The Ultimate Guide to The TSA-CBT Test: with Tips and Examples


Those dreaming of working for the TSA will most likely need to take a challenging exam called the TSA CBT Test during the hiring process. Here we’ll look at exactly what it involves and how you can make sure you pass it. Read on to find out more.

If you plan to work as an inspector, manager, marshal or security officer in any agency governed by the Transportation Security Administration, you must pass the TSA CBT test as part of your application process.

Read on to learn more about this assessment, including its purpose, what types of questions it has, how challenging it is and how to prepare for it. You’ll also be provided with a few example questions to help you get an idea of what this test looks like.

Let’s get started.

What Is the TSA CBT Test?

The TSA CBT test (or TSA Computer Based Test) is the test that is administered to security personnel at airports and other agencies governed by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

It helps these agencies find the most suitable candidates for these roles and ensures the security of passengers and personnel across the board.

Here are some roles that typically require the TSA CBT Test:

  1. Transportation Security Officer (TSO) – TSOs are responsible for screening passengers, baggage, and cargo at airports to ensure the security of the traveling public. The TSA CBT Test is a mandatory requirement for TSO applicants.
  2. Federal Air Marshal (FAM) – FAMs are law enforcement officers who work undercover on commercial flights to prevent terrorist acts. Candidates for FAM positions usually have to take the TSA CBT Test as part of the selection process.
  3. Security Screener – Various federal agencies and private organizations hire security screeners for roles such as screening passengers and luggage at government buildings, courthouses, and other secure facilities. The TSA CBT Test may be required for these positions, depending on the specific hiring agency or organization.
  4. Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) – BDOs observe passengers’ behaviors to identify potential threats or suspicious activities. They are typically employed at airports and may be required to take the TSA CBT Test as part of the application process.

There are two elements to the test. The first part is an X-ray test and the other is an English test, both are formed of multiple-choice questions.

There are usually other elements to the hiring process for many of these roles, you might also be required to take an airport assessment, drug test, background check, medical evaluation and color vision check.

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What Is the X-Ray Test?

The X-ray test (also known as the object recognition test (ORT) or image interpretation test) is an assessment where candidates are shown pictures of luggage that has gone through an X-ray machine. Candidates are then asked to identify objects in the bag that might be prohibited.

These can be identified by the colors that are used on the machine. For example:

  • Biological material (including drugs) will be colored orange or red
  • Hard metal objects and alloys, and hard plastics are blue or black
  • Electronics and plastic weapons will be green
  • Liquids, gels and other substances in containers may have varying colors depending on their composition

What Is the English Test?

The English section of the test, also known as the TSA Writing Skills Assessment, is a multiple-choice assessment that tests English skills.

It includes three topics:

  • Reading comprehension – Your speed-reading ability, general attention to detail and overall grasp of the English language
  • Vocabulary – Your knowledge of common synonyms (words having the same meanings), antonyms (words having opposite meanings), homophones (words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings) and commonly misspelled words.
  • Written communication – Your ability to use proper grammar

TSA CBT Exam Prep – Example TSA CBT Test Questions

While you’ll find plenty of online sample tests to practice with, here are a few TSA test examples of what the questions on the test will look like.

X-Ray Test

1. You’re shown an X-ray image of a bag with several items inside. Select the correct answer from the ones offered below:

a) There is no banned item in the bag
b) There is a large liquid container
c) There is a gun in the bag.

The correct answer is: c) There is a gun in the bag. On X-rays, metal is identified by its dark blue or black color. If you look closely, you’ll see the clear outline of a gun inside the passenger’s bag.

2. You’re shown an X-ray image of a bag containing several objects. Choose the correct answer from the ones offered below:

a) There is a rope in the bag
b) There are prohibited items in the bag
c) There are no prohibited items in the bag.

The correct answer is: b) There are prohibited items in the bag. You’ll see several black and blue shapes, indicating hard metal objects. Their outlines show that these are metalwork tools (which are on the list of prohibited items).

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3. Look at the scanned image of a bag given below. Identify the correct option:

a) There is a gun
b) There is no weapon
c) There is no prohibited item

The correct answer is: a) There is a gun.

Carefully look at the circled part of the image.

The blue/black color indicates hard metal and if you look thoroughly, you can see the outline of a gun placed sideways.

Also, check the image again.

Can you make out the metal frame in the stiletto shoes packed near the bottom?

From the outline you can deduce it is a pair of shoes, the orange color should be organic material like leather and the blue lines running through the lower half would indicate a metallic frame.

This is apparently harmless in itself (assuming the lady did not pack the gun along!) but is an example of how potentially dangerous items can be concealed in seemingly innocent materials (imagine knife blades hidden under the soles).

