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How to Study for a Civil Service Exam

by Amber Keefer, studioD

Most jobs with government agencies require candidates to take a civil service examination to qualify for employment. In addition to demonstrating training and experience, a candidate must successfully pass an exam specific to the job title. Civil service examinations assist the hiring agencies in screening candidates for vacant positions or promotions. Adequately preparing for the exam can increase your chances of passing the test and getting a top-notch score.

Study Guides

Often, agencies that administer civil service examinations provide study guides that include sample test questions. Contact your state civil service commission or the government agency giving the test to obtain a guide. Although some state civil service commissions offer sample test questions or make study guides available for specific exams on their official websites, not all do. Your local public library is another option as many have study guides for specific tests available.

Job Announcements

Most state civil service commissions regularly post current job announcements online. You also can get a print copy of the job announcement from the recruiting agency. Read the job announcement carefully. It will include testing information and list the topics the exam will cover so you'll know what material you should study. Applicants should read any texts and other materials on the subject area that are listed in the announcement. Examination questions often are based on information contained in the reading list texts. Reviewing the job requirements, duties and job description can offer additional clues on how you should prepare for the exam.

Study Strategy

Once you receive the test announcement, you should begin preparing for the exam. Since you may have a lot of information to cover, you'll want to give yourself as much time as possible. Generally, you will have several weeks to study between the time you apply for the exam and the actual test date. Pace yourself by setting aside time to study at least two or three days each week. Don't put study off in the belief you can cram as the test date draws near. When you do sit down to study, spend your time learning what you don’t know rather than focusing your efforts on topic areas you already know fairly well. Study at a time when you are able to sufficiently concentrate.


Taking notes as you study will help you remember the material and give you something to refer back to in the final days before the exam. Since notes are a way to summarize information, note-taking makes study more effective by focusing on the central points. Notes can help you sort out irrelevant material and assist in self-quizzes. You may find it helpful to review your notes immediately after each study session to make sure you fully grasp the material.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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