How Do I Prepare for the Civil Service Test?

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  • Originally Written By: Alicia Bodine
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2020
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Preparing for the civil service test is usually best undertaken with a combination of research, devoted study, and adequate time. Different countries have different standards when it comes to what these exams entail, and as such there’s no definitive, universal guide for success. One of the best things you can do is to read up on the exams offered in your area and learn about the sorts of questions that will be asked, the general subject matters being tested, and the timing. In some places you have to register many months in advance, and you may be required to set up an in-person interview if you succeed past the written portion. In other countries the approach is more casual. Another way to be prepared is to study and to practice. Some governmental offices publish official study guides, and many commercial test preparation companies do, too. You’ll want to find a study strategy that works for you, then set aside enough time each day to practice and drill yourself. Taking practice full-length tests is also usually a good idea. When it comes to the actual testing day, knowing where you’re going, getting there early, and eating a solid breakfast are all important parts of success in most cases.


Research the Test Generally

In order to pursue a civil service career in many countries, you must take a civil service test. This test will show the government whether you have the basic skills, as well as the character needed, to fulfill a certain position, and passing the test is usually a critical hurdle in getting an interview and potentially winning a position. Tests look different in different places, and even within different civil service agencies. How you’d prepare for one isn’t necessarily how you’d prepare for another, which makes research and solid information a really important first step.

There are a couple of places where you can find details about your test. Usually, any jobs requiring testing will provide links to material directly in the application announcement; most civil service agencies also have help desks you can call or e-mail for more information. General civil service websites might also provide details and list requirements, but it’s usually a good idea to double-check this sort of information against information you get from the government itself to ensure its accuracy.

Choose a Field and Career Path

Hand in hand with this is the importance of choosing a field early on. In most places, there are different exams for different fields, so knowing specifically which civil service career you are interested in is key. It’s sometimes possible to take more than one exam at a time, but not always, and passing one test won’t usually count as a pass in any other domain or field.

Registration and Interviews

In many cases it’s important to make an appointment to take the test before you’ve even begun studying. This is particularly true of tests that are very popular or that are only offered at certain times of the year. If you have flexibility, try to schedule a date sufficiently in advance that you’ll have time to adequately prepare, but not so far off in the future that you’ll build up unnecessary stress.

Where you make this appointment will vary by country and which exam you want to take. For most US civil service exams, you should be able to submit an online application form with the agency you are interested in joining. The agency will send you more information on the exam, and a form to complete to reserve a seat for the exam. Once the form is received and your spot is reserved, you will receive confirmation.

In some places, you’ll also need to schedule an interview portion. Sometimes interview offers are only extended once the written exam is completed successfully, but in others you’ll need to schedule to two together. Knowing what to expect at the outset can make the process smoother.

Importance of Study Guides and Preparation

If they are available in your country, obtain a study guide for the civil service test you plan on taking. You can contact your local library and ask if one available for your to borrow. You may be able to purchase a study guide from a bookstore. You may also be able to find a study guide online, which is the most likely to be up to date. You may want to download and print an online guide so that you can study it more easily.

Some civil service agencies also sell full-length practice tests that can be completed either online or on paper. The scores from these practice tests are never recorded or submitted, and they can be a good way of preparing yourself for the testing experience — as well as identifying your subject matter strengths and weaknesses enough in advance to correct them.


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Discuss this Article

Post 3

It hadn't occurred to me that I could get the information I need to study for a civil service test online. Twenty years ago trying to find all of the materials and all of the information and getting access to them was so much more complicated.

Post 2

For some of the civil service jobs you can find civil service test prep study groups where you can work on practice exams and share ideas and thoughts with other people who are in the same boat as you. This works best for me because when I try to study alone I can't stay focused for very long at all.

Sometimes when I am studying by myself, I will have to read a paragraph five or six times before I can understand it because my mind drifts before I can get to the end. Anyway, when I have other people to study with I am able to pick up the information more quickly and I don't get so frustrated, which is what eventually happens when I study alone.

The study group is something you might want to consider if you are like me.

Post 1

Pay close attention to what the last paragraph says about being late for the civil service exam. I have a friend who was trying to get a job at the post office and she had to take the civil service test. She was really nervous about taking the exam because she had heard that it was kind of hard, and a lot of people she knew had failed it.

She studied night and day for weeks getting ready for the test. And of course she tried to cram in all of the information she could on the final night before she had to get up the next morning and take to test. Well, to cut to the heart of the story: she was late for the exam because she overslept, and she was turned away.

She was so disappointed, and relieved to, I think. She never did sign up again to take the test.

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