The Correctional Officer Test
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If you are interested in working with offenders, a job role as a correctional officer may be the right career move for you.
This is a position where you will be monitoring and guarding prisoners who are in correctional or rehabilitation facilities.
If you’re a fan of shows such as Orange Is the New Black, you may think you know what to expect from a job as a correctional officer, but the reality is quite different.
As a correctional officer, you will:
Be expected to ensure that all prisoners are adhering to the rules and regulations of the setting
Be responsible for conducting inspections and searching for contraband
Be working alongside inmates who have committed crimes
Always have to remain alert and be skilled at conflict resolution, negotiation and critical thinking
Your qualifications will depend on whether you intend to work within a municipal, county or state jail, or whether you want to work at a federal prison.
A high school diploma will suffice for municipal, county or state correctional officer roles, whilst those working in a federal prison will require a college degree.
You are more likely to succeed as a correctional officer if you have a degree because you will probably have better communication skills, stronger computer literacy and stronger critical-thinking capabilities.
Before you start your first day, you will have to undertake significant training at a dedicated training academy.
This is because a correctional officer role does not have any flexibility for ‘on-the-job’ learning. You need to have full confidence in your ability from the moment you walk through the door.
You will need to be in peak physical condition to help you respond to any issues at the facility.
The role of a correctional officer is often a top choice for people once they have left the military, as they are likely to have the combat and conflict resolution skills necessary for working with people who are incarcerated.
Your training will likely be conducted by the American Correctional Association.
This training will:
- Provide you with self-defense techniques
- Help you to understand prison regulations (which may vary by state)
- Help you to understand the administrative tasks involved in the work
At the end of your training, you will be expected to pass a written or practical exam and show your proficiency in using firearms.
You will also need to pass a psychological evaluation and a background check to ensure that you are legally allowed to carry and operate a firearm.
The correctional officer test is an aptitude test that will help recruiters understand if you are the right person for the job.
Working in a prison is extremely difficult work and it isn’t suitable for everyone.
The correctional officer test will allow recruiters to decide if you can proceed to the next stage of the application process.
The exam is looking to identify those with the right capabilities for working in the role successfully.
To be an effective correctional officer, you will need to have:
- Good judgment
- The ability to react quickly
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Negotiating tactics
- Physical capabilities
- Critical thinking skills
- Problem solving ability
Therefore, it is no surprise that the correctional officer test will look for your capabilities in a wide range of subject areas, including:
- Inmate security
- Logical reasoning
- Observational awareness
- Reading comprehension
- Written and verbal communication
The correctional officer test will vary by state but, broadly speaking, you can expect to participate in a multiple-choice exam.
This may be completed on a computer or it may be a written exam with an answer booklet to write down your answers.
The exam pass rate is set at 70%.
It should be noted that correctional officer jobs are extremely competitive, regardless of whether you are just starting your career or looking to advance into senior roles.
It is estimated that recruitment rates can be as low as 3–4% for making it through the selection process, and a significant number drop out following the exam as they haven’t achieved a high-enough score.
Top Tip – The higher your score, the more chance you have of being selected and passing through to the next stage of the recruitment process.
You can expect to answer approximately 100 multiple-choice questions, split across different sections.
The length of the exam depends on which state you are in, but you should anticipate anywhere from 1.5 hours to three hours for completion.
As you can imagine, when the stakes are riding so high on the results of this test, you must take your time to prepare.
To help you prepare for your exam, make sure that you have practiced a variety of test papers to see what your typical score is. If 70% is the minimum pass rate, then you need to aim for much higher.
Using practice papers will help you to identify your strengths as well as your weaknesses. It will enable you to focus your study time on the areas where you need a little extra support.
You should take the time to study but remember that theoretical knowledge is only useful when it’s accompanied by basic common sense.
Much of the job role will be based on your ability to apply logic and reasoning to your thought process, so the examiners are looking for people with smart insights to think beyond the problem facing them.
When you take your test, make sure you read the questions carefully so you fully understand what is being asked of you.
Some of the answers provided may be designed to trick or confuse you. You need to pay close attention and feel confident in your answer.
If you’re unsure, don’t leave the answer blank. Remember that it’s multiple choice – even ticking any answer will give you a one in four chance of being correct.
You may find that different states have different expectations for the exam. This is because the correctional officer test is developed at the state level.
If you are in California, you should expect the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to focus heavily on math questions concerning basic arithmetic (including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and decimals).
You can also expect to find questions that rely heavily on sequencing.
Your observational skills could be tested via ‘spot-the-difference’ pictures.
In New Jersey, you would be expected to take the Law Enforcement Aptitude Battery (LEAB).
These are questions based on cognitive ability, your working style and your life experience.
It’s designed to help recruiters know more about who you are as a person.
A strong part of the New Jersey LEAB is the personality test which assesses your traits and ability to work with others.
In Texas, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) leans more on your ability to showcase your general knowledge.
Typically, the TDCJ test is split into five key areas:
- Memory and observation
- Situational reasoning
- Reading comprehension
- Verbal reasoning
Each section comprises 20 questions and you will have 1 hour 40 minutes to complete the test.
Top Tip – Before you begin preparing for your exam, make sure you are clear with your local justice department about the expectations of the exam for your state. Your local state department should be able to give you in-depth guidance.
