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The Police Psychological Exam

The Police Psychological Exam

Updated July 26, 2022

By Fi Phillips
Fi Phillips

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.

What Is Being Assessed?

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:

Personal Responsibility

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

Impulse Control

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.

Emotional Resilience

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

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

Stress tolerance is the ability to remain calm and in control when faced with stressful, tense conditions.

Self Awareness

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:

  • Self-evaluate
  • Manage their emotions
  • Maintain their behavior in line with their values
  • Understand how others perceive them or their behavior

Compliance

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.

Desire to Support

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.

Bias

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

Courage is the willingness to face stressful and sometimes frightening situations regardless of the risk of harm to oneself.

Honesty

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.

What to Expect In a 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).

NEO-PI

The NEO-PI measures the following personality traits:

Openness

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.

Conscientiousness

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.

Extraversion

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.

Agreeableness

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.

Neuroticism

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.

MMPI

In a recruitment setting, the MMPI is used for candidates interviewing for high-risk jobs, such as law enforcement.

The MMPI test uses ten clinical scales:

  • Scale 1: Hypochondriasis – Related to the condition of hypochondria, a neurotic response where an individual may believe they are suffering from an undiagnosed illness.
  • Scale 2: Depression – Triggered by signs of depression, like low morale or dissatisfaction with one’s life or future.
  • Scale 3: Hysteria – Identifies candidates who may display hysteria or become unnecessarily emotional during times of heightened stress.
  • Scale 4: Psychopathic deviate – Assesses social deviation, attitude to authority, rebelliousness and morality.
  • Scale 5: Masculinity/femininity – Assesses how closely the candidate identifies with the stereotypical male or female gender roles.
  • Scale 6: Paranoia – Where the candidate exhibits signs that they are overly suspicious of others, may feel persecuted, be overly sensitive and have rigid opinions on life.
How to Prepare for the Police Psychological Exam in 2021
How to Prepare for the Police Psychological Exam in 2021
  • 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.

Sample Questions

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
b. Agree
c. Neutral/unsure
d. Disagree
e. Strongly disagree

2. I like to plan ahead.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Neutral/unsure
d. Disagree
e. Strongly disagree

3. I would rather spend time with one or two people than with a large group of people.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Neutral/unsure
d. Disagree
e. Strongly disagree

4. I easily trust people.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Neutral/unsure
d. Disagree
e. Strongly disagree

5. I find it difficult to concentrate in stressful situations.

a. Strongly agree
b. Agree
c. Neutral/unsure
d. Disagree
e. Strongly disagree

How to Prepare for a Police Exam

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.

Step 1. Research

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?

Step 2. Sit Practice Exams

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.

Step 3. Practice Against the Clock

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.

Step 4. Consider Your Personal Traits and Behaviours

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.

For instance:

  • 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?

Step 5. Look After Yourself

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.

On the Day

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.

Dress for Success

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.

Answer Honestly and Be 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.

Avoid Too Many Extreme Answers

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’.

Final Thoughts

The police psychological exam may be difficult to prepare for, but it can be best handled by using practice papers to become familiar with the format, considering your personal traits and behaviors before the exam day, and answering all of the questions with complete honesty.