The Strategy of Preparing for Promotion:
(Part two of four part series on promotional
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA
In our first
article we looked at five tactics
for taking civil service multiple choice tests. These tips were classified as
tactics because they were immediately deployable to the situation. Like field
tactics, they are something you learn and then use when they apply. Studying
for promotion is significantly different from actual testing. It calls for
longer term planning, preparation and implementation. In this article we will
look at five test preparation strategies.
study plan is a strategic plan. A
good strategic plan starts with an assessment of the enemy, competition, market
or in this case, the test. Several basic questions need to be answered:
1. When is the test going to be
2. What type of test is going to
3. What are the mechanics of the
4. What types of questions were
on the last test?
It is important
to know when the next test is
likely to be administered because that is going to effect your planning. Most
civil service organizations tend to administer promotion examinations on a
fairly regular and scheduled basis. If the test is next week and you
been studying, don't bother. However, if the test is three or more months away
you have a great opportunity to score well. Once you know the approximate date
of test, break out a calendar and begin to plan backwards from the test date.
If you are fairly certain of the test date you do a number of things to maximize
your studying time.
Consider shifting your work hours to day watch or early evening shift three
months before. This puts your body clock in sync with the test time. There is
nothing worse than working graveyards the night before a 0800 hours test.
Consider taking vacation or personal leave two weeks before the test. This
gives you ample opportunity for intensive study.
Schedule promotional mentoring appointments with superiors six months before the
test. We will come back to these interviews, but the scheduling is critical.
Generally speaking, after someone has been selected for a promotional board they
can not speak with candidates about the process. However, their opinions are
usually fair game prior to their official selection.
Consider taking a short-term administrative post within your organization. I
know that for most of us street types this is a initially repugnant idea.
However, I guarantee two things. You will be a better street cop if you
understand the administrative workings of your organization. An administrative
perspective on how and why things are done in an organization will make your
life in the street simpler. Also, there is nothing like a pogue job to give you
insight into the testing process.
5. As we
look at the different strategies, it will make sense that some should be
completed months before a test, while others are best accomplished in the last
You must know
the type of test. Is it a
multiple choice, essay, interview or assessment center. Indeed, it may be some
combination of all of types of tests. But, the type of test changes your long
term strategy. In addition to knowing when and what the test is about, you
should try to know some fairly simple mechanical issues. For instance, if you
know the test location, you can plan to have breakfast nearby beforehand. You
will do better after eating and you wont be rushed or late. Moreover, you want
to know the time limit, if you need to bring something (like identification to
get in) or if you can write on the test booklet. Any information you can gather
will make you more comfortable about the process and improve your planning.
Once you know
when, where and how the test is
to be given, the next part of your planning phase is an attempt to determine the
test questions. Obviously, if you know the question beforehand you will score
higher. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that anyone will give you the exact
questions, but they leave plenty of clues enabling you to hone your study plan
around the most likely areas and issues.
place to begin is with prior
tests. If they are available, obtain a copy and analyze it. Where did the
questions come from? You will probably find that prior tests will contain
consistent percentages of questions from various sources. For instance, 50% of
the questions might come from you department manual, 10% from your penal code
and case law, 10% from an administrative manual (like juvenile procedures), 10%
from emergency operations (indeed, I predict you will see an increase in test
questions coming directly from the National Incident Management System), 10% on
investigative procedures and 10% on issues like community policing.
A breakdown like
this will help you schedule
you study time. If 50% of the questions are from you department manual
make the mistake of spending 50% of your time studying case law. If you commit
to studying 100 hours before a test, 50 of the hours should be on 50% of you
questions. Now, if you are particularly strong in a certain area, divert those
hours to your weak areas. Develop you study plan based on your analysis of where
the questions are likely to come from.
In many instance
you will know be able to view
previous tests. This is where your detective skills pay off. First, schedule
career mentoring interviews with people who have successfully competed and
those who are likely to be involved in the process. This means getting a half
hour of your chiefs time. Ask him or her, what they think are likely areas of
testing. They have not only been through the process, but they are likely to
participate in the development of future tests. Second, talk to the people who
took the last test. Spend some time picking their brain on questions. If you
invest enough cups of coffee you can probably reverse engineer the last test.
