The Transportation Security Authority Computer Based Test, which can also be referred to as the Transportation Security Officer Computer Based Test (TSA CBT), is one of the early obstacles in the TSA hiring process. The TSA uses the results of the TSA testing to easily parse out quality candidates. A poor score on the TSA CBT will prevent you from moving on to the next stage in the application process.
2021 TSA UPDATE: As of February 19, 2021 the Transportation Security (TSA) launched an initiative to hire over 6,000 new Transportation Security Officers (TSO) by the summer of 2021. As a result of the COVID-19 vaccinations they are expecting an influx of travel in the months to come. They are recruiting for screening officers in 430 airports nationwide. They are holding huge recruitment events including virtual job fairs. Dozens of full time and part time opportunities have already been announced.
Table of Contents
- What Is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Exam?
- What Topics Are on the TSA Computer-Based Test (CBT)?
- What Is on the TSA X-Ray Test?
- What Is the Format of the X-Ray Test?
- What Type of Images Should You Expect to See?
- How Complex Will the Images Be?
- How Many People Pass?
- What Are the Testing Circumstances?
- What Are Some of the Items Which Are Banned?
- How Do You Read an X-Ray?
- How Do You Interpret X-Ray Colors?
- How Do You Read the Airport X-Ray Image?
- What Is on the TSA Writing Skills Assessment?
- How Is the TSO Test Scored?
- Is the TSA CBT Test Hard?
- What Happens If You Fail the TSA CBT Test?
- TSA Test Prep Free
- TSA CBT Test Tips
- Other Free TSA PDF Guides
- To Learn More Take a Look at These TSA Youtube Videos
- How Can You Prepare for the TSA Test?
What Is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Exam?
The Transportation Security Administration Written Exam, often referred to as the TSA Exam, is the test applicants are required to take during their application process as TSA inspector, manager, or Transportation Security Officer. The TSA test evaluates your competency with object recognition, screener awareness, and English language.
What Topics Are on the TSA Computer-Based Test (CBT)?
What Is on the TSA X-Ray Test?
The X-Ray test, also known as the Object Recognition Test, is the more difficult of the two sections included in the TSA CBT test. We are here to answer for you some common FAQs. The more you know about the test going in the more confident you will feel on the test day. The most important thing is that you feel confident going into the test.
The X-Ray test is the more difficult of the two assessments, primarily because this is content unique to the position. On the image interpretation test (also called "baggage scanner training" and the Object Recognition Test or ORT), you will be shown images of baggage that have gone through the X-Ray machine. You will be given only a few seconds to review the baggage and identify target objects. The target items will be forbidden items such as; weapons, bottles, shoes, drugs, or electronics. You will need to decide whether to pass, alarm, or hold a bag due to its content. If you pass the baggage, you decided the bag does not contain any harmful items. If you select alarm, you have indicated that the item has a prohibited item and you request police intervention. If you hold an item, you have identified a prohibited item which requires intervention by a TSO officer and further screening such as; physical search or use of Explosive Trace Technology (ETD).
What Is the Format of the X-Ray Test?
In the TSA X-Ray Test, you will be given X-Ray images of luggage filled with a variety of objects. Usually, you will be provided two practice sessions before you start the actual test. First, you will be required to memorize the shapes of three to six target items in 30 seconds, this will help you identify the required item on the next screen. Then you will be required to identify a target item, as per the instructions given, within a 15 second time period.
What Type of Images Should You Expect to See?
In an X-Ray portion of the test, you will see a mix of dangerous and mundane objects embedded in X-Ray images. You will encounter threatening items like guns, knives, bombs, IEDs and so on. You will also encounter images with zero harmful items. It is your job to set an alarm if you find a contraband item in an X-Ray image.
How Complex Will the Images Be?
The X-Ray images you see will vary in complexity depending on how the target objects mix or overlap with other objects. There is no rhyme or reason to how complex an image might be. Some images will be more complicated than others. More complex images may require you to rotate items mentally in order to locate their outline or form. Some images may require you to locate various disassembled pieces of the contraband item.
How Many People Pass?
The Object Recognition Test is by far the more challenging portion of the test. Only 30% of test-takers actually pass the test. In rare cases, those who pass the test may be asked to take it again just to make sure you actually passed due to your visual and cognitive skills, rather than sheer luck.
What Are the Testing Circumstances?
The test is given at a specified testing center. Make sure you arrive 30-45 minutes early to fill out any extra forms. The entire test takes a total of 2.5 hours and each section is given under time constraints. Each question in the Object Recognition Test is given under timed conditions. The English portion of the test is all multiple choice questions.
What Are Some of the Items Which Are Banned?
The following is a comprehensive list of items that are banned in Carry-Ons and Checked Luggage.
How Do You Read an X-Ray?
Interpreting an X-Ray can be quite challenging. Understanding the different color combinations and finding harmful items can be trickier than one would expect.
Black and white images are quite sharp. Depending what you are looking for the items can be quite visible. You can easily parse out the gun, bullets and computers.