In real life as a TSA officer, your job will be to quickly identify such instances from a scanned X-ray image as the luggage rolls on along the conveyor belt.

English Test

4. Identify which of the following words is incorrectly spelled:

a) Productivity
b) Accountability
c) Ambiguity
d) Susseptibility

The correct answer is: d) Susseptibility (correct spelling: Susceptibility)

5. From the following options, select the word that is the opposite of public:

a) Shared
b) General
c) Private
d) Communal

The correct answer is: c) Private

6. The employer was impressed with the overall performance of the employees and said that he would look forward to see how the individual teams managed to fare so well in the team-building activities.

In the above sentence:

a) ‘activities’ needs to be changed to ‘activity’
b) ‘impressed’ needs to be changed to ‘impressive’
c) ‘see’ needs to be changed to ‘seeing’
d) No change is necessary

The correct answer is: c) ‘see’ needs to be changed to ‘seeing’

7. Look at the following sentence. You’ll see the words ‘challening’ and ‘triyng’ underlined. From the answers offered below, choose the one answer that represents the best revision.

The TSA officer training program is extended, challening and triyng.

a) challening and trying
b) challenging and triyng
c) challening and tryng
d) challenging and trying
e) No correction is needed

The correct answer is: d) challenging and trying

8. Complete the following sentence:

The ______ of the local college always preferred an ______ seat while traveling.

a) principal and isle
b) principle and aisle
c) principal and aisle
d) principle and isle

The correct answer is: c) principal and aisle

The word ‘principle’ means tenet or dogma, while a principal is the head teacher. The word ‘isle’ refers to a small island or islet. An ‘aisle’ seat is a seat adjacent to the passage or corridor. Thus c) principal and aisle is the correct answer.

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How Challenging Is the TSA CBT Test?

The test is known as one of the hardest for any job. There are two reasons for this. One is that the test is known to require specific natural skills that are not easy to replicate.

While some skills can be learned, this takes time and practice, and not every candidate is willing to invest in these. This makes the test challenging to pass, even for those with a strong desire to work in the transportation industry.

Additionally, even if you pass the test, you can be requested to retake it after a certain period to ensure that your past result wasn’t blind luck due to guesswork on the test.

Due to rigorous standards and a lack of preparation and skills, statistically less than one in three candidates will pass the test. The most problematic part of the TSA CBT tests is the X-ray image identification portion, although the written test can also be very challenging.

How to Prepare for the TSA CBT Test

The TSA CBT test needs specific and careful preparation. The test is one of the hardest to take, and the skills are hard to learn, especially if the test invite gives you little time to prepare.

Therefore, candidates are required to study and prepare hard. Here are some suggestions for effective TSA test prep.

Practice Enough

If you’re serious about working in the transportation industry, you must start practicing for the TSA CBT test well before you apply for any position in this field. The assessment is mandatory, but you might get an invite or request for it at the last moment, leaving you very little time to prepare.

Fortunately, there are plenty of websites that offer free and paid options for a TSA practice test that will help with TSA test prep. The latter can be a good investment into your career as they often come with more extensive question selections, explanations and guidance for the test.

However, even the free versions of a TSA CBT practice test can help you familiarize yourself with the test format and question types. Learn to read the instructions carefully, as this will help you gain confidence in your ability to pass the test.

Practice Timing

TSA CBT tests are done under timed conditions. So while some candidates can complete the questions correctly given enough time, this won’t be enough to pass the test. You should aim to improve your response time by honing your time management skills.

Start by setting a time limit you’re comfortable with and then slowly reduce it, completing practice tests under a stricter time limit each time. The goal is to answer the questions efficiently and correctly within the given time frame of the actual test, which is around or under two and a half hours.

Take Care of Your Wellbeing

The test requires candidates to be alert and attentive. This can be reduced if you’re tired, hungry or thirsty. To avoid this, have plenty of rest (at least seven hours of sleep) and avoid strenuous activities before the test.

That being said, regular physical exercise is essential for optimal cognitive functions and can help you improve your testing performance. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and avoid having too much caffeine or alcohol before testing. These lead to dehydration, lack of focus and inability to recall information.

Eating a filling and nutritionally balanced meal about two hours before the test is also crucial for success. It will keep your blood sugar at a steady level, contributing to better focus and memory.

Revise Your Study Material

Look into study material for the English section and revise your knowledge in each required field. Consider improving vocabulary and grammar sections with exercises designed for these purposes. Read and analyze many different types of texts to help increase your vocabulary knowledge and grammar skills.

It’s also a good idea with TSA test prep to revise the list of prohibited items provided by the TSA. These include explosives, guns and other weapons, metal objects, magnets, ropes, matches, alcohol above 70%, vinegar, toothpaste, light bulbs and more.

