The Criticall test assesses whether an applicant has the skills and aptitudes needed to be a 911 call handler and dispatcher. No specialist knowledge or medical know-how is required to pass Criticall testing. The Criticall system is designed to test the key skills needed to do the job; it is concerned with what an applicant can do, rather than what they know.
- What Is the Purpose of the Criticall Test?
- What Does the Criticall Test Measure?
- What Is the Format of the Criticall Test?
- Decision Rules
- When and Where Can You Take the Criticall Test?
- What Is the Best Way to Prepare for the Criticall Test?
- How to Prepare on the Day
- Further Reading
What Is the Purpose of the Criticall Test?
911 call handlers and dispatchers perform a critical role in ensuring public safety. The Criticall tests were developed as a way of quickly and effectively screening applicants to make sure they have the basic key skills needed to carry out the vital roles they are applying for.
The test is divided into sections, each testing a different skill. Candidates are required to obtain the Criticall pass score in each section to become eligible to apply for 911 dispatcher positions.
What Does the Criticall Test Measure?
A range of key skills are measured on the Criticall test. These include:
- Data entry
- Decision making
- Map reading
- Reading and writing comprehension
- Basic math
- Memory recall
The other quality vital to success is the ability to remain calm and perform well under pressure. Although this is not measured directly, candidates who are unable to cope with stressful situations are as unlikely to pass the Criticall test as they are to become effective 911 dispatchers.
What Is the Format of the Criticall Test?
Although the exact way the Criticall test is administered can vary from agency to agency, the standard examinations follow a common structure, being divided into sections as follows:
Attention to Detail
- Data Entry and Multi-tasking. Candidates are given addresses, phone numbers, names, dates, etc. and must enter them into the correct fields in a simulated dispatch computer system. The same exercise is also done with audio questions, where data is presented in the form of simulated 911 calls.
Candidates are required to respond to a range of decision-making questions, demonstrating their ability to both multi-task and make accurate choices under pressure.
A pass of this section of the test is achieved with these marks:
- Data Entry with Multi-Tasking – 60 KPM (keystrokes per minute)
- Audio Data Entry with Multi-Tasking – 28 KPM (keystrokes per minute)
- Keyboarding – 35 WPM (words per minute)
- Cross-Referencing. This section of the test poses tasks that require the candidate to demonstrate the ability to accurately read address books, rapidly locate requested information and record it correctly. Candidates must also enter data presented verbally, usually as a recording. The pass mark for tests in this section is 70%.
- Character Comparison. Presented with two tables of similar – but not identical – information, candidates are required to carefully comb through the data and identify any differences. The pass mark is 70%.
- Decision Making. This section poses the candidate with a series of questions, requiring them to determine which would be the appropriate emergency service to dispatch to an incident. As well as a written section, it includes a verbal component where candidates are required to speak their responses into a microphone.
- Prioritization. Just as decision making is important to a 911 dispatcher's role, so is prioritizing incidents according to the urgency of response required. The questions in this section present details of several incidents that must be ranked in order of response priority. The pass mark for this test is 70%.
- Memory Recall. Candidates are presented with both written and audio information that they have to remember and accurately recall a short time later. The pass mark for both the written and audio parts of this test is 70%.
- Probability. The nature of a 911 dispatcher's role means that they are often presented with incomplete or conflicting information about an incident. A call handler may also be unable to clearly hear a caller due to noise or a poor telephone connection. To test a candidate's ability to deal with these situations, this section of the Criticall test is designed to assess how well they can distinguish between a range of possible answers based on garbled or incomplete data.
- Map Reading. While modern computer systems are a great aid to the dispatcher's work, it remains necessary for 911 call handlers to have a good geographical knowledge of the area they cover. This section of the test asks the candidate to use maps to plan the most effective, safe and legal route for emergency services units to take to get to the scene of an incident. The pass mark for this test is 70%.
- Call Summarization. This section of the test asks candidates to listen to simulated 911 calls and audio recordings, and then summarize the information they heard on a computerized system. Both speed and accuracy are required to obtain a high score. As an additional test, candidates are also asked verbal questions about the information heard. The pass mark for both of these tests is 70%.
- Reading Comprehension. This part tests the candidate's ability to read and understand information presented in written form, e.g. manuals and training materials, as well as written data recorded about incoming calls. The pass mark for this test is 60%.
