Sitting (and passing) Civil Service Exams

Exam hall
Two simple tips on sitting the Civil Service exams.

1) Turn up and keep turning up.
This is the number one way to improve your chances of getting a job. At every stage of the competitive process, when I used to work in the Civil Service Commission, we would presume that 50% off the cohort wouldn’t turn up. Every time, we were correct.

We didn’t even hire chairs for them to sit on.

Half of those who apply don’t go to the testing centre. Half of those who are tested don’t pass. Half of those who pass don’t turn up for the interview stage. If you pass one exam and then turn up for the next stage, you’re already in the top 12.5% of applicants.

2) Read the flipping booklet
Every question is about one thing. Work out which one it is and then just pick the answer that one thing applies to.

To do this simple sounding trick, you should read the flipping booklet they send you in advance. Never mind that the questions seem easy and pointless. They are meant to be easy and pointless. The actual purpose is to teach you how to match the skills (or “competencies” in the jargon) being looked for with the questions you’re being asked.

Those competencies are defined by way of a process so terrible, I can never reveal it to you for fear that you will go immediately mad. Look what the knowledge did to me. But believe me, the exams are really, really all about those competencies.

I know. I used to write some of those stupid and pointless questions for those flipping booklets.

Bonus Tip:

If you’re called for interview, and you turn up (congratulations, you top 12.5 percenter!) the interview works mostly the same way. They’ll send you a booklet. You strip the value out of the verbiage (what is this actually about?) then you just listen for questions about those things and show off your skills (competencies).

If you don’t have those skills, you can still fake it. I’m not saying you should. I’m just saying, it could happen.

D’ye know what one of these interviews isn’t like? It isn’t like all the other interviews you’ve ever done. That panel has been trained so they won’t wander off the reservation and ask you when you’re going to have kids or what religion your family are and get the State sued. They are on rails. If you work out what those rails are, you could ride them all the way to Job Central Station.

There you are now. Pop over to and start waiting for somebody to actually advertise a job.

Image from Comedy_Nose on flickr.


  • Marian Ryan says:

    Hi, I am applying for HEO Exam and would appreciate any advice on how best to prepare and how to source practice material.

  • Jason lynch says:

    Hi, I would love to get involved in the civil service and I could definetely see myself working in this area. I have one question, How can I get my hands on a revision booklet?

  • Mary says:

    I have just done the aptitude test for CO Can you tell me roughly what % of the questions I should have answered correctly to pass?

  • I’m due to complete the online assessment for assistant staff officer Grade IV. Where can I get practice tests as I need to do a lot to help me pass. Thanks

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