and slow to trust others.
How well-balanced are you emotionally and to what extent are you affected by stress? Measured from ‘stable’ to ‘neurotic’.
- High neuroticism traits – Sensitive, nervous and a worrier.
- Low neuroticism traits – Calm, dealing well with stress and emotionally stable.
In a high-risk job like a police officer, a low neuroticism score would be preferable to ensure emotional stability and self-control.
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- Scale 7: Psychasthenia – Triggered by signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), including obsessive behaviors, anxiety, guilt and fear.
- Scale 8: Schizophrenia – Assesses for signs of schizophrenia by examining the candidate’s cognitive, emotional and social behaviors. Also assesses for certain eccentricities, a tendency to be anti-social or prone to alienation, and the potential for substance abuse.
- Scale 9: Hypomania – Identifies signs of hypomania, such as excitability, hallucinations, heightened speech and motor activity, irritability, short periods of depression, inflated self-importance, and a tendency to be impulsive.
- Scale 10: Social introversion – This scale assesses where the candidate lies on the introversion/extraversion scale with a focus on interaction with others and whether a candidate is likely to withdraw from social situations.
An unfavorable score in one personality trait on either test format does not necessarily signal unsuitability to work as a police officer.
Instead, the candidate’s suitability is based on the complete picture of their entire personality along with the results of the one-to-one interview.
Take a look at the example questions below to get an idea of what to expect in the police psychological exam.
1. I like learning new things.
a. Strongly agree
e. Strongly disagree
2. I like to plan ahead.
a. Strongly agree
e. Strongly disagree
3. I would rather spend time with one or two people than with a large group of people.
a. Strongly agree
e. Strongly disagree
4. I easily trust people.
a. Strongly agree
e. Strongly disagree
5. I find it difficult to concentrate in stressful situations.
a. Strongly agree
e. Strongly disagree
How to Prepare for a Police Psychological Exam in 2023
The police psychological exam is not a test in the traditional sense of the word, so you cannot revise for it in the way that you would for an academic exam.
However, there are still things you can do in the run-up to the test.
The format that the police psychological exam takes will vary depending on the specific US state. Avoid facing the exam blindly by finding out as much information as you can from the police department you have applied to.
Research the role of a police officer too. What type of personality makes for effective law enforcement?
There is no way to predict what questions you will be asked as part of the police psychological exam. However, you can prepare by familiarizing yourself with the format of the test.
Source and sit as many practice papers and sample questions as you can to reduce exam tension and panic on the day. Facing a familiar exam format will make you less likely to misread questions or jump to extreme answers.
Practice papers and sample questions can be sourced from:
You may also be able to source practice resources from the police department you have applied to.
The time limit of the written psychological exam will vary between US states, but that does not stop you from setting yourself a time limit to complete a practice paper.
Timed practice will improve your ability to read and answer questions accurately at speed. Start with answering 50 questions in 15 minutes and build up to 100 questions.
Be honest with yourself as you consider how your personality might be suited to work as a police officer.
Look back at the NEO-PI and MMPI personality factors that are assessed. How might each apply to police work? Consider your own personality in the light of those factors.
- Are you more extraverted or introverted?
- Are you self-disciplined or do you need motivation from others?
- Do you respect authority and rules?
- Are you impulsive or self-controlled?
Give yourself the best chance possible of demonstrating who you are by looking after yourself in the run-up to exam day:
- Do your best to get a good night’s sleep every night
- Eat nutritional meals
- Drink enough water
- Exercise, but not to the extreme
- Apply your brain in a variety of ways, including logic puzzles, manual tasks and creative endeavors.
When the day of the police psychological exam arrives, you can further improve your chances of effective performance by taking advantage of the following advice.
When you applied to work as a police officer, you will have received information on exam conditions and what you can expect from the recruitment process. One detail included in this material is how you are expected to dress for each stage.
On the day of the police psychological exam, make sure you adhere to those guidelines but wear clothes that make you feel confident.
This is not an academic test. The purpose of the police psychological exam is to build a picture of who you are as a person and whether you are a good fit to work in law enforcement.
