Police Sergeant Oral Examinations: An Overview

Most police departments and central personnel agencies use the oral examination to select and promote police officers. Many types are in use today, the most popular being the traditional oral and the technical oral. Knowing how these tests are constructed and how they work will help you prepare for your examination.

Traditional Oral

An oral board is a testing process used to assess and rank candidates according to abilities that have been predetermined to be necessary for successful job performance. To avoid claims of personal bias — and favoritism — experts from outside your police department serve as panelists on your oral board. Typical oral boards have three panel members, which may include other officers, civilian police analysts, police psychologists, or other non-sworn personnel. The testing officers on oral boards for the rank of sergeant normally consist of lieutenants and occasionally captains.

The proceedings should not be located in your own police department. The panel often convenes at city hall, a local high school or college, or another government building in your community. Candidates who successfully complete the written phase of the examination process are notified by mail of their mark and the date, time, and location of their appearance before the oral board. The letter announcing your oral board date usually contains a number or coded device that you're required to bring with you to the exam.

Technical Oral

In a nontraditional (technical) oral exam, several oral panels may be convened. In this process, you'll go through up to three different oral tests, either in one day or over a series of days. Each panel examines your knowledge in different areas of policing, each usually narrower in scope than those covered in traditional oral boards. This procedure is much more difficult, both for the test administrator and for the applicants.

Mini In-Basket Scenario Followed by Oral Board

In a mini in-basket scenario followed by an oral board, candidates are presented with a packet of materials. You'll have a specific amount of time to review the information in the packet. The information instructs you to assume that you are a police sergeant and presents a scenario that you must resolve, such as a disciplinary problem with a subordinate, a sexual harassment complaint, or an internal investigation of an officer suspected of a criminal act. At the conclusion of the review period, you'll have a specified length of time to make a presentation to the board explaining how you would handle the matter and why. After the presentation, the panelists will ask you a series of questions regarding the scenario topic

Video Presentation Followed by Oral Board

A video presentation followed by an oral board begins with candidates watching a video depicting a scenario similar to those described for the mini in-basket scenario exercise. After viewing the video, you'll have about five minutes to prepare a presentation for the oral panel describing how you would handle the matter as a police sergeant. As with the mini in-basket exercise, after you make your presentation, the panel members will ask questions regarding the video's topic.

Situational Exercise Followed by Oral Board

In a situational exercise, candidates assume the role of a police sergeant and role-play with one or more actors in a situation requiring supervisory action, such as a meeting with a subordinate who is continually late for work or who has asked to see the sergeant about a personal problem. You will be given an information packet typically containing background information about the employee, departmental procedures, and a copy of the labor/management agreement. You'll have about five minutes to review the information, after which the panel will call the subordinate into the room and you will handle the situation.

In almost every case, the person playing the subordinate brings up something not mentioned in your information packet, perhaps by making a statement such as, "Sometimes I think about shooting myself." During this exercise, the panel members are in the room but are not to be communicated with until they tell you that the situational part of the examination is completed. Following the exercise, the panelists will ask you a series of predetermined questions related to the topic(s) addressed in the situation.