Learn how to take and pass the civil service exam. And explore a few jobs requiring the civil service exam.

Everything You Need to Know About the Civil Service Exam


  • The civil service exam is required for many positions in local, state, and federal government.
  • Depending on the type of job you are applying for, the process and exam look different.
  • Exam prerequisites vary, but passing the civil service exam does not guarantee you a job.
  • Pass the civil service exam by studying and preparing ahead of time with available resources.

People who want to help others often end up in civil service careers, working for local, state, or federal government agencies. Firefighters, police officers, social workers, and postal service workers all perform civil service, helping to maintain and improve their communities. To become one of these professionals, aspiring civil service members need to pass the civil service exam.

What Is the Civil Service Exam?

To uphold the integrity of civil service positions, many civil service careers require applicants to take the civil service exam. This exam ensures that candidates are serious about pursuing employment and keeps employers from hiring unqualified professionals.

The content of the exam depends on which position you are applying for. For example, an exam for a clerical position could test keyboarding capabilities, whereas the engineering civil service exam may include advanced math and reasoning questions.

How to Take the Civil Service Exam

The process for taking the civil service exam varies based on the employer. While the overall exam length may differ, you should expect your test to take at least a couple of hours, if not more. Tests can include multiple-choice questions, short answers, and oral components.

Depending on the position, you may need to provide a snapshot performance related to the position. For instance, a prospective teacher may have to teach a short lesson to the exam committee.

The hiring agency you are in contact with should provide you with a date and time to take your civil service exam. If not, you may need to make an appointment. You typically need to register for the exam ahead of time. You may be able to take your test online, but you should be prepared to take it in person.

Exam Prerequisites

The prerequisites for the civil service exam depend on which style of exam you're taking. If you're applying for an active job listing, you must take an open competitive exam. Your score will then be compared with those of other candidates applying for the open position.

If you want to get a jumpstart on your civil service exam, you can seek out a continuous exam, which is a required civil service exam for a career that does not have an open job position at the time. If you're already employed in civil service, you can take a promotional civil service exam to apply for promotions.

Additional prerequisites depend on the position. Prerequisites may include specific certificates or levels of education, such as a bachelor's or master's degree.

What Jobs Require the Civil Service Exam?

Almost every job within local, state, and federal government requires passing a civil service exam. Although there are many different positions available within civil service, most require some type of civil service exam.

Law Enforcement

These positions include police officer, highway patrol, and Secret Service agent.


Internal Revenue Service

Financial experts, including tax experts and accountants, are key workers within the IRS.


Postal Service

Mail carriers and workers who manage post offices are considered civil service employees.


Human Resources Management

Many businesses house HR departments; however, only HR professionals who work for government agencies need to take the civil service exam. Possible titles include HR specialist and compensation and benefits manager.

How Can I Pass the Civil Service Exam?

To pass the civil service exam, you must set aside sufficient time to study. Many people spend up to a full year studying for the exam. You should prepare to answer math, reasoning, reading, and writing questions while taking the civil service exam.

Be prepared to answer math, reasoning, reading, and writing questions while taking your civil service exam.

Mometrix, Kaplan, and JobTestPrep offer practice tests and study materials for the civil service exam. JobTestPrep even offers free practice tests. Prepare by timing yourself and practicing answering questions within the time limit.

One test-taking tip is to answer the questions you know first and come back to tougher questions later. Note that the exam does not penalize you for guessing. Typically, a score of 70% or above is good enough to pass.

Your score places you on a ranking list, comparing you to others who have taken the exam. The better you do, the higher your rank, which can put you ahead of other applicants interested in civil service jobs.

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