Each stage of the psychological assessment – questionnaire, written exam and interview – carries a number of validity checks that will assess the honesty of your answers. Trying to cheat the test will generally be picked up on and count against you.
Answer honestly and be confident in who you are.
Instead of ticking each question at speed in a panic, consider your answers.
It may be that your answer is a ‘strongly agree’ or ‘strongly disagree’, but there may also be a nuance to your actual personality trait that pushes the honest answer closer to the middle of the scale; for instance, ‘like me’ instead of ‘strongly like me’.
While specific disqualifiers can vary from one department to another, there are some common factors that might lead to disqualification during a police psychological exam.
Here are soe disqualifiers:
Serious Mental Health Conditions: Conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses could potentially lead to disqualification. The concern here is whether the condition might interfere with an officer's ability to perform their duties effectively and safely.
Substance Abuse or Addiction: A history of substance abuse, drug addiction, or ongoing issues with alcohol can be seen as a significant red flag. Police officers are expected to maintain a high level of personal integrity and responsibility, and substance abuse issues can undermine these qualities.
Unstable Personality Traits: Certain personality traits such as excessive aggression, impulsivity, inability to manage stress, or difficulty in working within a team can be disqualifying. Police work requires emotional stability and the ability to make sound judgments under pressure.
Past Criminal Behavior: Depending on the nature and severity of past criminal activity, candidates with certain types of convictions may be disqualified. Serious felonies or crimes involving dishonesty could raise concerns about the candidate's fitness for a position in law enforcement.
Deceptive or Inconsistent Responses: Candidates who provide inconsistent or dishonest answers during the psychological evaluation process may be disqualified. Honesty and transparency are essential qualities for police officers.
Excessive Aggressiveness: While some level of assertiveness is necessary in law enforcement, excessive aggression or a history of violent behavior may be viewed as a disqualifying factor.
Inability to Handle Stress: Police officers often encounter highly stressful and potentially dangerous situations. Candidates who are unable to manage stress effectively may not be suited for the demands of the job.
Lack of Empathy or Compassion: Effective police officers need to be able to empathize with and relate to a diverse range of individuals. A lack of empathy or compassion could hinder an officer's ability to build positive community relationships.
Personal Relationships: Certain ongoing personal relationships, such as associations with known criminals, might be considered as factors that could compromise an officer's impartiality and integrity.
Unresolved Legal Issues: Candidates with unresolved legal issues, such as ongoing lawsuits or disputes, may raise concerns about their ability to maintain a clean legal record.
Here are some general tips to help you prepare for and succeed in a police psychological exam:
Be Honest and Transparent: Provide truthful answers throughout the assessment.
Research the Exam: Learn about the format and content of the psychological exam. This will help you mentally prepare and reduce anxiety.
Stay Calm: Managing stress and anxiety is crucial during the exam. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and mindfulness, to stay calm.
Self-Reflection: Reflect on your motivations for wanting to join law enforcement.
Review Your Background: Familiarize yourself with your own personal history, including any past incidents, experiences, or traumas.
Sleep and Nutrition: Prioritize getting enough sleep and maintaining a balanced diet before the exam.
Practice Self-Awareness: Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Problem-Solving Skills: Showcase your ability to analyze complex situations and make well-reasoned decisions under pressure.
Interpersonal Skills: Highlight your communication skills, empathy, and ability to work with people from different backgrounds.
Practice Interview Skills: Practice good interview etiquette, such as maintaining eye contact, active listening, and providing concise, relevant answers.
Physical and Mental Health: Prioritize your overall well-being.
Professionalism: Display professionalism throughout the process.
Familiarize Yourself with Policing: Understand the responsibilities and challenges that police officers face.
Follow Instructions: Carefully read and follow all instructions given during the exam.
Prepare for Rejection: Understand that not everyone will pass the psychological exam.
Here are some common components and aspects you can expect in a police psychological exam:
- Written Psychological Tests
- Structured Interview
- Background Check
- Mental Health Assessment
- Stress and Resilience Evaluation
- Interpersonal Skills Assessment
- Scenario-Based Questions
- Ethical Dilemmas
- Cognitive Abilities
- Personality Traits
- Honesty and Consistency
- Time Management
The frequency of police psychological exams can vary based on the policies and requirements of the police department and jurisdiction.