- Spelling and Sentence Clarity. While 911 dispatchers are not expected to be professional writers, a high standard of written English is required to accurately convey meaning and avoid misunderstandings. Candidates are tested on their ability to spell workplace-related vocabulary, and whether they can choose the simplest and clearest sentence structure to convey a basic message. The pass marks for both the spelling and sentence clarity parts of the test are 70%.
- Math. The job of a call handler requires an ability to keep track of incoming calls and calculate distances, numbers of units and so on. Therefore, this section will test a candidate’s ability to perform basic math.
Each section of the Criticall test includes practice questions before the test questions themselves. These are included to ensure that candidates have an opportunity to check their understanding of what they are being asked to do; they are not included in the test score. The test designers and administrators recommend that candidates make full use of the practice questions to minimize the chance of any mistakes.
During the Criticall test, candidates are required to make a series of decisions about which emergency service to dispatch to several hypothetical incidents. Since candidates sitting the Criticall test are not trained 911 call handlers, they are provided with a series of rules to use when making these decisions.
It is important that candidates fully understand and memorize these rules prior to attempting the test – as the better these rules are understood, the greater the chance of success.
- Police – Candidates should dispatch the Police Department when:
- someone is attempting or threatening physical harm towards another person or persons;
- actual physical harm has been caused by one person to another;
- when a person has caused, or is in the process of causing, damage to another person's property.
- Fire – Candidates should dispatch the Fire Department when:
- there are immediate signs of a fire in progress (e.g. smoke, flames);
- when a fire alarm is sounded;
- when a trapped or confused person needs to be rescued or released.
- EMS – Candidates should dispatch Emergency Medical Services when a person is suffering an emergency medical condition which requires intervention by trained medical personnel.
- Utility – Candidates should dispatch public utilities when there is a problem associated with:
- malfunctioning or broken public water systems;
- electric power systems (including, but not limited to, electrical power lines, streetlights, and traffic signals);
- natural gas systems used for home heating;
- blocked sewer drain pipes.
When and Where Can You Take the Criticall Test?
Unlike some pre-employment exams, candidates do not sit the Criticall test until they apply for a specific job. Agencies may choose to administer the tests in alternative ways, choose different question sets or only use parts of the Criticall test.
As a general rule, when applying for a role as a 911 dispatcher or similar, candidates are invited to sit the test as part of the recruitment process and this will be at a time and date of the hiring agency's choosing.
Criticall tests are computer-based, and take place in a simulated workplace environment.
What Is the Best Way to Prepare for the Criticall Test?
Criticall is designed to test the abilities of a candidate, rather than their knowledge or experience. It is not possible to revise for the Criticall tests as such.
There is no practice test and no questions from the system are made available to help applicants with Criticall test prep. The most effective preparation, however, is to understand the form and structure of the tests and listen to Criticall test tips from experienced agencies and previous successful candidates.
Candidates can, however, practice the individual skills which are tested during the Criticall examination, using a variety of publicly available tools and resources.
- Keyboarding – Many free resources are available to help you practice touch typing and keyboarding skills. One that is specifically recommended as preparation for Criticall testing is found at www.opac.com. This will help candidates test both their typing speed and accuracy.
- Data Entry – The designers of Criticall have not created any test preparation resources themselves. However, they do recommend the Data Entry Practice Test created by Karen Freeman-Smith as a good way for candidates to assess their data entry skills and highlight any area where they may need practice. The tool is available, for free, at thepracticetest.com.
- Understanding Maps – For candidates who are not experienced in using maps or giving directions, it can be helpful to spend some time using Google Maps to create routes between different points, or to create simple sets of directions for others to follow.
- Reading, Comprehension and Spelling – These can be improved via verbal reasoning tests.
- Video of Criticall in Use – Although the Criticall software is not available to anyone other than the agencies who use it, it is possible to watch a brief summary which gives a short glimpse into how the system works. This is a clip from a news report into how the Criticall system is used. It also gives some short glimpses into the workings of the system and what candidates should expect when they sit the tests.
Candidates should also ensure that they familiarize themselves with the information they are given by the agency they are applying to, and the official test guide.
How to Prepare on the Day
The Criticall system is designed to replicate as closely as possible the experience of working as a 911 dispatcher and call handler. It tests the candidate's ability to deal with a stressful situation, multi-task, keep a clear head and remain calm.
People who have taken the test successfully, as well as the test designers and administrators, recommend that Criticall candidates give themselves the best chance of performing well by:
- eating a good breakfast;
- being well hydrated;
- getting a good night’s sleep before the test;
- reading and/or listening to all test instructions carefully;
- using the practice questions at the start of each test section;
- enabling NUM LOCK on their keyboard.
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