How Do You Interpret X-Ray Colors?
If the image is not so straight forward you can use color detection. The basics to understanding color principles in X-Rays is knowing that color highlights the difference in density of various materials. When an item is more dense it will be bluer. Conversely, less dense, lighter items will be on the red scale.
The color blue usually denotes hard materials including; metal, hard plastics, alloys etc. Any wires, batteries, sunglasses, guns, etc. will show up on the blue/ black scale.
Green represents less dense plastics and alloys. The combination of plastic and metal will most likely be some kind of electronic device.
The orange represents any biological material. This covers natural items and some other materials including; rubber, food, leather, non-plastic explosives, liquids, gels and organic powders (like flour, baking soda, ect.). These colored items are often important to pay attention to because explosives are often partly composed of organic materials like glycerin, potassium nitrate, and TNT. Additionally, drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and cannabis are all classified as organic products. That's why identifying biological materials is extremely important.
Red zone indicates less dense items. This means the machine encountered little to no resistance when scanning the object. This object could be made out of light materials including; fabric, carton, or paper.
How Do You Read the Airport X-Ray Image?
Now that you have a basic understanding of the materials categorized by color, it is important to identify the outline of a target object. Often items might be placed on the conveyor belt at an odd angle, keep this in mind when detecting the objects outline.
There will be slight differences in color depending on the machine and manufacturer. It is important to understand the basic principles and once you are hired as a TSO officer you will receive ample training on the subject.
What Is on the TSA Writing Skills Assessment?
The TSA Writing Skills Assessment test is a multiple choice test given with time constraints. This portion tests your understanding of basic principles of English grammar, word usage, syntax, sentence structure and paragraph organization.
Before taking the test make sure you are familiar with the following content areas:
- Sentence Construction
- Use of Phrases in Sentences
- Use of Clauses in Sentences
- Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Phrases and Clauses
- Verb Voice
- Verb Tense
- Verb Mood
- Adjective and Adverb
- Sentence Organization within Paragraphs
- Tense Shifts
It is important that you answer every question and note that there is an option D which states "no correction is needed" and this is a viable answer. For most applicants this information is rusty in their minds. They would most likely benefit from reviewing a TSA writing skills assessment practice test.
Check out this free TSA CBT study guide and preparation for the TSA Writing Skills Assessment portion of the TSA computerized test.
How Is the TSO Test Scored?
Applicants will not be penalized for wrong answers. Scoring is based on correct answers only. This means that it works in your advantage to take educated guesses. Your results on this exam will help place you into one of three categories:
- Best Qualified
- Highly Qualified
Scoring high is extremely important because those candidates placed in the best qualified category have the best chance of landing the job they want.
Don't be afraid to prepare in advance and use TSA computer based test practice materials to help gain a competitive edge.
Is the TSA CBT Test Hard?
The test itself is not very hard. That being said, for most taking it the X-Ray section is a completely new playing field. It is extremely important to put in a little bit of effort to ensure that you pass the test. We partnered up with JobTestPrep to give you a X-Ray study guide and drills to help ensure you know what to expect.
What Happens If You Fail the TSA CBT Test?
If you fail or do not attend your scheduled test time you will see an "X" on your application dashboard. This means you will be ineligible for any TSO openings for six months. Those who fail the CBT test or miss their scheduled time after two different CBT testing opportunities will no longer be eligible to take the TSA CBT test for the TSO position. It is important to try and pass the TSA CBT test on the first try. Even, if you pass the test immediately the hiring process can be quite lengthy. There are many applicants in the pool, and you want to ensure if a job opens in your area that you are eligible. Practice with this TSA CBT practice test.
TSA Test Prep Free
Ensure you are prepared on the test day by knowing what to expect. These practice questions are similar to, but not the same as, the questions on the actual exam. The practice questions are followed by detailed explanations. Start preparing today to earn the job you want. Get an idea of the types of questions you will see on the TSA CBT test.
New! Practice with more TSA test prep free sample questions that include X-Ray pictures, Verbal Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary - Antonyms, Verbal - Sentence Completion exercises for free.
TSA CBT Test Sample Question 1
Writing Skills Test Instructions:
Choose the one answer that represents a correction that should be made to the sentence. If no correction is necessary, choose (D).
Once a request to bring firearms into a foreign country are approved, a Federal Air Marshal must send a notification to the Office of Foreign Operations to coordinate the request.
- change bring to brought
- change are to is
- change coordinate to coordination
- no correction is necessary
Answer + Explanation
The correct answer is B: change "are" to "is".
There must be subject/ verb agreement in number. The subject, "request," is singular and, therefore, the verb should be singular meaning "is" rather than "are".
TSA CBT Test Sample Question 2
Supervisor Jones understands that it is essential for his TSA inspectors to understand each of the fundamental principals that apply to all procedures relating to canine training.
- Change "understands" to "understands those"
- Change "each" to "each and every one"
- Change "principals" to "principles"
- No correction is necessary
Answer + Explanation
The correct answer is C: change "principals" to "principles".