In general, psychological exams for law enforcement candidates are typically administered at specific points in the hiring process, such as during the initial application stage or after passing other stages like the written exam, physical fitness test, and background investigation.
When attending a police psychological exam, it's important to dress in a professional and appropriate manner. Your attire should convey respect for the process and demonstrate that you take the assessment seriously, such as business attire.
The percentage of candidates who fail a police psychological exam can vary depending on several factors, including the specific police department, the standards of the exam, the thoroughness of the assessment, and the pool of candidates being evaluated.
It's difficult to provide an exact or uniform failure rate because the criteria for passing or failing can differ between departments and testing providers. Additionally, these rates might change over time as hiring standards and assessment methodologies evolve.
Here are steps you can take to effectively prepare:
- Self-Reflection and Self-Awareness:
- Research the Process
- Understand the purpose of the exam
- Maintain Mental and Emotional Well-Being
- Honesty is Key
- Review Your Personal History
- Practice Decision-Making
- Interpersonal Skills
- Professional Appearance
- Stay Positive
- Seek Guidance and Support
Remember, the goal of the police psychological exam is to ensure you are well-suited for a law enforcement career. It's not about passing or failing, but rather about evaluating your fit for the role's demands. Focus on showcasing your honesty, self-awareness, emotional stability, problem-solving skills, and commitment to serving the community.
Here are a few factors that might influence the duration:
Components of the Exam: Psychological exams can consist of written assessments, interviews, scenario-based questions, and other activities. The more components involved, the longer the exam might take.
Interviews: If the exam includes one or more interviews with a psychologist or mental health professional, each interview can take around 30 minutes to an hour or more.
Written Assessments**: If there are written psychological tests, they might take a few hours to complete.
Scenario-Based Exercises: Some exams include role-playing scenarios to assess decision-making and interpersonal skills. These exercises can vary in length.
Discussion of Background: You might need to provide information about your personal history, experiences, and motivations. This discussion can take additional time.
Breaks: Longer exams might include scheduled breaks to ensure candidates have time to rest and recharge.
Multiple Sessions: In some cases, the exam might be conducted over multiple sessions, spanning several days.
Group Dynamics Assessment: If the department is assessing how you interact in a group setting, this can extend the overall exam time.
Objective Assessments: Some portions of the psychological exam might involve standardized written tests or questionnaires. These assessments often use a scoring system that compares your responses to established norms or benchmarks. Your scores might be compared to a reference group of individuals who have successfully performed in law enforcement roles or other relevant professions.
Qualitative Evaluation: In addition to numerical scores, psychological examiners often provide qualitative assessments of your responses and behavior. Examiners will evaluate your communication skills, problem-solving abilities, emotional resilience, ethical judgment, and other relevant qualities.
Comparison to Criteria: The examiners will compare your responses and behavior against predetermined criteria or standards that are considered necessary for success in law enforcement roles. This might involve evaluating your psychological traits, decision-making skills, interpersonal interactions, and emotional stability.
Holistic Assessment: The scoring process is typically not based solely on numerical scores. The examiners will consider the overall picture of your suitability for a law enforcement career, taking into account both quantitative scores and qualitative evaluations.
No Specific Pass/Fail Score: Unlike standardized tests with a clear pass or fail threshold, a police psychological exam often involves a holistic evaluation. There might not be a specific numerical score that indicates whether you pass or fail. Instead, examiners make a judgment based on your overall performance and whether you meet the necessary criteria.
Consistency and Honesty: Throughout the exam, examiners look for consistency and honesty in your responses. They assess your level of self-awareness, your ability to communicate effectively, and your alignment with the values and responsibilities of law enforcement.
Final Recommendation: Based on the assessment results, the psychological evaluators provide a recommendation to the police department. This recommendation could be "suitable for law enforcement," "not suitable for law enforcement," or possibly "conditionally suitable" with certain considerations.