Just as important, you will probably pick up some great study ideas.
a Study Plan
Once you have
done everything possible to
determine the nature of the test it is time to begin to study. If you want to
succeed you should consider three fronts for your strategic plan. The first is
the WHY front. Lets presume that your study plan is six months and that you
commit to 100 hours of preparation. If you spend 100 hours over six months
studying for a promotional test you will get a very high score. You will get
the job. The WHY front is outside of that 100 hours. During six month study
period you are going to ask why every time you do your job. For instance, if
you are working the street and take a simple theft report. Why do you use that
particular form? Why do you ask particular questions? What does the supervisor
look for when you submit the report? Where does the report go? What is the
report used for? Simply ask yourself and find out, why you do what you do. In
the academy and in the field you were simply taught to do a function a certain
way. But, it is probably done a specific way for some arcane administrative
reason. Track these things down. You will learn a lot about your organization,
its rules and its goals. You will learn valuable information that will impact
your test score. Use your WHY strategy everyday.
The next front is the HOW front. It is an axiom of good battlefield leadership
that you learn your superiors job and teach your job to your subordinates.
This circular form of teaching has many benefits. For instance, on the
battlefield, if your superior is killed or wounded you should be able to step up
and continue the mission. It is also a stellar way to study for promotion.
Learn your supervisors job. And, teach your job. I caution you to
learn the right ways first. Learn and teach the department way and
understand that your short-cuts are unofficial ways of getting stuff done.
As you learn WHY also learn HOW. For the six months of your study plan
commit to knowing WHY things are done and HOW your supervisor does them.
confidence can have an
extraordinary impact on your score. WHY and HOW prepare you and will make you
very confident. The formal part of your study program is WHAT. If you spend
100 hours over six months studying WHAT in conjunction with your WHY and HOW you
will do very well. Schedule your study time backwards. Plan to spend 40 hours,
over ten days just prior to the test. Try something like a ten day schedule,
one hour studying, one hour relaxing. That is your eight hour work day. People
who study in line at the test, the morning of the test or the night before
generally do not do well. By the night before the test you know all you are
going to be able to recall. You should spend that night resting.
Hours a Week
The other sixty
hours should be spent over the
previous five months, about three hours a week. Depending on your work, family
and social schedule, plan three one hour study sessions per week. Now, in the
first months of your study session you may want to consider working with a
group. However, cops don't work in groups well. Group sessions tend to
deteriorate into BS sessions. However, during the first month of your study
plan you might consider working in a group to get a sense of what your peers
have developed. This might be another way to gain insight into the nature of
If you are taking
a multiple choice test,
during the first two months of your study plan read and highlight information.
Look for information that would make good test questions. Look for timelines,
choices, always and never situations. If a certain type of evidence is ALWAYS
booked a certain way - that is a potential question. It is easy for the test
writer to pick out. Additionally, tests are usually written a few months before
the test date. Indeed, on your search for HOW you might be able to determine
the last date that new information would be on a test. Certainly, if your
department issues a new policy 3 days before a test it would be a waste of your
time to review the policy. It simply could not have been written into the
test. As a general rule of thumb, any information that changes during your six
month study period should be ignored. This is because test writers probably
don't have access to the information and they want to avoid situations wherein
you could challenge a question.
After you have
read and highlighted the
material during months one through three, consider making flash cards during
months four and five. That way, during month six, your most intensive study
period, you will have greatly distilled and focused information from which to
work. Again, if half of the questions are likely to be from your department
manual, half of your time should be spent on highlighted manual sections or
flashcards derived from your manual.
preparation are the keys to your
success. In parts three and four of this series we will look at essay questions
and oral interviews, respectively.
About the Author:
Raymond E. Foster was a sworn member of
the Los Angeles Police Department for 24 years. He retired in 2003 at the rank
of Lieutenant. He holds a bachelors from the Union Institute and University in
Criminal Justice Management and a Masters Degree in Public Financial Management
from California State University, Fullerton. He is near the end of his doctoral
studies in business research. Raymond is a graduate of the West Point Leadership
program and has attended law enforcement, technology and leadership programs
such as the National Institute for Justice, Technology Institute, Washington,
Raymond is currently a part-time
lecturer at California State University, Fullerton and the Union Institute and
University. He has experience teaching upper division courses in law
enforcement, public policy, technology and leadership. Raymond is an
experienced author who has published numerous articles in a wide range of venues
including magazines such as Government Technology, Mobile Government, Airborne
Law Enforcement Magazine, and Police One. He has appeared on the History
Channel and radio programs in the United States and Europe as subject matter
expert in technological applications in law enforcement. For instance, he was
recently interviewed by the London Independent on the use of cellular telephone
technology in explosive devices.
His first book, Police Technology
(Prentice Hall, July 2004) is used in over 40 colleges and universities
nationwide. Raymond has two additional contracts with Prentice Hall to publish
works on global terrorism and an introduction to policing. As an outgrowth of
his writing, Raymond maintains two websites and acts as the editor of a monthly
newsletter with a growing subscriber base.
Raymond can be reached by email at