Can You Use a Calculator on the Civil Service Exam?

  Those of you who are considering a career in civil service likely already know that you have to pass an exam before you can begin really working toward your goal. The tests were designed as a way of making sure the right kind of people are entering the specific types of jobs found in the public sector of civil service. You’ll find different categories of questions and the tests were created by the various states, but you can bet there will be some math.

So, that being said, let’s answer the question that’s probably on most of your minds—can you use a calculator on the civil service exam? And the answer is, no it’s not likely you’ll be permitted to use a calculator on your civil service exam. There are some exceptions though, but the good news is that you probably won’t need one.

What Is Covered on the Civil Service Exam?

Can You Use a Calculator on the Civil Service Exam?

The topics that are covered on this exam are meant to be informative to the powers that be so they can find out if you’re right for the type of career you want to start into. Some things you’ll see will include:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Memory abilities
  • How you follow instructions
  • Coding
  • Organization
  • Clerical abilities
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math

The one we’re most concerned with for this article is the math. For some people, this is the scariest part of the test. Math is one of those subjects that most people either love or they hate, there’s not a lot of middle ground.

If you’re one of the people that hates math, it will ease your mind at least a little to know that the majority of the civil service tests don’t have math that’s higher in level than what you would learn in a general-education algebra class for an undergrad degree. Unless you’re trying to get into a career field that requires a lot of math you should be ok with just the basic understanding of algebra. You should make sure that you’re familiar with the order of operations and how to perform each one.

Why You Wouldn’t Be Allowed to Use a Calculator

So if you’re not allowed to use a calculator—why? What’s the reason for not permitting the use of calculators during the civil service exam? What’s the harm?

There has been a lot of attention put on these tests due to cheating that has occurred in the past. Because of this and the competitive nature of the test, there have been a lot of policies put in place to prevent future cheating. One of those policies is the one governing the use of any type of electronics. In most cases, electronics include:

  • Cell phones
  • Tablets
  • Laptops
  • Smartwatches



There are some states or districts that will allow for a basic calculator, but more often than not, you just need to leave every electronic you have at home or in your car. Most of the regulators will just say you can’t use anything because it makes things easier. With so many devices that have memory, Internet capabilities, and more, it just makes more sense to ban all kinds of devices rather than say it has to be only a certain type.

How Do You Pass the Math Portion of the Test?

As we stated earlier, the math portion isn’t overly complicated for most of these civil service tests. However, we do know that there are many people in the world who have a hard time with math. If you are one of these people, then you can prepare yourself for the test with practice.

Can You Use a Calculator on the Civil Service Exam?

Math is a subject that if you practice, you will get better at it, and sometimes that’s all it will take. There are practice tests you can find to help you know what to expect for your exam also. You can look at tips from people that have already taken the test too.

We mentioned above that you should know what the order of operations is for solving math equations. There’s an acronym to help you memorize this. PEMDAS is the acronym you need to know. This translates to parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. It means that if you have to solve an equation where these things appear, you perform each operation in this order.

Beyond just knowing what order to do them in, you need to know how to solve each piece of the problem. For example, if you see parentheses, know that you solve that first and on its own. Once you get the answer to the problem inside the parentheses, you can move to the next step, exponents.

Exponents might be something you think you will not be able to do without a calculator. You shouldn’t worry about it though. The creators of the test will not put anything that’s too difficult for you to figure out by hand. You’re not likely going to see anything like this:


That would just be mean. Instead, you’ll see stuff like:

5^2 or 5^3

These are easy enough for you to figure out on scratch paper. You can simply write it out in a multiplication equation—5 x 5=25 and 5 x 5 x 5=125. You should be able to write equations on paper and figure them out fairly easily, so you don’t need to worry about not having a calculator.

You also won’t be multiplying, dividing, adding, or subtracting numbers that are overly complicated. The lack of a calculator isn’t to make it impossible for you to pass the math portion, it’s simply to make sure the test is fair and no one is cheating in any way.

Can you retake the civil exam? Find out here:

Of Course, There Are Exceptions

In the beginning, we said there are likely some exceptions. You will find some locations that will allow the use of a basic calculator. It’s up to you to check the regulations of the district in which you will be taking the civil service exam. You need to know what’s expected of you so look into the regulation governing the use of calculators, but also all the rest of the rules.

Can You Use a Calculator on the Civil Service Exam?

Once you know what the regulations are, then you can start practicing for your test in the way that you’ll be expected to take it for your state. It won’t make sense for you to practice doing math problems with a calculator if you aren’t allowed to use them on the actual exam. If you are allowed to use one, you may still want to make sure you know how to solve math problems without one just in case the one you have malfunctions on the day of your exam. You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for the worst.

Other Tips for Your Civil Service Exam

If there’s anything else we can say to try and help you prepare, it’s that if you get stuck on a problem, don’t freak out. You don’t have to get every single question right to pass the test. Move on and answer the questions you do know the answer to. Then, if there is time at the end, you can go back to the ones you weren’t sure of, and in some situations, you can take your best guess.

To Wrap Up

You need to make sure you check with your state to find out if you’ll be able to use a calculator on your civil service exam. However, it’s very likely you won’t be allowed to use one. You need to prepare yourself for the math portion of the test by practicing solving problems by hand. Get some of the practice test questions from online or maybe a bookstore and familiarize yourself with what you’ll be asked on the exam. Also just remember, the point isn’t to stump you. The problems won’t be so complicated that you won’t be able to figure them out without the use of a calculator. If you walk into your exam room calm and well prepared, you’re going to do just fine with our without a calculator.

Related Questions

What jobs can you get with a civil service exam?

This exam is required for jobs that are at the local, state, and federal levels. Some examples are law enforcement, foreign service, fire service, postal workers, accounting and tax for governments, and administration for governments. There are more areas than this but these are some of the most popular categories.

What is a passing score on the civil service exam?

As was stated above, you don’t have to get everything right to pass the test. You’ll have to make at least an 80% mark though. There are two different tests that you can take: professional level and sub-professional level. The number of points to pass each of these may be different but the percentage of correct questions is the same for both.

Should you not pass the exam, you will be permitted to take it again. However, there are different rules in different states. You may be required to wait anywhere between three and eight months before you’ll be allowed to try the test again.

To learn how to best prepare and study for your civil servant exam click here!

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.