The meaning of the word "PRINCIPLES" is a rule or code of conduct. Where as the word "PRINCIPAL" means someone with authority or first and foremost.
TSA CBT Test Sample Question 3
Writing Skills Test Instructions:
Choose the one answer that is the best revision to the underlined word(s) or phrase(s) in the sentence.
The TSO officer training program is long, grewling and fatieging.
- grueling/ fatieging
- grewling/ fatiguing
- grueling/ fatiguing
- grewling/ fateeging
- No correction is needed
Answer + Explanation
The correct answer is C: grueling/ fatiguing
This is a case of a spelling question. If you are not sure of the spelling on both words, focus on the word you do know. Don't spend too much time on this type of question. It is a good way for you to make up time for later more difficult questions.
TSA CBT Test Sample Question 4
X-Ray Test Instructions:
Identify different types of guns found in X-Ray pictures of luggage. Each of the target items will be shown for 15 seconds. Then you will be presented with a set of questions. Determine if a gun appears in the questions that follow. If the item appears, press the number 1. If not, you should press the number 3.
Here are the items you will be given to study for 15 seconds:
Answer + Explanation
Here we see the clear presence of a gun. We see the clear blue/black outline with denotes the presence of metal. It is important to understand that the questions will get progressively harder.
Answer + Explanation
We can see that there is no trace of a gun.
Answer + Explanation
Only the handle of the gun is visible in this picture. We can see the handle is presenting in blue/black which represents metal, hard plastics, alloys etc. With an outer shell of green which can be the handles coating which is made of a plastic where the density isn't great enough to make it blue or black.
These X-Ray examples represent the most basic format of the question. The actual test will present pictures with much more complexity. Images are presented from an easier, canonical viewpoint, and also from more difficult, rotated, or obstructed viewpoints. If you want more practice for your TSA CBT Test including sample X-Ray questions take a look at this TSA CBT practice pack. Polish your reading comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, learn how to reorganize texts, and most importantly how to read an X-Ray.
TSA CBT Test Tips
- Get a good night's sleep before the test and try to stay calm while taking it. You will get the best results if you avoid a test day panic.
- Carefully read the directions before every question. Do not assume you know what to do.
- Make sure you read the entire question and all the answer choices before choosing your response.
- Use process of elimination. The tests are multiple choice, therefore you can eliminate answers you are certain are incorrect.
- Your final test score is based on the amount of correct answers. There is no penalty for answering a question incorrectly. This mean, you should take educated guesses and leave no answer blank.
- All of the exams aside from the Federal Marshal Situational Judgement test allow you to go back and review your answers.
- Don't pay attention to answer patterns or number of As, Bs, Cs, Ds, or Es. The answer positions are completely randomized and there is no way to predict answers based on a pattern or sequence.
- Make sure to review the official TSA CBT exam study guide (PDF) before taking the exam.
Other Free TSA PDF Guides
- Completing the SF86, an Employee Guide: If you pass the TSA CBT Test you will need to complete the SF86. This is a copy of what the form looks like. You should complete it online through the e-QIP portal.
- Employee Guide for Completing the Standard Form SF86: This is a comprehensive guide how to fill out the SF86 form. It is important that you fill it out honestly and carefully.
- Federal Marshal Service Pre-Training Guide: This guide gives you an understanding of the physical challenges required to become a Federal Air Marshal.
- TSA Canine Training Center: Learn more about the TSA Canine Training Program one of the most competitive programs in the TSA.
- Common Terms on Job Opportunity Announcements: This guide gives you some helpful definitions so you can fully understand the different TSA job opportunity announcements (JOAs).
- FAQs on Veterans' Employment
To Learn More Take a Look at These TSA Youtube Videos
- TSA Test Prep's YouTube Channel
- An Inside look at the Transportation Security Administration
- TSA On the Job
- TSA's Travel Tips
- TSA Cares
- TSA Pre✓®
- State of TSA
Are you looking for a way to practice for the CBT test for the TSA? Access a full-length Practice Test for the TSA CBT Test. Get practice vocabulary, reading comprehension, grammar, and punctuation drills. Ensure you know what to expect on the X-Ray portion of the test with X-Ray drills and a detailed study guide.
How Can You Prepare for the TSA Test?
Take a TSA Computer Based Test practice screener in advance.
- Take a full-length practice test that mimics the actual test.
- Know what to expect.
- Use this free CBT test TSA study guide.
- Review TSA CBT test sample questions to gain an idea of what to expect on testing day.
- Talk to peers who took the test and see what TSA preparation was helpful for them.
We recommend JobTestPrep's TSA Exam Prep Pack updated for 2021 which includes:
- 11 X-Ray drills
- 18 Reading comprehension tests
- 21 Written communication tests
- 3 English grammar tests
- 2 Information presentation practice & 2 Paragraph organization practice
- 8 Vocabulary tests & 2 Restatement tests
- 1 Diagnostic test & guide
- 1 Passage organization test
- 2 Punctuation tests
- 2 Restatement tests
- Interview Preparation
Learn more about this preparation pack here.