How Do They Grade the Civil Service Exam? 

Did you know that knowing how a test is graded is critical for knowing how to prepare for said test? The reason is not all exam scores are used the same way so grading can be done differently, as well as be interpreted in various ways. It’s likely you want to know what you can do with your civil service exam score, also. By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you should about how your civil service exam is graded, what the grade means to you, and how it is used for matching you to a job. 


Let’s lay it out. How do they grade the civil service exam? Usually, you need a 70% or higher to pass the test, however, that can vary. We’ll discuss the details much further in the following sections:

  1. The Basics: Actual Grading of the Test 
  2. The Extras: You Can Get a Boost 
  3. The Results: How Do You Find Out? 
  4. The Jobs: What Can You Do? 
  5. The List: What Is an Eligible List? 
  6. The Facts: Other Bits of Info You Should Know 


How Do They Grade the Civil Service Exam? 

1 – The Basics: Actual Grading of the Test

The civil service exam you take may be different than what someone else is taking because of which version you need is dependent on what kind of job you’re going out for. As you’ll be testing for various agencies, where you’re testing could cause variance in the exam you take, as well.  

The tests are used by the governing organizations to screen candidates for specific areas of work and individual positions. It allows agencies to see who is capable of serving in certain jobs and who’s not. 

There are two kinds of civil service tests—competitive and non-competitive. The difference in these is in how the grading is looked at. If you take a non-competitive test, there will be a minimum passing percentage you’ll have to meet to be considered as a passing candidate. The competitive test scores are considered within a group of scores. For instance, if the group average score is 75%, then you’ll have to score at least that to pass. 

There are a multitude of different topics covered on the exam. You’ll be tested on verbal, mathematics, clerical, and job-specific abilities. The grade you receive will be taken from your overall performance on all of the different sections. The sections don’t have separate weights assigned. Your final score will be figured as a total percentage taken from all of the questions on the test. 

Some agencies will do something called band scoring. This means that raw scores (numbers of questions right) are assigned a band score. The table of band scores is created based on the testers’ scores as a whole. If the raw scores of 56 to 59 are assigned a band score of 80, then that means anyone who has a raw score of 56, 57, 58, or 59 gets a final score of 80. Band scoring helps agencies to get a wider range of applicants to choose from. 

Knowing the grade comes from the overall test and not more heavily from one section or another should make it easier for you to know what and how to study for this exam. You’ll want to ensure you are prepared enough to do well on the entire assessment. If you’re weak in one area, try to focus on that subject so you can increase your overall percentage. Certainly, make sure you have the skills and abilities that will be critical to the kind of work you’re trying to get into. The reason for this is to prepare yourself for the questions that will be on the specific version of the exam you’re taking. There will be job-specific questions on the test, so it’s highly important that you do well on those. 

2 – The Extras: You Can Get a Boost 

 Your civil service test score is crucial for starting a career in the public sector. This is what the government organizations are going to use to decide whether you are eligible at all for service.  

 Ultimately, your score and your name will be placed on a list and given to the appropriate department. When you’re up for work that is tested for on a competitive basis, you’ll be ranked amongst others who passed the exam. The foundation of the rankings is your civil service exam score.  

 If you previously served in the military, you can get a boost to your ranking within the list of eligible candidates. You’ll be given what is called preference points. For some positions, it means that you will automatically be considered before someone who was not in the military. In other situations, it will be combined with your test score to give you a higher ranking than where you would’ve been within the list if you had only your exam grade to place you. The number of points awarded can vary between non-disabled and disabled veterans. 

3 – The Results: How Do You Find Out? 

 Most of you will take your civil service exam on a computer. In some of these cases, the system will give you a grade electronically upon completion. Otherwise, you’ll be receiving your results usually via email notice sometime after your test day. There are some paper versions of the exam, which have to be graded individually, meaning it may be a longer wait time to get results from a paper and pencil test.  

 Each government office administering civil service exams will have their own method of distributing results and their own timeline for getting the tests scored. You could be testing for a local, state, or federal level job, so there are many agencies that are responsible for grading and delivering final results. Most of them will have results out to all of the test-takers within weeks of taking the exam. You may have to wait longer than that, but it’s not the standard.  

 Testers, whether they pass or fail, will be notified that they are eligible or ineligible. If you don’t hear anything and it’s been more than a month, you can contact the testing facility to ask about your results or look for it posted on the designated page of the website.  

4 – The Jobs: What Can You Do? 

 It’s likely you already know, or at least have an idea, of what kind of job you want to get after passing your exam. We want to touch on what jobs you can get in civil service after passing the appropriate exam for those who are just starting to do their research. 

  • Law enforcement – This can be at any level of the government. You can work for your local police department, your state’s highway patrol, or even federal agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the Secret Service. 
  • Postal service  These jobs include customer service agents working inside a Post Office, mail carriers, and mail processors working behind the scenes. 
  • Foreign service – Jobs in foreign service are at the federal level through the U.S. Department of State. You can work in diplomacy, consular affairs, economic affairs, management, accounting, administration, and more. 
  • Government accounting and tax services – You’ll find these jobs at all levels of government, as well. You can work in insurance, tax departments, trade, and financial departments, or for the Internal Revenue Service. 
  • Administration and management of government offices – These include all of the clerical jobs, management positions, Human Resources workers, and labor-management jobs. 
How Do They Grade the Civil Service Exam? 

It’s important to understand that for many of the civil service positions that do require you to take an exam, that’s only one step in the process of actually becoming a civil servant. There are often many other steps you’ll have to complete before you are hired into a specific position.  

5 – The List: What Is an Eligible List? 

 We mentioned above that you’ll be ranked amongst other candidates for competitive civil service jobs. For these positions, there is an “eligible list” that is posted and provided to the hiring organizations. This is where the agencies will be pulling candidates from to fill the open positions they have.  

 We also discussed military, or veteran’s, preference points above. The eligible list is where those points become very important. Let’s say there is another candidate that got the exact same grade on the civil service exam, but you have time served in the military. Initially, you and the other candidate are tied on the list. However, after your preference points get added in, you will be ranked higher on the eligible list, which means you’ll be given consideration before that other eligible candidate.  

 For other tied candidates, the rankings will be adjusted by who submitted their application sooner. The goal is to have everyone ranked in their own slot so the hiring departments can move through the list in the correct order. 

Once your name is on the list, you’ll be contacted about interviewing for open positions. You don’t have to accept them, but if you don’t, there is the possibility that you’ll be removed from the eligible list. Should that happen and you didn’t want it to, there are procedures in place to have your name added back to the appropriate list, but there’s no guarantee that your request will be approved.  

For the most part, your qualifying civil service grade will keep you on the eligible list for a year. It can vary for different agencies, but a year is the usual amount of time the score is valid for. Your score essentially expires after that.  

There are some civil service exams that are considered to be non-competitive. That means you won’t be ranked on the eligible list. Your exam score will be looked at along with your overall application to determine whether you meet the requirements of the agency you wish to work for. All qualified candidates with passing test scores will go onto an eligible list arranged by alphabetical order. 

6 – The Facts: Other Bits of Info You Should Know 

When it comes to the civil service exam, there are some common questions that come up about it. This section is just about addressing information that people often want to know, sort of like an FAQ portion. 

Do all civil service jobs require that you take an exam? 

No. There are some positions that don’t have this requirement anymore. If you know what specific job you want to get, you can check to see if the test piece is a part of the hiring process for that position.  


Can you take the civil service exam again if you fail it? 

Yes. There may be some instances where a specific situation prohibits you from taking the exam again, but for most, the answer is yes. Each governing organization will have its own set waiting period before you’ll be permitted to take it again, however. 

How Do They Grade the Civil Service Exam? 

Does the civil service exam score you originally achieved stay with you for advancement?

While your score will always be available somewhere for people who want to reference it, it doesn’t necessarily stay with you to determine your advancement opportunities. For many of the advanced positions you may move into, there are promotion exams you’ll need to take. 

 Curious about other exams? Read this article:  -tests-to-take-for-civil-service/

The Final Score 

The civil service exam is not meant to keep you from attaining the goals you have for becoming a civil servant. It’s an important tool that government agencies use to screen their applicants. It was designed to help the public sector find the best people for the jobs. It’s about matching skills and abilities with the available jobs so the public is served to the highest degree possible. 

Your exam will be graded either competitively or on a non-competitive basis. That means you’ll either have to make it past a flat percentage or you’ll have to do at least as good as the average score in your test window’s group.  

There are different versions of the civil service exam, and the version you’ll be taking will depend on what job you are trying to get. The sections of the tests are not weighted any more or less than the others. Your final test score can be determined by the number of questions you got right or by the banded scoring method.  

Once you pass your exam, you’ll be ranked on the eligible list for competitive jobs or included on the list in alphabetical order for non-competitive jobs. You’ll be given veteran’s preference points if they’re applicable.  

The list of candidates is comprised of the names and grades of all of the applicants who qualify for the departments they’re seeking employment in. That list will be provided to the appropriate agencies. They will then start contacting qualified candidates to schedule interviews and to give instructions for further parts of the process.  

Congratulations to all of you who pass your civil service exam! For those who don’t, it’s ok. You can take the test again. With some more studying and extra preparation, you can get in there and nail the test the next time. Kudos to all of you for seeking jobs in civil service. It’s certainly a commendable choice. 


Related Questions

What should I study for the civil service exam? 

There are questions to assess your reading comprehension and written communication skills. You’ll be asked some maths questions, but nothing overly complicated that’s higher than basic algebra. You’ll want to refresh the order of operations for math. There are job-specific questions on some of the versions, too. You’ll be showing that you are capable of doing the job that you are seeking. 


How much does the civil service exam cost? 

There are varying costs associated with taking the civil service exam. For the most part, you’ll find that they have non-refundable application fees that accompany your submission of anywhere between about $15 to $30. 


Related Articles

Does Studying For The ASVAB Help?

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

Interested to learn more about the civil service? Check out our free guide here: 

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.