Page updated 4/1/2014
Civil Service Exams | Civil Service Jobs | Federal Civil Service Tests
Civil service exams are required for specific groups including foreign service
officers, customs, some secretarial and clerical,
air traffic control,
law enforcement, postal service, and for certain entry level jobs. The
majority — approximately 80% — of government jobs are filled through a
competitive examination of your background, work experience, and
education, not through a written civil service test.
It is important to read the job announcement thoroughly to
determine if a civil service exam or self certification or a skill is necessary.
service testing for administrative careers was eliminated years ago. OPM
and individual agencies advertise professional and administrative job
vacancies and interested parties request and receive application
material online. Now that most entrance written tests aren’t used,
applicants typically complete an
and a federal resume or an optional
application form. Most agencies want applicants to apply online. Federal civil service jobs are
posted online and individuals
complete their application, federal resume,
and questionnaire online. If a civil service exam is required, you will be notified of the testing date and
Personnel offices rate applications and generate hiring lists within two to
six weeks from the job announcement’s closing date. The “Best Qualified”
applicants are referred to a selection official for consideration. The
occupational questionnaire is discussed in Chapter Six of
The Book of U.S. Government Jobs.
Notice that I mentioned federal style résumé
several times. I emphasize “federal style” because a resume in the federal
sector is nothing like most private sector one-page résumés. A federal style
résumé is highly structured and may contain 43 specific blocks of
information and the format is standardized. A typical federal style résumé
is between three and six pages long and if Knowledge, Skills, Abilities
statements are required your résumé could easily reach seven to 10 pages or
more. If you submit an improperly formatted résumé it may be rejected or at
the very least you may not rate “Best Qualified” for the job.
Most people who first approach the federal sector are taken aback
by the amount of time, energy, and paperwork required to apply for federal civil service jobs.
Applicants who put the extra effort and time into compiling their own unique
federal style résumé and tailor it to the civil service job
announcement are more likely to succeed.
Clerical and administrative support written civil service exams were used to measure the
clerical and verbal abilities needed to design, organize, and use a filing
system, organize effectively the clerical process in an office, make travel,
meeting and conference arrangements, locate and assemble information for reports
and briefings, compose non-technical correspondence, be effective in oral
communication, and use office equipment.
Most agencies choose to use the occupational questionnaire and self
certification instead of the federal civil service exam. Clerical civil service tests and other
written exams were made optional by OPM years ago. Applicants, for the most
part today, complete an occupational questionnaire, submit a federal style
résumé, and self certify typing speed.
In addition to meeting experience or education requirements, applicants
for clerical and administrative positions must show possession of the skills
listed in the job announcement. Applicants may meet these requirements by
presenting a certificate of proficiency from a school or other organization,
self-certify their proficiency, or in rare cases pass the appropriate
written performance test. Agencies may verify proficiency skills of
self-certified applicants by administering performance tests as well. Read
the job announcement’s “How to Apply” section to determine what is required
and submit your application prior to the closing date. The key is to be
rated “Best Qualified.” Prepare a federal style resume that rating officials
can easily determine that you possess the required education, skills and
work experience to be effective in the position.
To find a clerical job announcement review the Administrative
& Clerical GS-300 Job Series for clerical job vacancy announcements. You first must
clerical job announcement in your area and then you apply online. You will
be notified by the agency if a civil service exam is required or they will direct you to
complete an Occupational Questionnaire online.
Clerical Job Announcements:
General Experience: High school graduation or the
equivalent may be substituted for experience at the GS-2 level for all listed
occupations except Clerk-Stenographer, where it maybe substituted for experience
at the GS-3 level. Equivalent combinations of successfully completed education
and experience requirements may be used to meet total experience requirements at
grades GS-5 and below.
Table 5-1 in The Book of U.S. Government Jobs lists the positions and grades covered under the Clerical and
Administrative qualification requirements. Positions at higher grade levels in
listed occupations are covered under separate examinations.
Typing proficiency is determined one of several ways. You can present a speed
certification statement from a typing course, take a typing test with OPM, or
personally certify that you type 40 or more words per minute and later take a
test upon reporting
If a written federal civil service test is required it will consist of two parts, clerical aptitude and verbal
abilities. To pass the written test, applicants must make a minimum score of 33
on the verbal abilities and a minimum combined total score of 80 on both the
clerical and verbal parts. A score of 80 converts to a numerical rating of 70.
In addition to federal civil service exams, applicants must complete an online Occupational
Supplement that is used to determine an applicants' minimum qualifications based on a review of
their education and work experience.
Everyone who applies
for a federal job is tested however the vast
majority of testing is conducted through a thorough
evaluation of your application, occupational
questionnaire, and federal resume, not through a
written civil service test. Notice
that I mentioned federal resume frequently. I
emphasize “federal” because a resume in the
federal sector is totally different from the typical
one page private sector equivalent. A
federal resume is highly
structured and may contain 43 specific blocks of
information, and the format is standardized. A
typical federal style resume is between three and
six pages long and if Knowledge, Skills, Abilities
statements (KSAs) are required
your resume could easily reach seven to 10 pages or
more. If you submit an improperly formatted federal
resume it may be rejected or at the very least you
may not rate “Best Qualified” for the job
Some occupations require specialized testing and
careers with mandatory testing are listed on
this site. The tests are used to validate physical
and mental ability and skills required for the
position. The exams vary in length from several
hours to half a day or more.
Return to Top of Page