Exam Preparation Tips
The following suggestions are based on Recruitment Unit interviews with employees who often score well when taking exams. We have also incorporated information from Personnel Section publications and from other state departments. These are only suggestions. If applicants have developed successful strategies for taking exams, they should continue using what works for them.
We suggest applicants pay particular attention to the Position Description and Scope sections of the Exam Announcement. These sections describe routine duties performed in the classification along with knowledge and abilities that will be tested during the exam process. Another resource for the minimum qualifications to apply along with a job position's typical tasks are found at California State Personnel Board's webpage for Job Specifications and Pay.
Research and be sure you understand the duties, functions and responsibilities of the classification for which you are to be tested. Exam questions are developed from the knowledge, skills and abilities stated in the Written Test Scope section of the exam announcement. Knowing this, many successful candidates write down key words and phrases from the position description and scope sections of the announcement on a separate sheet of paper. Then, using a resume and other background material, they list their own experiences and concentrate on using key phrases or short sentences while focusing on what the exam announcement describes as important for the classification and its exam. This practice provides a helpful source of study material before taking the exam. It also helps you realize areas you may want to research prior to your exam date.
Day of Written Exam
Dress accordingly and wear a watch. Most exams are timed. If you don't have a watch, position yourself so that you can see the wall clock. Also, consider dressing in layers because room temperatures may vary.
Give yourself plenty of time to arrive and park at the test location.
Maintain a positive mental outlook. You and your feelings about tests can influence how you perform on a test. Try to keep calm, cool, and collected. Remember, you've prepared for this. When you arrive and as the test begins, listen to all instructions carefully and if you are unsure of any instruction, do not hesitate to ask questions.
During the Written Exam
Read carefully, work quickly, and follow instructions. Do not assume you know what is wanted, read each question carefully.
Pace yourself. Most written test are scored according to the number of correct answers. If you are having trouble answering a question, skip to the next question. Then, go back and address troublesome questions. There is no penalty for guessing. If you're not sure of the correct answer, first eliminate the choices you know are wrong. If you don't answer a question, you will not get credit for it. If you guess correctly, you will get credit. Remember, your first impression is usually correct.
If you finish your exam and time is still available, do not stop. Review your answer sheet and make sure you have answered all questions.
Oral Interview/Exams -The Qualifications Appraisal Interview
Preparation is key to success. The effort you put into preparing and practicing for the oral interview/exam will help you feel more confident and make a more effective presentation.
Keep a copy of your application and review it carefully before the oral exam. You will be asked to describe your education and/or experience relative to the testing classification and you should be able to state the breadth and depth of your experience and/or education. The exam panel may not have your application and resume in front of them during the exam and can only consider information which you provide during the oral exam.
Study the exam announcement by reading the Qualification Appraisal Interview Scope section of the announcement. This section identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities that may be covered during the exam. It is also a good idea to review the classification (job) specification and familiarize yourself with the duties and responsibilities. Another helpful hint is to talk to people who work in the classification for which you are testing.
Think of the type of questions you would ask and how you would answer those questions. Be sure to appraise your own knowledge and background measures against the requirements of the classification.
Be prepared to answer posed to you from the perspective that you are already performing the duties of the classification.
Practice your presentation. Effective communication skills are the result of practice, feedback, self-assessment and more practice.
During the Oral Interview/Exam (Qualification Appraisal Interview)
Think positive. Remember, you requested and were granted this opportunity to prove your readiness to sit for the exam.
Show that you are genuinely interested in performing the duties of the classification.
Be natural, enthusiastic and confident. Smile, relax and use your hands naturally. The exam panel is interested in an honest and positive presentation.