Civil Service Exam: Professional vs. Subprofessional Differences 

Are you considering a career in civil service? If you are, then you might have already looked into the civil service exam and seen that there are different types. Whether or not you’ve done some research, you need to understand which of the exams you’ll need to pass and what the differences are between them. 

When it comes to the civil service exam and professional vs. subprofessional differences, what are they? The biggest difference between the professional and subprofessional civil service exams is the level of jobs they will qualify you for once you pass them. Subprofessional jobs are first level, or clerical in nature, while professional jobs are the second level, or technical in nature. 

The differences in the exams stem from the different job levels you are being tested for. There are more than just one difference between the professional and subprofessional civil service examsbut everything varies based on the nature of the jobs you’re aiming to qualify for. 

Subprofessional Jobs (Clerical) 

Civil Service Exam: Professional vs. Subprofessional Differences 

These jobs are considered to be the first level, or in some cases, they’re referred to as entry-level positions. They’re clerical, which means there’s no actual practicing of any type of profession. These are roles that often support the people in professional-level jobs. People in these positions will usually work hand-in-hand with the professionals, but doing tasks that help the functioning of the second level workers. 

The best way to understand the difference in the types of jobs the civil service exams can qualify you for is to look at examples of jobs that fall under this category. We stated that subprofessional jobs are clerical in nature, which is usually the case. However, these can also be employees performing trades, crafts, and custodial services.  

Here are some jobs you could hold as a civil service subprofessional: 

  • HR Management Assistant  
  • Administrative Services Assistant 
  • Cash Clerk 
  • Administrative Aide 
  • Office Janitor 
  • Secretarial Staff 

There are many more jobs that fall under this category, but these are some just to give you an idea of what is meant by subprofessional. There likely won’t be any supervisory duties in these positions, and if there is any type of responsibility resembling a supervisor’s job, it will be less responsive than leadership has that is required to have a four-year degree under their belt. 


Professional Jobs (Technical) 

Professional jobs are the next level of positions where you need some technical expertise regarding the job you’re performing. These are the jobs where you’re practicing the profession by carrying out technical, and sometimes, scientific tasks 

Many of the professional level jobs will require the person applying for the position to have some level of a college degree to qualify, as well as passing the appropriate civil service exam. These are not entry-level jobs. Qualifying candidates will have prior experience working in some kind of role that gives them eligibility for their desired position. 

Here are some examples of possible civil service jobs at a professional level: 

  • Food and Drug Regulation Officer 
  • Customs Officer 
  • HR Manager 
  • Cashier 
  • Services Officer 
  • Air Traffic Controller 

Again, these are only a few to give you a better idea of what is meant by professional civil service jobs. There are many more in various different areas like law enforcement, emergency services, and others. 


Differences in the Exam Questions 

For starters, and this is probably going to be obvious at this point but we’ll mention it anyway just in case, the professional level civil service exam questions are a lot harder than the ones you’ll face on the subprofessional level exam. So much so that you’re given more time to take the professional level exam.  

The professional exam covers all of the same subjects that the subprofessional one does, but with a couple more topics you’ll need to study. There will be a lot of analogy and logic on the professional level exam for civil service positions.  

Civil Service Exam: Professional vs. Subprofessional Differences 

That being said, here’s a look at what things are covered on the subprofessional exam

  • Vocabulary 
  • Grammar 
  • Paragraph organization 
  • Reading comprehension 
  • Spelling 
  • Clerical operations 
  • Numerical reasoning 
  • General info – ethics, conduct, basic human rights 

Now let’s look at a list of items covered on the professional exam

  • Vocabulary 
  • Grammar 
  • Paragraph organization 
  • Reading comprehension 
  • Analogy 
  • Logic 
  • Numerical reasoning 
  • General info  ethics, conduct, basic human rights 

You’ll see that the topics are much the same, but understand the questions may be more complicated on the professional exam. There are also a few more of them. These are the reasons why you get more time to complete the professional level exam.  


Other Things to Know About the Civil Service Exam 

Here we just want to touch on a couple of things you should know about before taking this exam. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to take your test so you can have the greatest chance at passing it. 

First, not all civil service jobs require that you take and pass a civil service exam of any level anymore. It used to be that every job that was considered to be civil service held a requirement that you take an “across the board” qualifying exam which you had to pass to be eligible for your desired position. That is no longer the case. In fact, for some of these jobs, you’ll have to meet other requirements, such as filling out an occupational questionnaire so eligibility can be determined that way. You’ll need to look at the requirements of the specific jobs you’re interested in to see if you need to take a civil service exam or not. 

The next thing you should know is that there are application dates that must be adhered to if you intend to take a civil service exam on a specific date. Those dates are usually at least a couple of months before the test date. They can vary by location, too. Be sure to check the application date for the location you intend to take your exam at. 

Civil Service Exam: Professional vs. Subprofessional Differences 

Finally, prior to testing day, make sure you gather the required information, identification, and any required fee amount to have it ready on the appropriate day. You don’t want to show up illprepared for something that is bound to make you nervous anyway. Be as organized as you can before your exam, so you can feel the most confidence heading into the test. 


What Happens If You Don’t Pass? 

A lot of people wonder what happens if they don’t pass the civil service exam needed for the position they want. If you’re well-prepared, you’ll likely do well and get the score you need to move forward trying to land the job you are aiming for. However, if it doesn’t go how you want it for the first time, don’t be too hard on yourself. The truth is, there are quite a few people who don’t pass the first time. 

You’ll need to spend some time studying so you can take it again and pass. The decision-makers will see that you failed a civil service exam even after you pass one. That doesn’t mean they won’t pick you though. Showing that you have the perseverance it takes to come back and do better is something valuable in itself. 

There are a lot of resources to help people prepare for this type of exam. It’s a good idea to invest in some of them upfront so you only have to take the test once. Also, the better you do, the more impressive that looks to potential employers. You should keep in mind, too, that if you have to take the exam again, you also have to pay the application fee again. Good preparation can help you avoid that. 

 Can you retake the exam? Find out here:


The bottom line is that there is a difference in professional and subprofessional level jobs, so there is also a difference in the tests that qualify you for them. Subprofessional jobs are those that are clerical and don’t usually require a college-level degree. Professional jobs do likely require higher levels of education and experience. These are the technical positions where there is the actual practice of the profession. 


Related Questions

Can your civil service eligibility expire? 

In some cases, yes it can. It’s going to depend on what kind of position you’re in. There are certain jobs where it would be more important than you “re-up” your eligibility than it will be for others. For instance, an air traffic controller will have update requirements they’ll have to meet after specified periods of time, due to the stressful nature and importance of their positions. 


Are you allowed to use a calculator on the civil service exam? 

This is up to the governing agencies in the location where you’re taking your exam. In most cases, though, the answer to this question will be no. Most regulations prohibit the use of calculators, and any other devices, such as cellphones, tablets, and Smartwatches because of the risk of cheating. If a calculator is allowed where you’re going to take your test, it will only be a basic version that is permitted. 

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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.