Correctional Officer Exam

No matter where you apply for a position as a correctional officer, you will most likely need to take, and pass, a written examination. This is standard hiring practice for federal, state and local corrections officer jobs. Here, we will examine the kinds of knowledge that you will need to know and questions that you must answer on a Correctional Officer exam.

General Knowledge/Basic Skills

Testing your basic skills is intended to measure your job readiness, ability to be trained, ability to learn, and attention to detail. It tests your basic math and verbal/language skills, communication and interpersonal skills, clerical skills, and report writing skills, and is recommended for most entry-level correctional officer positions.

Officers taking an exam

Reading Comprehension

Your ability to understand written information to later recall and use is tested here. This includes your capacity for following written directions and reading and understanding information presented in written form, both in-training and on the job. You must read a passage carefully that is closely related to corrections work, and answer the questions that follow. 

Here is an example of a Reading Comprehension question from the California Department of Corrections written exam:

Use the information provided below to answer the question (Q):


• Tour requests must be submitted at least 15 days in advance. 

• All guests 18 years of age or older are required to present photo identification (e.g., driver license, passport, military or state identification). 

• Guests under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult. 

• Items prohibited during the tour: 

  • cell phones, cameras and video recorders 
  • handbags, book bags, backpacks and purses
  • food and beverages 
  • tobacco products 
  • liquids of any kind, such as liquid makeup, lotion, etc. 

A family of four submitted their request to tour the White House three weeks before going to Washington, D.C. When they arrived for the tour, both parents brought their driver licenses, wallets and umbrellas. The children, ages 13 and 18, only brought their coats, leaving their backpacks in the car. One of the children realized he had some candy in his pocket, but he quickly ate it before the tour was scheduled to start. 

Q. The family was prevented from going on the tour for violating a tour policy. Based ONLY on the information above, which policy was violated? 

A. Submitting the request for the tour in advance. 

B. Bringing photo identification. 

C. Bringing food on the tour. 

D. Bringing backpacks on the tour.

The answer is B. Based on the scenario, the 18-year-old did not bring photo identification. The rest of the family followed the tour policy, rendering the rest of the answers to this question incorrect.

Problem Solving

This portion of the test measures your ability to solve problems based upon the information available. Your capacity for learning new information and applying that on the job is tested. You must be able to prioritize and bring about a resolution to a problem in a timely manner. Reasoning and observation skills are also assessed through problem-solving questions. The above reading comprehension question is also a good example of a problem-solving question. Here is another one, from the California Dept. of Corrections (Q2):

While Officer B was escorting inmates through a dormitory area, he saw Inmate J pass a note to Inmate H. Because inmates are not allowed to pass notes to each other, the officer confiscated the note and interviewed both inmates. Their statements are provided below. 

Inmate H’s statement: 

Inmate J dropped a note on the floor of my living area. Officer B confiscated it before I could read it. According to Inmate J, the note ordered me to attack Inmate X tomorrow. Inmate J claimed she had nothing to do with the note other than delivering it. According to Inmate J, Inmate K should be held responsible because she wrote the note and forced Inmate J to pass it by threatening her life. 

Inmate J’s statement: I had to deliver it because my life was being threatened by Inmate K. I did not read the note, but Inmate K said if I didn’t give the note to Inmate H by the end of the day I would end up in the medical center. I should be left out of this because I only passed the note to protect myself from Inmate K. I know I will be punished for this, but I have nothing to do with the note other than delivering it. 

Q2. Based ONLY on the information provided above, what difference, if any, between the two statements may be important enough to examine further? 

A. Why Inmate J delivered the note. 

B. Who was supposed to receive the note.

 C. If Inmate J knew the content of the note. 

D. There was no difference that requires further examination.

The correct answer is C. According to Inmate J’s statement, she did not read the note. However, according to Inmate H’s statement, Inmate J knew the content of the note. Based on the contradictory information in the two statements, further examination may be necessary to determine if Inmate J knew the note ordered Inmate H to attack another inmate. Therefore, the correct answer is C. Based on the inmate statements, A and B are incorrect because it is clear why Inmate J delivered the note and that Inmate H was supposed to receive the note. D. is incorrect because it is unclear whether Inmate H knew the content of the note.


General mathematics skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) are tested in this section of the exam. Mainly, questions pertaining to the job of a corrections officer will be presented. One example of a mathematics question that might appear on a correctional officer exam:

  • How many seconds would it take to get a seriously injured inmate to a medical center, provided that the distance between the prison and medical center is 48 miles, assuming that the vehicle transporting the inmate runs at a constant speed of 32 miles per hour and does not experience any delays or traffic?
    • 18,000
    • 5,400
    • 667
    • 90

The answer to the above question is (b) 5,400 seconds. To reach this answer, simply divide the distance by the constant speed to get 1.5 hours. Divide the answer by 60 (minutes in an hour), then by 60 (seconds in a minute) to get the number of seconds it will take to transport the inmate to the medical center (remember, the answer is asking for time in seconds).

Report Writing Skills

As a correctional officer, you will need to write many reports. This part of the test measures your ability to write sentences with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. At the same time, you must be able to convey a message through your writing in a clear, concise, succinct manner. You will read a sample incident report and write a report as your answer.

Criteria Attention Skills

This part of a Correctional Officer examination measures your mental fitness, concentration skills, and attention and focus, particularly when distractions are present. It studies your skills under divided attention situations, selective attention with filtering and with vigilance, and perceptual reaction time. It also measures your information processing and problem-solving skills

Workplace Productivity Profile 

This section of a Correctional Officer test measures your conscientiousness, productivity, reliability, and tendency to adhere to rules. It is an integrity test used in positions, like correctional officers, where trustworthiness is all-important. Four traits are measured in the Workplace Productivity Profile: conscientiousness, perseverance, integrity/honesty, and attitudes toward theft and fraud. It helps to predict the outcomes of a wide variety of situations in which correctional officers might find themselves.

Resources for Aspiring Correctional Officers

Many practice written examinations are available online for aspiring correctional officers to take before taking the “real” exam. Some of them include: