For some positions you must pass a written examination in order to be invited for the oral examination or performance examination. Written examinations are based on the knowledge and skills listed under Qualifications on the job bulletin. Different kinds of exams are given for different types of jobs. Most exams are multiple-choice and generally last over an hour. The exam has between 40 to 150 questions, depending on the type of job you are applying for.

How to Prepare for Written Examinations

  • Read the job bulletin. This may give you some idea of topics or concepts that might appear on the written test. If you feel you may want to practice or review for the written test, there are several study guides, which may help you prepare for the test.
  • Civil Service Study Guides may be available at some public libraries and website. Although these guides are not written for the San Mateo County examinations, they have specific practice questions and may provide potentially helpful information on test taking, sample instructions and typical exam formats.
  • GED exam preparation books may be of use to refresh basic skills such as grammar, spelling, and math.
  • Most public libraries and bookstores carry commercially published test preparation books for employment tests. Publishing companies such as Barron’s and ARCO produce books that contain sample questions from employers across the country. These sample questions are not specific to San Mateo County examinations but may be useful in preparing for a civil service written exam.

Test Taking Tips

The following are tips to aid you in preparing for a written exam. These are suggestions only and will not necessarily improve your test score.

  • Make sure that you are well rested before the exam. Experts say the best preparation for an examination is to get a good night’s sleep. Fatigue is recognized as a factor affecting test performance. Try to ensure that you get adequate sleep before the examination.
  • Allow yourself enough time to find the exam location. You may need additional time to locate the testing site or to offset delays due to traffic or inclement weather. Give yourself at least 30 extra minutes to arrive at the testing site to ensure that you arrive on time, calm and unhurried. Be advised that if you arrive late to an examination, you will not be permitted to take the examination.
  • During the examination, listen carefully to all the instructions. Listen specifically for instructions on how to fill in your answer sheet. If you fill in you social security number incorrectly on your answer sheet the computer will not be able to assign your exam score to you. If you do not complete your answer sheet according to the directions the computer may not be able to read your answers and may affect your score.
  • If you are not clear with the instructions, make sure you ask the proctor before the examination begins. In some cases, once the examination has begun, you will not be allowed to ask any more questions.
  • Pace yourself during the examination. Listen for instructions about how much time is allowed to complete the examination and manage your time appropriately. Knowing how much time you have to finish the examination may help you figure out roughly the amount of time that you can spend on any one question. Try to save some time at the end of the examination to review your responses and to check your answer sheet to ensure that you have not missed any questions.

Grading Written Exams

Written examinations are scanned and graded by a computer. In most cases, questions are valued equally. The number of correct answers you must make to pass an examination depends on the type of test you are taking. In most tests you must get 60-70% of the questions correctly in order to pass.

Within two weeks of taking a written examination you will be notified of your results by mail. You are allowed to inspect your own answer sheet at our office within fifteen (15) working days from the day of the written exam. For standardized tests, inspection of the written examination booklet with the correct answers is not permitted.

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