During your exam, you will be tested on a wide range of topics. Some questions may be straightforward, assessing your knowledge of spelling and grammar; others may test how much you know about the job role and your duties, or your communication skills.
Another common test question that you may find is the ‘observational’ question.
You may be given up to five minutes to look at a specific image (perhaps a painting or a photo), then asked a series of questions about what you saw in that image.
You will have to rely on your memory as well as your observational skills – hugely important skills if you wish to work as a correctional officer.
To help you prepare for your exam, here are a few suggestions of the types of questions that you may find on the test paper:
You need to show that you are aware of the job role and what is expected from you as a correctional officer.
You will be asked some basic questions which will test your understanding of the role.
Example test question:
You are supervising visitations amongst inmates. A visitor looks suspicious. What type of search is a correctional officer permitted to conduct?
a. Clothed body search
b. Full body search
c. Either 'a' or 'b'
d. Neither 'a' nor 'b'
You may find that some multiple-choice answers allow you to suggest more than one answer. In this instance, the correct answer is a) – correctional officers are allowed to conduct clothed body searches if they suspect that a person is hiding something underneath their clothes.
You can expect to find a wide range of scenarios where you’ll be tested on your ability to respond correctly.
You’ll need to showcase your understanding of the role that a correctional officer plays and have a strong awareness of the rules and regulations of the facility.
Example test question:
There is one inmate in your cellblock who adheres to all the rules and has never caused any problems. He has a good assignment that is given to him based on his track record. However, this assignment could be removed if he has the slightest infraction. One day he hands you a letter to give to his wife. She is the mother of his child and she hasn’t spoken to him in seven years. He asks you to mail it to her. What do you do?
a. Explain to the inmate that this request could see him lose his good assignment
b. Leave your post immediately and inform the supervisor
c. Give a clear and immediate refusal
d. Agree to take the letter but give it to the supervisor instead
The answer is c). You should immediately refuse the request. You need to show your understanding of the rules and that you’re not prepared to be lenient in any way.
You need to show that you can understand basic grammar as well as vocabulary. This is to demonstrate your communication skills and can be a core part of any administrative tasks.
You may be given a sentence with missing words and will be expected to fill in the blank.
Example test question:
Officer Jones and Officer Smith ___________ used physical force when they were trying to stop the two prisoners from arguing.
a. shouldn't of
b. shouldn't have
c. wouldn’t have
d. wouldn't of
The correct answer is b). This is the only grammatically correct answer.
This section of the test will look to establish how you handle specific scenarios and what your preferred method of communication could be.
It’s about understanding how you respond to different protocols and checking that you are aware of how different types of communication could lead to vastly different scenarios.
Example test question:
What should be your first response as a correctional officer if there is a terrorist threat to the penitentiary?
a. Follow the protocols set out in the penitentiary protocol for emergencies
b. Interrogate the inmates
c. Walk away from the building for your own safety
d. Announce the terrorist threat over the intercom system so that everyone is aware of the situation
The right answer to this is a). If you are working in rehabilitation or secure units, you need to show that you can remain calm when working under pressure. You always need to be in control of the situation and understand how different reactions can change outcomes.
There are several different practice tests and papers you can do to help prepare for the Correctional Officer Test.
It is generally a good idea to take a variety of practice tests to experience as many different types of questions as possible.
Practice tests will also help you to develop the logic and reasoning skills that will be essential for your role as a correctional officer.
The recruitment process will vary from state to state, so it stands to reason that the rules following a failed test would also vary.
In many cases, you will be able to reapply to retake the Correctional Officer Test after six months.
The exact questions on the Correctional Officer Test will generally vary from state to state, with some areas requiring individuals to be more knowledgeable in specific areas.
For this reason, it is always a good idea to check the testing requirements for your particular state.
Having said this, most tests will contain four main types of questions: career-specific knowledge, situational reasoning, language and communication skills.
Yes. The recruitment process to become a correctional officer is widely considered to be rigorous and challenging.
The Correctional Officer Test is a part of this process and is designed to weed out those individuals who would not be well suited to a career as a correctional officer.
For most states, the recruitment process takes around twelve months.
The Correctional Officer Test is designed to measure several attributes that are considered to be desirable or essential for correctional officers. Some of these are:
- Good judgment
- Fast reactions
- Negotiating skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Interpersonal skills
There are many different facets to the correctional officer test. It’s a hugely important role and recruiters will take their time over each element of the recruitment process to ensure that they are getting the right people on board.
In some states, it’s usual for the recruitment process to take at least 12 months.
This article should have given you a deeper understanding of what you can expect from your exam. It’s important to remember that each state will have its own intricacies and you should do some research to ensure that you are preparing for the right test.
You may wish to speak to your local criminal justice department to ask for further information about what to expect from the exam.
You must spend time preparing and studying in advance – the competition is fierce, and the correctional officer test is usually a major stumbling block in the recruitment process.
Therefore, you need to aim to get as high a score as you possibly can. Those with the highest scores give themselves the biggest advantage.
On completion of the test, you can move on to the next stage of the recruitment process – the training academy – where you’ll be tested on your physical fitness, your psychological profile and your ability to use a firearm.