Examine the values the TSA looks for in its candidates. It typically requires potential employees to be dependable, observant, adaptable, a people person, detail-oriented, a fast learner, able to work in different shifts, in good physical shape, focused, comfortable in closed spaces and calm.

Be Prepared

The TSA CBT test is taken at a test center, not at home. Candidates should know how to get there in plenty of time for the start of the test. Prepare everything you need to take the test before you head out for the day.

It’s also advised to dress appropriately for the test to show professionalism. This will help you make a great first impression with the recruiting managers. They will remember it later during the application process (if you pass the TSA CBT test).

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the TSA CBT test?

The TSA CBT test is an assessment every transport security personnel candidate goes through as a mandatory part of the job recruitment process. It’s a computer-based test administered by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Is the TSA test hard to pass?

The TSA test is a rigorous evaluation process meant to ensure travelers’ safety. Since candidates are expected to quickly and correctly identify prohibited objects, the test is designed to be challenging. Preparation increases the likelihood of passing the TSA CBT test.

Where can I prepare for the TSA test?

You can prepare for the TSA assessment at home by practicing with online tests and a TSA exam study guide. These TSA practice questions will help you familiarize yourself with the material that will be covered, the format and the type of questions you can expect on the real-time test.

You will take the test at a testing center, so it’s critical that you replicate the testing conditions as much as possible while practicing at home with your TSA practice questions.

How many questions are on the TSA CBT test?

The TSA CBT test contains about 160 questions. The number of questions varies depending on the position offered, employer requirements, TSA recommendations for difficulty and other factors.

It’s a great idea to find a TSA test sample to get a feel for what you’ll be doing, along with checking and perfecting your TSA CBT test answers.

What types of questions are on the TSA CBT test?

The TSA CBT test has two types of TSA test questions. One assesses the candidates’ ability to understand, speak and write English at a high school level, which is the TSA CBT English test. The second type of test involves using image interpretation skills.

This requires candidates to inspect X-ray scanner images quickly and correctly identify specific objects. It’s important to work on a TSA X ray practice test for this part of the test.

Is the TSA CBT test timed?

Yes, the TSA CBT test is a timed assessment. Depending on the employer’s requirements and the TSA’s recommendation, you’ll have about two and a half hours to complete the test or a little less.

However, the time limit doesn’t pose many difficulties as many applicants finish the test well before the allotted time expires. You’ll probably complete the test long before the time limit elapses, especially if you have done some TSA test questions as part of your TSA CBT test prep.

Where can I find more sample questions for the TSA CBT test?

There are various places that offer a TSA practice test free but there are also many high-quality paid websites.

You can find plenty of sample questions for the TSA CBT test on JobTestPrep, which offers help with common assessments for children and adults. 

You can also find free sample questions and a TSA CBT practice test free on TSA Test Prep.

What is the purpose of the TSA CBT test?

The purpose of the TSA CBT test is to find the most suitable candidates for inspector, manager, marshal or security officer positions offered at transportation agencies.

Besides the best X-ray image identifying skills, candidates must show extraordinary ability in sentence correction and word meaning in spoken and written English and reading comprehension.

What is a good score for the TSA CBT test?

There is no official TSA CBT passing score for the TSA CBT test. Those who pass the test are given ratings that range from Qualified to Highly Qualified to Best Qualified. To have a choice of location and role you’ll be occupying, you should obtain the Best Qualified status.

You can do this by practicing correctly with a TSA test sample and answering as many questions as possible. Don’t focus on a TSA CBT test passing score and instead just perfect your TSA exam practice without thinking of achieving a specific mark.

Can I take the TSA CBT test online?

While the TSA CBT is a computer-based test, you can’t take it online at your home. You’ll be required to sit this assessment at a testing center, which has a controlled environment.

It’s also a good idea to dress formally for the occasion since you’ll be taking the test in person.

Where can I find a complete guide for the TSA CBT test?

Most sites that offer free or paid sample questions for the TSA CBT test also provide an extensive TSA CBT study guide for preparing for and acing this assessment.

Take a look at JobTestPrep for thorough guides and example questions.

Using a TSA CBT study guide is a great way to feel confident and assured before heading into the test.

Can you retake the TSA CBT test?

Candidates only have two attempts to take the TSA CBT test.

If you fail on your first attempt, you must wait at least six months before retaking the test or making another application for a different position that also requires this test. If you fail your second retake, you won’t get another chance to take the test.

Final Thoughts

The TSA CBT test is one of the most challenging tests in the world. Therefore, candidates will need to be prepared. Heeding the above hints and tips and taking practice tests will help you pass.

There is no deduction for wrong TSA CBT test answers, so even guessing can raise your chances of landing a dream job. However, if you are adequately prepared, you won’t need to rely on guesswork to obtain the high scores you need for better career choices.

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